The plane crash that left actor Harrison Ford with severe injuries was not his fault, according to federal investigators. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a report on the Harrison Ford plane crash today, indicating that an issue with a part of the carburetor resulted in the plane’s engine losing power.
On March 5, Harrison Ford departed from Santa Monica Airport in a vintage single-engine Ryan Aeronautical ST3KR plane and immediately reported a problem to air traffic controllers.
“53178 engine failure, immediate return,” Ford said to the tower at Santa Monica Airport. NTSB officials said Ford initiated a left turn in order to head back toward the airport. As he was getting closer to the runway, the vintage plane ended up hitting the top of a tall tree before crashing on one of the fairways at Penmar Golf Course. The NTSB report indicated that the plane’s wings and fuselage were substantially damaged.
No one on the ground was hurt in the crash. As for Harrison Ford himself, he was conscious after the crash and was able to communicate with emergency responders. He was rushed to an area hospital with serious injuries. His son, Ben, took to social media while his father was recovering to say that Ford was “battered” but doing okay. He would spend weeks in the hospital recovering.
Harrison Ford would later tell federal investigators that in the midst of the of assessing the mechanical failure, he didn’t attempt to restart the engine. Instead, Ford said he maintained an airspeed of 85 miles-per-hour and turned around. It was right around this time that Ford realized he wasn’t going to make it to the runway at Santa Monica Airport. After that, he told investigators he doesn’t remember anything about the crash sequence.
What Went Wrong With Harrison Ford’s Plane?
According to the report, the plane part that had problems became separated from its mounts, and the threads of the screws holding the part together appeared to be stripped and rounded off. The problem part, the report states, was the carburetor’s main metering jet, which controls the flow of fuel in the plane’s engine. Located between the discharge nozzle and the float chamber, the main metering jet provides “a constant mixture ratio over the cruising range of engine operating speeds,” the report states.
Maintenance records on the plane show that the last time the carburetor was checked was in 1998. It was during this time that the vintage aircraft underwent extensive restoration, which included an engine overhaul. According to the NTSB report, the manual for the carburetor failed to provide “pertinent instructions regarding installations or continued maintenance of the jet assemblies.”
Without proper instructions, the carburetor couldn’t be properly maintained, as there was no way to ensure the security of the main metering jet. Investigators said there was “no record” of maintenance professionals inspecting the carburetor jets since the restoration and engine overhaul in 1998. The NTSB report also listed an improperly installed shoulder harness as a contributing factor to Harrison Ford’s injuries.
The plane that Harrison Ford was flying is registered to MG Aviation Inc. in Delaware. Built in 1942, it was originally used by the Army (then called a PT-22 Recruit) as a training aircraft during World War II.
2014 Statistics Show General Aviation Accidents on the Rise
On the same day that the agency released its findings on the Harrison Ford plane crash, the NTSB released preliminary aviation accident statistics for last year. According to the latest statistics, fatal general aviation accidents increased from the previous year. The increase was slight, according to the report, but significant nonetheless.
In 2013, there were a total of 222 fatal general aviation accidents in the U.S. That number increased to 253 in 2014 (again, it is worth noting here that these statistics are considered preliminary). As for the overall number of general aviation crashes, the numbers stayed close to the same. In 2013, there were 1,224 general aviation crashes, and in 2014, there were 1,221. But while there were less total general aviation accidents in 2014, the rate for general aviation crashes increased from 6.26 per 100,000 flight hours in 2013 to 6.74 last year.
Other noteworthy statistics in the NTSB’s preliminary report:
- Last year, there were 28 accidents involving commercial air transport (Part 121 operations).
- The number of accidents involving scheduled commuter operations (Part 135) decreased from seven in 2013 to four in 2014.
- On-demand commuter operations (including charter, medical flights, air tour and air taxi) reported 44 accidents in 2013. In 2014, there were 35 reported accidents.
- The accident rate for on-demand commuter operations also decreased from 1.30 per 100,000 flight hours in 2013 to 1.02 in 2014.
The Most Common Plane Crash Causes
Yahoo News! posted an interesting article recently discussing the most common causes of plane crashes. The article posits that plane crashes are often caused by four main categories: human error, mechanical failure, weather, or intentional.
Human error as a crash cause is often only thought of as pilot error. It is true that pilot error has been a contributing factor in many plane crashes, but there are a host of other people that can be involved in a plane or helicopter crash. For example, mechanics that work on aircraft can be found to be negligent in their maintenance or repair work, which can and does lead to tragedy.
Air traffic controllers also make mistakes by guiding planes or helicopters in the same flight path, or failing to properly assist pilots in dire emergency situations. Taken together, all of these human factors are estimated by experts to be the leading cause of plane and helicopter crashes.
This is where the Yahoo! article goes a bit off-track. Pilot and Federal Aviation Administration Safety Team representative Kyle Bailey is quoted as saying “mechanical failure isn’t as prominent as most people think.” The article continues to say that in the early days of flying, mechanical failure was an issue in as many as 80 percent of aviation accidents. Now, according to a recent study, mechanical failure is a culprit in roughly 20 percent of aviation accidents.
Regardless of what “most people think,” 20 percent-statistically, one out of every five-is still quite a lot of crashes that affect quite a lot of lives. We can be grateful that aviation technology and safety have improved since the early days of flight, but to say that mechanical failure isn’t all that prominent in crashes is disrespectful to those who have been hurt in mechanical failure-crashes, or have lost loved ones.
According to statistics from the NTSB, weather is a contributing factor in 23 percent of all aviation accidents. Thunderstorms are especially dangerous for all aircraft, as evidenced by the recent AirAsia Flight QZ 8501 crash, which killed 162 people onboard. Famously, Air France Flight 447 that crashed on June 12, 2009 encountered severe weather that apparently was a significant contributing factor to that crash.
Most of the time, pilots are experienced enough to avoid serious weather, even when thunderstorms are a constant in parts of the world. But sometimes, things can shift in unpredictable ways and pilots are forced to adapt. These situations-like going right through a thunderstorm-can be especially treacherous.
Plane or helicopter crashes caused by intentional sabotage are rare, but have garnered a lot of media attention in the wake of the Germanwings Flight 9525 disaster. According data provided by Plane Crash Info, intentional sabotage has accounted for 8 percent of all fatal plane crashes since the 1950’s. The Germanwings crash has led Europe’s aviation regulators to create more stringent mental illness screening for those seeking to become airline pilots.
Combination of Causes
A point often overlooked is that aviation accidents very often have more than one cause associated with the incident. For instance, company policies with respect to training, rest and low pay have contributed to pilot error, as was infamously demonstrated in Colgan Air Flight 3407 that crashed February 12, 2009. Sometimes, an in-flight emergency that occurred due to mechanical failure resulted in a crash due to mishandling of the flight by Air Traffic Control; and the failure could have resulted from maintenance errors, thus tripling the causes. And, even where the immediate “cause” of the crash might be considered to be intentional conduct on the part of a pilot, issues of cause can arise as to the airline’s culpability in failing to know about its dangerous pilot and to take steps to ground him or her.
From the above, it can be seen that when an aircraft goes down it is very often difficult to determine the cause or causes of the crash without careful, and expert, investigation and analysis.