Famed Pilot Wasn't Warned of Storm

Scott Crossfield
Scott Crossfield, a legendary test pilot who died last year at 84 when his plane crashed in Georgia, prepares for a flight. (Paul Glenshaw - Paul Glenshaw, Image Courtesy Of The Wright Experience)
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Air traffic controllers did not alert legendary test pilot Scott Crossfield that he was heading into a severe thunderstorm that is believed to have caused his plane to crash last year, killing the 84-year-old Herndon resident, according to an investigative report released yesterday.

The report by the National Transportation Safety Board said Crossfield flew into the storm about 10:40 a.m. April 19 above mountains in northeast Georgia. He was on his way to Manassas Regional Airport after giving a talk in Alabama.

Crossfield, who was piloting a single-engine propeller plane, told controllers that "I'd like to deviate south for weather" in the moments before his plane broke apart, the report said.

Crossfield's Cessna 210 was found in two pieces almost a mile apart near Ludville, Ga. The former test pilot was the only person on the plane.

"The pilot was not provided any severe weather advisories nor was he advised of the radar-depicted weather displayed" on a controller's terminal, the report said.

Crossfield was one of the country's top test pilots and was part of the team that flew the X-15 to record high altitudes and speeds decades ago. In November 1953, he piloted a Skyrocket aircraft to more than twice the speed of sound, becoming the first man to do so. His title of "fastest man alive" lasted only a few weeks. Chuck Yeager, another famous pilot, broke Crossfield's mark the next month.

NTSB investigators could not find any priority tasks -- such as keeping aircraft at safe distances from each other -- that would have prevented the controller from warning Crossfield about the dangerous storms.

"By not issuing weather reports to the pilot, the controller violated" Federal Aviation Administration rules, the report said.

The controller was not identified.

The NTSB report did not reach a conclusion about what caused the crash. The five-member board will vote on the probable cause of the crash in the next few months, NTSB officials said.

Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the FAA, declined to comment on the crash because it is still considered under investigation. However, she said the FAA launched an effort to improve weather briefings to pilots in August 2005 after several crashes highlighted the need for improved communication of storm information, Brown said.

FAA officials were enhancing training and other procedures when the Crossfield crash took place and believe the "weather briefings are significantly better than they were a couple of years ago," Brown said.

The NTSB issued a "safety alert" to pilots in October warning about poor weather briefings from controllers. It cited the Crossfield crash as an example of the problem but also told pilots that "weather avoidance is primarily your responsibility."

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