ASN Aircraft accident Learjet 35A N720RA Chicago-Executive Airport, IL (PWK)
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Status:Accident investigation report completed and information captured
Date:Tuesday 5 January 2010
Type:Silhouette image of generic LJ35 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Learjet 35A
Operator:Royal Air Freight
Registration: N720RA
MSN: 35A-156
First flight: 1977
Total airframe hrs:15734
Engines: 2 Garrett TFE731-2-2B
Crew:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Passengers:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 0
Total:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Aircraft fate: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:ca 2,5 km S of Chicago-Executive Airport, IL (PWK) (   United States of America)
Phase: Approach (APR)
Departure airport:Pontiac-Oakland County International Airport, MI (PTK/KPTK), United States of America
Destination airport:Chicago-Executive Airport, IL (PWK/KPWK), United States of America
A Learjet plane, operating as Royal Air Freight flight RAX988, was destroyed when it impacted water and terrain while maneuvering to final approach to runway 34 at Chicago Executive Airport (PWK). The wreckage came to rest on the west bank of the Des Plaines River, in a forest preserve south of the airport. Both pilots were killed in the accident.
The flight departed Pontiac-Oakland County International Airport, MI (PTK) at 13:35 and was scheduled to pickup cargo at Chicago-Executive Airport, IL (PWK).
During the descent and 14 minutes before the accident, the airplane encountered a layer of moderate rime ice. The captain, who was the pilot flying, and the first officer, who was the monitoring pilot, made multiple statements which were consistent with their awareness and presence of airframe icing. After obtaining visual flight rules conditions, the flight crew cancelled the instrument flight rules clearance and continued with a right, circling approach to runway 34. While turning into the base leg of the traffic pattern, and 45 seconds prior to the accident, the captain called for full flaps and the engine power levers were adjusted several times between 50 and 95 percent. In addition, the captain inquired about the autopilot and fuel balance. In response, the first officer stated that he did not think that the spoilerons were working. Shortly thereafter, the first officer gave the command to add full engine power and the airplane impacted terrain.
There was no evidence of flight crew impairment or fatigue in the final 30 minutes of the flight. The cockpit voice recorder showed multiple instances during the flight in which the airplane was below 10,000 feet mean sea level that the crew was engaged in discussions that were not consistent with a sterile cockpit environment, for example a lengthy discussion about Class B airspeeds, which may have led to a relaxed and casual cockpit atmosphere. In addition, the flight crew appears to have conducted checklists in a generally informal manner. As the flight was conducted by a Part 135 operator, it would be expected that both pilots were versed with the importance of sterile cockpit rules and the importance of adhering to procedures, including demonstrating checklist discipline.

For approximately the last 24 seconds of flight, both pilots were likely focusing their attention on activities to identify and understand the reason for the airplane's roll handling difficulties, as noted by the captain's comment related to the fuel balance. These events, culminating in the first officer's urgent command to add full power, suggested that neither pilot detected the airplane's decaying energy state before it reached a critical level for the conditions it encountered.

Probable Cause:

PROBABLE CAUSE: "A loss of control for undetermined reasons."

Accident investigation:

Investigating agency: NTSB
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 1 year and 6 months
Accident number: CEN10MA088
Download report: Summary report

Loss of control



photo of Learjet-35A-N720RA
accident date: 05-01-2010
type: Learjet 35A
registration: N720RA

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This map shows the airport of departure and the intended destination of the flight. The line between the airports does not display the exact flight path.
Distance from Pontiac-Oakland County International Airport, MI to Chicago-Executive Airport, IL as the crow flies is 370 km (232 miles).
Accident location: Approximate; accuracy within a few kilometers.

This information is not presented as the Flight Safety Foundation or the Aviation Safety Network’s opinion as to the cause of the accident. It is preliminary and is based on the facts as they are known at this time.
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Learjet 35

  • 738 built
  • 75th loss
  • 48th fatal accident
  • 27th worst accident (at the time)
  • 33rd worst accident (currently)
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