JANUARY 10, 2007 - Posted at 7:47 a.m. CST
WASHINGTON (AP) - The National Transportation Safety Board says the crash of an October 2004 flight from Little Rock, Arkansas, en route to Minneapolis shows regional air carriers need to adopt more stringent professional standards for pilots -- as major airlines have done. They also must improve training procedures for pilots flying at high altitudes, the board said.
Federal investigators say two pilots who took their commuter jet on a high-altitude joyride, then failed to follow proper procedures after both engines failed, were to blame for an October 2004 plane crash in Jefferson City, Missouri.
Pilots Jesse Rhodes and Richard Peter Cesarz were ferrying the 50-seat Pinnacle Airlines regional jet from Little Rock to Minneapolis without passengers. Then -- according to the cockpit voice recorder transcript -- they decided ``to have a little fun.''
They took the plane to an unusually high altitude of 41,000 feet, performed aggressive flight maneuvers, switched seats during the flight and ignored repeated cockpit warnings that the plane was about to stall.
Memphis-based Pinnacle had pilot safety procedures in place in 2004, but the NTSB said the program was not as rigorous as that of Northwest Airlines, its parent company at the time of the accident. Pinnacle has since adopted a more rigorous safety program.
Pinnacle spokesman Philip Reed said ``We are very disappointed in the actions of the flight crew and we hope that people recognize that this is not indicative of our airline or the regional industry.''
NTSB investigators said there seemed to be an unusual curiosity among some Pinnacle pilots about flying at 41,000 feet and some pilots used the term ``410 club'' during investigation interviews.
The airline now has monitoring equipment to record flight data on ``repositioning'' flights made without passengers.
Captain Wakefield Gordon, a spokesman for the Air Line Pilots Association, said inadequate pilot training was a major contributing factor in the accident. Gordon said ``When the situation initially became hazardous, the pilots had every reason to believe that they would be able to restart the engines.''
Last year, the families of the two pilots filed wrongful death lawsuits against the plane's maker, Montreal-based Bombardier Aerospace Corporation, along with Northwest Airlines, a maintenance company and three parts makers, including GE. They allege that a faulty oil pump caused heat damage in the engines, making it impossible for the pilots to restart them.