Moments before a double engine failure and a crash that killed them, one of the pilots aboard a regional airliner told an air traffic controller they had “decided to have a little fun” by flying at the plane’s maximum altitude.
There were no passengers on the plane and no one on the ground was injured by the Oct. 14 crash in a residential neighborhood of Jefferson City, Mo.
Transcripts the St. Louis Post-Dispatch obtained from the Federal Aviation Administration describe the rapid descent of the Pinnacle Airlines Corp. plane after it lost engine power.
The problem was first mentioned in the transcripts when an air traffic controller in Kansas City told the pilots it was rare to see the plane, a Canadair CRJ2, flying at an altitude of 41,000 feet.
“Yeah, we’re actually ... we don’t have any passengers on board, so we decided to have a little fun and come up here,” one of the pilots said. The transcripts don’t identify whether Capt. Jesse Rhodes or First Officer Richard Peter Cesarz made the statement.
The pilot soon told air traffic controllers that the CRJ2 wouldn’t remain at that altitude for long.
“I don’t think he had enough gas up there; he was so slow,” one air traffic controller said.
The pilots said first one and then the second engine shut down.
“We’re going to need a little lower to start this other engine up, so we’re going to go down to about 12 or 11 (thousand feet). Is that cool?” the pilot said.
The last contact that controllers had with the crew was at 9,000 feet, when the pilot reported an airport beacon in sight.
Earlier that day, the crew had called off a scheduled flight with passengers from Little Rock, Ark., because an indicator light went on for part of its “bleed air” system, which takes hot, compressed air from the engines to heat other components of the plane. After a repair, the plane took off for Minneapolis with just the crew on board.
Phil Reed, Pinnacle’s vice president of marketing, said he could not comment.