Avjet Aspen Crash

The 2001 Avjet Aspen crash occurred on March 29, 2001 when a chartered Avjet Corporation Gulfstream III business jet, registration N303GA, crashed into terrain while on instrument approach to Aspen-Pitkin County Airport, Aspen, Colorado.

The three crew members and fifteen passengers on board all perished.

The subsequent National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report concluded that the accident was caused by the captain's premature descent below the minimum descent altitude without visual reference to the runway.

The accident's investigation also brought into focus several generic safety issues, such as pressure applied on charter pilots by customers; night flight into airports near mountainous terrain; and the ambiguity of some Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules.

On March 29, 2001 a series of operational and instrument approach procedural errors led to the crash of N303GA, a Gulfstream III, just 2,400 ft short of the approach end of Aspen-Pitkin County Airport (ASE)’s Runway 15 while attempting to complete the VOR/DME C circling approach. Eighteen people, including three crewmembers lost their lives in the accident. The NTSB report of the crash (see 'Pressure on pilots a key factor in Aspen GIII crash') was riddled with lessons about what pilots flying under instrument flight rules should not do, ranging from examples of poor crew coordination, to serious misunderstandings of basic instrument procedures, such as the fact that the GIII– certified as a Category D aircraft– was not even authorized to shoot the approach to Aspen under any conditions. Descending below the MDA without adequate reference to the airport environment was also noted.

Crashed on finals to runway 15 when it hit a hill and then plunged across a 200 foot culvert between the hill and the airport before slamming into Shale Bluff, broke up and caught fire.

PROBABLE CAUSE: "The flight crew's operation of the airplane below the minimum descent altitude without an appropriate visual reference for the runway.

Contributing to the cause of the accident were the Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) unclear wording of the March 27, 2001, Notice to Airmen regarding the nighttime restriction for the VOR/DME-C approach to the airport and the FAA's failure to communicate this restriction to the Aspen tower; the inability of the flight crew to adequately see the mountainous terrain because of the darkness and the weather conditions; and the pressure on the captain to land from the charter customer and because of the airplane's delayed departure and the airport's nighttime landing restriction. "