Fold mountains

The plane crashed after air traffic control directed the plane towards the mountains

A 2019 plane crash that killed three people on Gass Peak north of Las Vegas was caused by a pilot’s failure to keep clear of terrain, with federal investigators noting the pilot was following a route to the mountains given to him by air traffic controllers at Nellis Air Force Base.

Pilot Gregory Akers, 60, of Henderson, Akers’ wife, Valeriya Slyzko, 48, and mother-in-law, Nina Morovova, 71, were killed in the November 26 crash.

A final report on the crash from the National Transportation Safety Board says Akers, a retired air traffic controller, was flying a Cirrus SR22 when the plane crashed into Gass Peak at an altitude of 6,500 feet. The safety board said the cause of the crash was Akers’ inability to keep the plane at an appropriate altitude to avoid the mountain.

The report also documents how air traffic control at Nellis Air Force Base put Akers on a path to an area of ​​mountainous terrain about 15 miles north of Las Vegas as controllers simultaneously managed the flight paths of four F -35, then four F-22s at the base.

The safety board report does not attribute responsibility for the crash to Nellis air traffic control for routing the plane the way it did, but a local pilot believes traffic control guidelines air received by Akers actually played a role in the crash. .

“I think they should have given him a warning saying, ‘Listen, you’re in a potentially dangerous situation,'” local driver David Brough said on Monday.

Brough, a longtime bush pilot in Canada who now lives in Las Vegas and is an aviation safety advocate, said he also noticed striking parallels between the 2019 crash and another fatal plane crash in Gass Peak in 1999 which killed a freight pilot.

“For me, the recommendation should be to put a flashing light on top of the mountain,” Brough said. “I’m sure other people have had near misses too… There’s nothing like a flashing light in the windshield telling you you better be higher than that light.”

Aeronautical experience

Akers was a retired air traffic controller at Harry Reid and Dallas-Fort Worth International Airports. He moved from Dallas to the Las Vegas area around 1996.

“He always had a love for aviation,” his cousin, Tina Lopez, said in an interview shortly after the accident. “He was flying small planes around.”

Slyzko worked at the US Postal Service Processing Office, 3755 E. Post Road. She was described by her colleagues as a “great person” who was popular at work and liked everyone.

The flight that day departed from Lake Havasu City, Arizona, bound for North Las Vegas Airport. Akers’ plane struck Gass Peak about 400 feet below the mountaintop, after dark, at 5:30 p.m. Akers was flying using visual flight rules. The security office said he contacted Nellis air traffic control at 5:20 p.m. to report his altitude of 6,500 feet.

“Over the next 7 minutes, the controller issued various heading changes to the pilot due to traffic departing from a nearby airbase, which the pilot acknowledged,” the safety committee wrote in the report.

‘Altitude at your discretion’

At 5:23 p.m., an air traffic controller ordered Akers to turn left “due to the departure of a flight of four F-35s” at Nellis, according to the agency report. At 5:24 a.m., Akers was advised to turn left. At 5:25 p.m., Akers received a new heading, which Akers acknowledged.

“The controller then advised the pilot that a flight of four F-22s would take off from Runway 21 and climb north,” the report said. “The pilot replied that he was looking.”

There was more communication between the pilot and an air traffic controller as Akers received more direction. Sometimes Akers referred to the tail number of his N7GA aircraft to identify himself. Then, at 5:27 p.m., Akers received a directive to move left, which Akers acknowledged.

“Five seconds later, the controller instructed the pilot ‘N7GA altitude at your discretion’, to which the pilot responded with his call sign,” the report said.

At 5:29 p.m., the pilot said, “we’re getting a low altitude alert for N7GA, we need to turn left,” prompting the air traffic controller to tell Akers to turn left.

“No further communication from the pilot was received despite multiple attempts by the controller,” the safety committee said.

A spokesperson for the Federal Aviation Administration said this week that the agency does not oversee air traffic controllers at Nellis.

Nellis’ spokesman, Lt. Col. Bryon McGarry, wrote in a statement Wednesday sent to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that any questions regarding the details of the crash should be directed to the safety committee. Nellis air traffic controllers are FAA certified and adhere to the same training and performance standards as all controllers in the national airspace system, according to McGarry.

“Nellis AFB coordinates seamlessly with FAA controllers at Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas TRACON, Salt Lake Center, Los Angeles Center and Oakland Center on flights to and from Nellis AFB and flights crossing Nellis airspace,” McGarry said.

Possible security alert

The safety office report mapped recorded radar data from the flight which shows a course directed in the general direction of the mountainous terrain prior to the crash. The report made no formal safety recommendations in its final report on the accident, although it did note that FAA orders state that basic radar services be provided to pilots flying under visual flight rules make safety alerts from air traffic controllers to pilots a top priority.

“Issue a safety alert to an aircraft if you know the aircraft is in a position/altitude that you believe places it in unsafe proximity to terrain,” the report said, citing FAA rules.

The agency also said other factors such as workload, traffic volume, and radar and time limitations play a role in determining whether a traffic controller should issue a safety alert.

Brough said he thought a security alert should have been issued. He also said Akers had a responsibility to know where he was in relation to the mountain.

“He knew where he was going,” Brough said of the pilot. “It’s a mystery why he didn’t act himself. You can deviate from a course in an emergency situation.

Brough said the crash is similar to a 1999 crash at Gass Peak in which a cargo plane slammed into the mountain, killing the pilot. The cause of the accident was the pilot’s failure to maintain separation from terrain while flying at night under visual flight rules.

“Contributing factors were the incorrect issuance of a suggested heading by air traffic control personnel, inadequate monitoring of the flight’s progress by radar departure control personnel, and the inability of the radar controller to identify a unsafe condition and to issue a safety alert,” the safety board said in a final report on the 1999 crash.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at [email protected] Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.