I started a thread about this crash when it happened, but found this article about it from December that really is incredible. There were screw ups
so badly during this flight that it's amazing.
On October 4th of last year, a DeHavilland Dash 8 operated by a New Frontier crew, for Sierra Nevada, which was operating under Big Safari (confusing,
ain't it) slammed into a mountain in Columbia, killing all but two of the crew on board. On board were two pilots (both survived and were
unidentified as the investigation is ongoing), 28 year old William Burnette III, a former Air Force member, 66 year old Ralph Dietz, retired from the
Air Force and having just left Homeland Security, Air Force Sgt. Martin Gonzalez, who was liaison and translator for Lt. Lloyd Nunez who was acting as
the "Host Nation Rider".
The aircraft was operating out of Panama under the umbrella of Big Safari. Their mission was to monitor "go fast boats" that would run out of
inlets in the area heading for the US with loads of drugs. The group would use civilian aircraft to be more discrete about the mission (how they were
more discrete with the modifications made to the aircraft is beyond me).
Big Safari contracted the mission to Sierra Nevada, who had flown other operations for them in the past. They used a little known loophole, making
the contract for the missions a no bid contract, to give the mission to Sierra Nevada. In turn Sierra Nevada steered a subcontract for crews to New
Frontiers Innovations. Now here is where the fun starts.
The command pilot for the aircraft was a former Navy Seal. About 10 years ago, during a martial arts tournament, he took a blow to the head that
ended up with his right eye coming out of the socket. During the ride to the hospital, he was forced to cup his eye in his hand, holding it in place.
He never regained sight in the eye. He received a waiver from the FAA to be able to fly, even though he was blind in the eye, even though some
colleagues were critical of his flying abilities.
The aircraft in question was bought in 2012. They immediately began to modify it, including cameras, a high tech radar, listening devices that would
monitor cell phone and radio traffic, as well as extra fuel tanks that would allow for extended missions that would keep them from having to land and
refuel. It was modified so extensively that the FAA deemed it Experimental, and granted an airworthiness certificate for "crew training, and market
The complaints from William Burnette about the pilots, included that they didn't know how to land the aircraft. They would come down too hard on
some approaches, and miss their initial point on others. It also came out after the crash that the terrain warning system was unplugged because it
didn't work right.
On this night, during the mission over the Caribbean, the pilots became lost. They wandered over Columbia, and by the time they realized it, it was
to late. The aircraft slammed into a mountain, killing everyone in the back, and seriously burning the copilot. Both pilots attempted to go out
through the cockpit escape hatches, but they were taped shut from the outside. They were able to get out through a tear in the cockpit.
There is no excuse for things to get this screwed up, except a total lack of oversight. Big Safari has been performing vital missions for the
government, including UAV operations, since at least 2011, probably longer. I seriously doubt that anyone in the government even knows about them,
except a few people, and they let them do what they want. The end result is the death of four people in a totally screwed up mission, on a plane that
shouldn't have been flying that night.