A Boeing 767-300 cargo plane operated by Atlas Air on behalf of Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Air crashed last weekend killing the three crew members who were on board including Capt. Sean Archuleta of Houston, First Officer Conrad Jules Aska of Antigua and Capt. Ricky Blakely of Indiana. The plane was en route from Miami when it crashed near Anahuac, Texas, approximately 40 miles southeast of Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Video from a nearby jail recorded the last few seconds of the fatal flight. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is investigating the crash, and its chairman, Robert Sumwalt, confirmed that the plane was “descending in a steep descent, steep nose-down altitude” and there was no visual evidence that its crew tried to turn or pull the nose up at the last minute.
Data from the real-time flight tracker map FlightRadar24 showed it dropped from 5,800 feet to approximately 1,300 feet in about nine seconds or 30,000 feet per minute. This was outside the norm for a typical flight for this type of aircraft.
It was the fifth fatal cargo plane crash in 10 years, which have killed a total 16 people. Industry experts explained that cargo flights are very different than passenger flights and are riskier. They are typically conducted at night and must land at smaller airports that do not have the best instrumentation or air traffic navigational aids. These flights also carry larger loads and often transport animals and hazardous materials, including lithium batteries that are known to overheat, catch fire and even explode. Further, cargo flights and their pilots are covered by more lenient regulations than those covering passenger planes and pilots.
It isn’t clear yet if any of these factors played a role in the Atlas Air/Amazon Prime crash.
“Air safety should be a top priority across the board but regulations for cargo flights are not as strong as those for passenger flights,” said Mike Andrews of the Beasley Allen Law Firm where he handles complex litigation including aviation cases. “Strong regulations implemented in the last few years for commercial aviation in the U.S. have improved the safety of passenger flights. Many of those regulations do not apply to the air cargo industry and this intensifies the danger of already risky flights.”
Investigators are still searching for the plane’s flight recorders or black boxes, which they hope will provide more information to help determine the cause of the crash.