On Feb. 23, 2019, an Amazon cargo plane operated by Atlas Air plummeted from the sky and crashed in the shallow waters of Trinity Bay, roughly 30 miles outside of Houston. Three people died in the crash. There were no survivors.
Atlas Air Flight 3591 (flying for Amazon Prime Air) departed from Miami and was due to land at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston when something went wrong. According to surveillance video footage captured by cameras at a jail near the impact zone, the Boeing 767 cargo plane entered a steep nosedive before violently crashing into the bay off the coast of Anahuac, Texas. Officials said the crash scene extends across 20,000 square yards.
Air traffic controllers in Houston reported a storm with heavy rain at the time of the crash, though pilots flying into Bush Intercontinental Airport are accustomed to such conditions. Some witnesses told authorities they heard the plane sputtering before the crash while others reported a sound resembling thunder.
What Caused Atlas Air Flight 3591 to Go Down?
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will determine the probable cause of the Amazon Prime plane crash. The investigation will likely take a year or more to complete. Once officials have pinpointed a probable cause, NTSB will offer applicable safety recommendations designed to prevent similar aviation disasters in the future.
Victims of Amazon Prime Airplane Crash
Friends and family identified the victims as Capt. Sean Archuleta of Houston, Capt. Ricky Blakely of Indiana and First Officer Conrad Jules Aska of Antigua.
Archuleta, 36, recently became a father and landed his dream job working as a pilot for United Airlines. He was scheduled to start work the week after the crash and was catching a ride back to Houston in the cargo plane’s jump seat. Archuleta’s wife, step-daughter, and son live in Colombia.
New York-based Atlas Air confirmed the fatalities in a statement following the crash, noting that its “primary focus is working to provide the families of those affected with care and support.”
What Do We Know About Atlas Air?
Atlas Air is one of two contractors working for Amazon’s new air delivery operation, Amazon Air. Over the last nine years, Atlas Air has seen its fleet of aircraft grow from 29 to 112, including more than 50 Boeing 747s. Roughly a quarter of the airline’s fleet growth is due to its contract with Amazon.
The company’s astronomic growth over the last decade has not come without controversy, however. Labor issues with its pilots, who claim that low pay and poor working conditions contribute to high turnover and strained operations, have lingered over the last few years.
Atlas Air pilots have staged protests in front of Amazon headquarters over working conditions and the airline has been in contract negotiations with pilots since 2016.
According to the pilots, their pay is 48% lower than captains and first officers working at UPS. They note strained working conditions have fueled low morale and high turnover as a pilot shortage continues to mount in the U.S. and around the world.
Notable Incidents Involving Boeing 767
On Oct. 28, 2016, the flight crew of a Boeing 767-300ER operating as American Airlines Flight 383 aborted takeoff due to an uncontained failure of the right GE CF6-80C2B6 engine. The airliner was speeding down the runway when the stage 2 disk of the high-pressure turbine broke apart and blew shrapnel through the engine casing, shredding through the wing and igniting a fire.
The flight crew evacuated all 161 passengers. More than twenty people suffered injuries in the incident.
In 2017, engine manufacturer GE Aviation issued a Service Bulletin recommending that airlines inspect first and second-stage disks of CF6 engines built before 2000.
Updates on Amazon Cargo Plane Crash Investigation
Officials recovered the bodies of two victims on Sunday. Their identities have not yet been released officially.
At a press conference, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said the plane was in a normal descent into Bush Intercontinental Airport until it reached 6,300 feet. At that point, the cargo jet took what he described as a “very, very rapid” dive. The flight crew did not issue a distress call before the crash.
Investigators from the FAA and the NTSB hope that the flight’s black boxes will help illuminate what caused the plane to go down so rapidly.