NTSB Investigation Underway After Passenger Death During Severe Turbulence

As part of the probe, NTSB officials are looking at the pitch trim of the Bombardier Challenger CL30.

NTSB investigating a possible trim issue aboard a business jet after the aircraft encountered severe turbulence, resulting in the death of a passenger. [Credit: Shutterstock]

Federal transportation authorities are investigating a possible trim issue aboard a business jet after the aircraft encountered severe turbulence, resulting in the death of a passenger.

According to the FAA, around 4 p.m. on March 3, the Bombardier Challenger CL30 with three passengers and two crew members on board, was flying from Dillant-Hopkins Airport (KEEN) in Keene, New Hampshire, to Leesburg Executive Airport (KJYO) in Virginia when it encountered severe turbulence. The crew diverted to Bradley Field, Windsor Locks (KBDL) in Connecticut. One of the passengers was fatally injured during the incident.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are working together on the investigation, with the NTSB taking the lead role. The name of the person fatally injured has not been released.

The NTSB will be analyzing information from the flight data recorder, cockpit voice recorder, and weather at the time of the incident, the agency told FLYING in a statement. A preliminary report is expected to be available in two to three weeks.

Defining Turbulence

In its educational materials, the FAA defines turbulence as "air movement created by atmospheric pressure, jet streams, air around mountains, cold or warm weather fronts, or thunderstorms."

The FAA has defined the intensity of turbulence as follows:

  • Light Chop: Slight, rapid, and somewhat rhythmic bumpiness without appreciable changes in altitude or attitude.
  • Light Turbulence: Slight, erratic changes in altitude and/or attitude. Occupants may feel a slight strain against seatbelts. Unsecured objects may be displaced slightly. Food service may be conducted and little to no difficulty is encountered in walking.
  • Moderate Chop: Rapid bumps or jolts without appreciable changes in aircraft altitude or attitude.
  • Moderate Turbulence: Changes in altitude and/or attitude occur but the aircraft remains in positive control at all times. It usually causes variations in indicated airspeed, food service and walking are difficult.
  • Severe: Large, abrupt changes in altitude and/or attitude. Usually causes large variations in indicated airspeed. Aircraft may be momentarily out of control. Occupants are forced violently against seatbelts. Unsecured objects are tossed about. Food service and walking are impossible.
  • Extreme: Aircraft is violently tossed about and is practically impossible to control. May cause structural damage.

Earlier in the week, seven passengers aboard a Lufthansa Airbus A330 enroute from Austin, Texas, to Frankfurt, Germany, were injured when the aircraft encountered severe turbulence. The aircraft was diverted to Washington Dulles International Airport (KIAD).

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.

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