FAA INSPECTIONS

Icing problems cause fatal crash,
but pilot receives blame

In 2000, icing brought down a Cessna 310Q, a plane not certified for flight into such conditions. Days after the plane went down the pilot was dead -- and blamed for the crash.


When the Cessna 310Q flying overhead suddenly fell silent amid the first snow of winter, Tom Woodman knew his premonition had come true: A plane had crashed into a hillside on his 600-acre New Hampshire horse farm.

"We knew somebody was alive up there because of the screaming," Woodman said.

He and his companion, Alicia Eitzman, scrambled up the steep Jackson Hill that early December morning in 2000, and there they came upon pilot Fernando Santiago, 39, his clothes completely burned off from the fiery impact.

Santiago, still alive, had managed to crawl about 20 feet from the wreckage. Seeing him there, Eitzman raced back to lead emergency crews to him, while Woodman blanketed him with their jackets, cradled the pilot's head and quietly prayed with him.

Six days later, he was dead. When it came time to affix blame for the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board did what it usually does in fatal cargo accidents: It cited the pilot.

Yet records show that Santiago's plane should never have been in the air that icy morning: The Cessna 310Q and three other planes operated by New York's Island Express Inc. "were not certified for flight into known icing," NTSB records show.

LATE ENFORCEMENT

After the crash, the Federal Aviation Administration "initiated enforcement actions against Island Express for operating contrary" to federal aviation regulations.

But records obtained by The Miami Herald show the FAA knew the planes were not certified for flight into icing, and that the agency only acted after the death.

The NTSB's ultimate probable cause finding made no mention of the company's gaping lapse or FAA oversight. Instead, its two-sentence conclusion cited only: "The pilot's continued flight into icing conditions, and his failure to use alternate air. A factor was the icing conditions."

| Reporting by Ronnie Greene | Photography by Candace Barbot | Audio Editing by Rhonda Victor Sibilia | Online Production by Stephanie Rosenblatt | (c) Miami Herald July 9, 2006 |