The pilot whose twin-engine private jet slammed into Bucks Elbow Mountain in 2018 had consumed alcohol and had taken an antihistamine prior to leaving Richmond on his way to Weyers Cave, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report on the fatal crash released this week.
The April 15, 2018, crash killed Staunton resident Kent D. Carr, 51.
Carr was in the pilot’s seat of a Cessna CitationJet, flying at about 4,300 feet, when the jet went into a steady descending left turn at an estimated 6,000 feet per minute, the report states. The jet struck three 40-foot-tall trees shortly before hitting the side of the mountain at 1,520 feet above sea level, according to the report.
The crash site is about a quarter-mile from where a Piedmont Airlines DC-3 crashed into the same Albemarle County mountainside in 1959, killing 26 people.
The NTSB report is a fact-finding report and did not cite a crash cause nor assign fault. Investigators did note that Carr’s autopsy showed alcohol and antihistamines in his muscle tissues and pointed out procedures followed and not followed by the pilot.
“The autopsy report indicated that the pilot died as a result of multiple blunt force injuries,” the report, issued March 23, states. “Toxicology testing performed at the FAA’s Forensic Sciences Laboratory identified ethanol … and cetirizine in the pilot’s muscle tissue.”
Cetirizine is the active ingredient found in over-the-counter medications like Zyrtec.
According to drug interaction information on cetirizine, alcohol can exacerbate side effects of the antihistamine, including dizziness, drowsiness and difficulty concentrating.
Some people, the information indicates, may experience impairment in thinking and judgment and the manufacturer recommends avoiding driving while taking the medication until effects are known.
According to the report, family members told investigators that Carr flew the jet to Richmond the day before the accident to perform a flight review on the afternoon of the crash.
“According to a friend of the pilot, the pilot had ‘a couple of drinks’ while they were preparing dinner,” the report states. “The pilot’s friend thought that the pilot would be going to a hotel because it was getting dark, but [airport] security video showed that the pilot arrived at the airport at 8:02 p.m. and walked to the airplane.”
The report indicates the autopsy showed the equivalent of a 0.08 blood-alcohol content in Carr’s body as indicated by quantities of ethanol found in body tissue. That amount would make him legally impaired, although the report notes ethanol, the intoxicant in beer, wine and liquor, can be created in small amounts by the human body after death.
According to the NTSB, Federal Aviation Administration rules restrict pilots from flying for eight hours after consuming alcohol. Federal rules also prohibit anyone from acting as a pilot or crew member if blood-alcohol content is 0.04 or higher.
The report notes that no flight plan was filed for the 8:35 p.m. flight from Richmond Executive–Chesterfield County Airport destined for Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.
The narrative states that Carr walked around the airplane at the airport for about three minutes, got into the jet, closed the cabin door and started the engines at 8:17 p.m. It does not indicate if the pilot was performing pre-flight checks or not.
The report indicates that Lockheed Martin Flight Services records show Carr did not access the company’s weather briefings or the weather computer terminal at the airport prior to takeoff.
“About two minutes later, the airplane began to taxi to the departure end of runway 15 and then taxied back to the departure end of runway 33,” the report states. “The [plane’s] takeoff roll began on runway 33 at 8:33 p.m.”
The report said security video showed the airport windsock, which shows wind direction at the ground, favored the plane taking off from runway 15.
“According to an airport line service employee, the airplane departed with a tailwind. The employee also stated that the pilot did not communicate on [the aircraft-to-aircraft radio] frequency,” the report states.
The report indicates that air traffic control data shows the Cessna leaving the Richmond airport and attaining an altitude of 11,500 feet at 8:40 p.m., flying through a thunderstorm for five minutes while descending to 4,300 feet and remaining at that altitude until 8:53 p.m.
The FAA’s minimum safe altitude for the Weyers Cave airport is 5,700 feet. The minimum altitude is set to allow an aircraft to to clear all obstacles with 37 miles of the airport.
One minute later the plane began its fatal descent and crashed into the mountain in a “moderate-to-heavy rain,” about 15 miles southeast, and on the opposite side, of the mountain from Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport.
“According to a witness near the accident location, he heard the ‘screaming of the engines’ and then felt the terrain shake when the airplane impacted the ground,” the NTSB report states. “[The witness] stated that, at the time of the accident, the cloud ceiling was ‘really low,’ the winds were moderate, and heavy rain was occurring.”
According to the NTSB and FAA, Carr’s pilot logbook showed he had a total of 737.9 hours of flight time, of which 13.5 hours were in the 30 days before the crash. In addition, he reported 1.4 hours of instrument time in the previous 90 days, which included nine instrument approaches.
He had flown 165.4 hours in the airplane in the last four years.