he right wingtip of a Gulfstream G650 struck the ground on takeoff before the aircraft crashed April 2 at Roswell Airport in New Mexico, killing all four people aboard, aviation officials say. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived at Roswell on the evening of April 2 to launch the investigation, which also involves Gulfstream, Parker Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and NTSB’s German counterpart, the BFU.
According to NTSB, the aircraft, N652GD, crashed on the runway during takeoff at about 9:30 a.m. MDT. The landing gear collapsed, and the aircraft slid along the ground, coming to rest about 200 ft. from the base of an air traffic control tower.
Investigators found wingtip scrape marks that began about 5,000 ft. from the end of the runway and ran about 3,000-ft. long. “Witnesses close to the scene saw the airplane sliding on the ground with sparks and smoke and subsequent full involvement with fire while it was still moving,” NTSB says.
The airport rescue and firefighting team responded quickly, the safety board adds, and fought the fire for more than 15 min. The fire destroyed the airplane.
NTSB described the weather at the time as clear with good visibility. Wind was 15 kt. directly from the left side of the plane, the safety board adds.
The aircraft had been conducting a series of takeoffs and landings in apparent braking tests prior to the accident, says FAA spokesman Lynn Lunsford. The aircraft would takeoff, do a teardrop-shaped maneuver and return to the same runway to test the brakes. NTSB, which plans to remain on the scene for several more days, expects to release a preliminary report on its initial findings by April 18, the agency says.
Gulfstream says the four people aboard the aircraft included two pilots and two technicians. The experimental test pilots were Kent Crenshaw, 64, who joined the company in 1997, and Vivan Ragusa, 51, who was with Gulfstream since 2007. David McCollum, 47, and Reece Ollenburg, 48, were the technicians aboard the aircraft. They had been with Gulfstream since 2006 and 2009, respectively.
“Our sorrow from the loss of these four great men is very deep,” Jay Johnson, chairman and CEO of Gulfstream parent General Dynamics, said April 4. Johnson adds he is confident that “the cause of this terrible tragedy will be determined.”
The accident occurred as Gulfstream was in the final stages of certification of the aircraft, the flagship of the Gulfstream fleet. Gulfstream was predicting certification and deliveries of about the first dozen this year.
“We look forward to continuing the rigorous testing required to achieve flight certification of the aircraft,” Johnson says, adding, “The G650 will take its place atop the long line of safe, reliable, high-performance business jets on which Gulfstream has built its superb reputation.”
Johnson’s remarks come as Wall Street analysts responded with mixed reaction to the news of the accident. “We expect a meaningful negative reaction to shares, at least in the short term,” says Robert Spingarn of Credit Suisse. “Based on the limited information here, there is a huge range of outcomes.” Spingarn adds there is no way to predict the resulting delay to the program.
“Given the G650 program was within 2-3 months of completing a multiyear-long certification process, if the NTSB rules out design flaws (which most likely would have shown up earlier), then what’s left in testing may be able to proceed with the other aircraft,” says Morgan Stanley’s Heidi Wood. “If the answers are murkier, then Gulfstream may be forced to park the G650 fleet until the right assurances can be met.”
Wood added that until further information is known, Morgan Stanley was maintaining its projections of 12 deliveries this year, given that Gulfstream had completed 1,500 of the planned 2,200 hr. for certification.
“Despite a tragic, serious accident, the G650 likely proceeds with potential delay but no change in our view about the underlying business jet demand,” Wood says. “It’s likely the G650 team will work with steelier resolve than ever before and our assessment of the G650 as Gulfstream’s crown jewel and a contributor to significant earnings growth is undeterred.”