The pilot of a private jet failed to follow correct landing procedures and likely was fatigued from a lack of sleep when the plane went down in a fiery crash in eastern Georgia last year, killing a vascular surgeon and four co-workers on board, federal investigators concluded in a report Tuesday.
Richard Trammell was at the controls of the jet on the evening of Feb. 20, 2013, when it aborted a landing attempt at a small airport in Thomson, and struck a 72-foot utility pole less than 2,000 feet from the runway. The plane was carrying Dr. Steven Roth and his surgical staff based in nearby Augusta, who would routinely fly to satellite clinics in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina for vein-care surgeries and patient consultations.
Continue Reading Below
Roth and his colleagues all were killed when the Beechcraft 390 Premier jet crashed at the end of its 400-mile return flight from Nashville, Tennessee. The only survivors were Trammell and his co-pilot, Jeremy Hayden, who both suffered severe injuries.
In its report Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board largely blamed the crash on errors made by the pilot and concluded he probably didn't get enough sleep. Trammell told investigators he woke at 2 a.m. the day of the crash — after sleeping about five hours — and napped for about four more hours in a chair at a pilot's lounge in Nashville. However, the report said, Trammell's cellphone records showed outgoing calls and text messages during that time, indicating his sleep was interrupted several times.
"Those who depend on pilots to provide safe transportation deserve pilots who are well rested and otherwise fit for duty. That did not happen in this case," NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said in a statement submitted with the agency's report. "Tragically, five lives were lost."
The report said that during the flight, the co-pilot had to remind Trammell about a speed restriction and also to adjust his altimeter.
"Say, I'm kinda out of the loop or something," the pilot said after the second reminder, according to the report. "I don't know what happened to me there but I appreciate you lookin' after me there."
The NTSB report doesn't name Trammell as the pilot. But the agency identifies him in supplementary documents, including a summary of his interview with investigators.
Trammell's attorney, J. Arthur Mozley of Atlanta, did not immediately return a phone message Tuesday.
Federal investigators found the pilot made two key mistakes while attempting to land. First, a warning light indicated the jet's anti-skid system had failed, meaning it would need more distance to come to a stop. The NTSB said the pilot didn't do the proper calculations that would have told him the small airport's runway was too short.
"It is likely that after touchdown, the pilot recognized that the airplane was not slowing as he expected and might not stop before the end of the runway," the NTSB report said. "Rather than risk a high-speed overrun, he elected to conduct a go-around."
The pilot was trying to gain altitude for another landing approach when the jet struck the utility pole. The impact sheared off the plane's left wing, causing fuel to leak and burst into flames. Investigators said wing spoilers used to help slow the jet on the runway remained extended after the landing was aborted and likely inhibited the plane's ability to climb.
Last November, Trammell and Hayden both sued the city and county governments that operate the airport as well as Georgia Power, which owns the utility pole. The NTSB previously reported Georgia Power built the pole in 1989 but didn't notify the Federal Aviation Administration. The pole wasn't listed as an obstruction on aeronautical charts. The lawsuit is still pending.
In addition to Roth, the crash killed four staff members at his medical practice, the Vein Guys — ultrasound technicians Tiffany Porter and Heidi McCorkle, nurse anesthetist Lisa Volpitto and Kim Davidson, who was Roth's executive assistant.