Tuesday 11 December 2012

Jenni Rivera pilots may be in violation of regulations – SCT on the hunt for Christian Eduardo Esquino Núñez

The pilots on Mexican-American music superstar Jenni Rivera’s ill-fated flight may have been in violation of pilot fatigue regulations when they departed at about 3:30 a.m. on December 9.

The pilots, one of whom was 78 years old, had already pulled a 19 hour shift. In response to concerns over the effects of pilot fatigue, the FAA brought in more stringent regulations last year. Now -

The allowable length of a flight duty period depends on when the pilot’s day begins and the number of flight segments he or she is expected to fly...ranges from 9-14 hours for single crew operations.

These however are for commercial airlines in the United States, and are subject to a two year phase in - it is uncertain to what extent they might apply to a charter flying in Mexico.

Ms. Rivera's publicist, Arturo Rivera (unrelated) at Monterrey airport

The United States’ National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is assisting Mexico’s Secretaría de Comunicaciones y Transportes (SCT). In response to a query from La politica, the NTSB’s Terry Williams deferred to the SCT, saying only that “The NTSB is providing assistance to the Mexican government, who (sic) is the conducting the investigation.”

David Helson has been designated as the traveling U.S. Accredited Representative for the NTSB. According to the NTSB, his focus will be on “airplane airworthiness and flight crew operations”. The NTSB will also have access to advisors from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Learjet.

The SCT has not responded to queries from La politica, but La politica’s sources within Mexico suggest that the SCT is now on the hunt for Christian Eduardo Esquino Núñez,proprietor of Starwood Manager, which owned the Learjet.

The airplane was en route from Monterrey, Nuevo León, to Toluca, west of Mexico City. It crashed fifteen minutes after takeoff, about 100 kilometres south of Monterrey, in a rugged area in the municipality of Iturbide, Nuevo León. The aircraft underwent a rapid descent from 35,000 to 9,000 feet before disappearing from radar and crashing. Ms. Rivera, her attorney, make-up artist, publicist, stylist, and two pilots all died in the crash.

La politica has learned that the early Learjet 25 had a tight “coffin corner”, which refers to the zone between the critical Mach number and the minimum airspeed needed to prevent an aerodynamic stall.  (The critical Mach number is “the maximum speed at which air can travel over the wings without losing lift due to flow separation and shock waves”). If the two become the same, or if the aircraft wanders out of the coffin corner, the plane simply can’t fly.

Consequently, a Learjet 25 requires experienced pilots. In fact, it is virtually impossible to fly an old Learjet at 35,000 feet without relying on autopilot.

At this point, one unusual aspect of the crash is the lack of reported radio contact.  Even a rapid descent at 35,000 feet would have given the pilots minutes to communicate their situation. It is possible that a pilot stroke or heart attack slumped him forward, disabling the autopilot and putting the plane into a dive. There could have also been a massive and sudden decompression.

One frightening possibility is that the co-pilot may have been out of his seat. If, then, the 78 year old pilot had a medical emergency, and fell over the controls, the G forces from the sudden fall could have made it impossible for the co-pilot to get back in front of the controls to stabilize the aircraft. A similar scenario occurred with Aeroflot Flight 593. In that example, the pilot may have let his child into his seat, whereupon the autopilot was inadvertently disabled and the pilots were unable to regain control.

Alejandro Argudín, Director of Civil Aviation of the Ministry of Communications and Transportation (SCT), has told the Mexican press that so far they have found no irregularities. He also said that Mexican authorities were moving quickly to find out what might have happened. If so, then they most certainly want to speak to Christian Eduardo Esquino Núñez, who is scheduled to testify this Friday in Mexico City with regard to the leasing of aircraft that the Mexican authorities have claimed supported a plan to smuggle Saadi Gaddafi, the son of fallen Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, into Mexico. To La politica’s knowledge, Esquino Núñez has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and is to present only as a witness.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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