The pilots of a Learjet that hurtled off a South Carolina runway heard a noise and warned controllers they were going to crash just seconds before the fiery accident killed four people and injured two celebrities, according to transcripts of the cockpit conversation released Friday.
What appeared to be a routine departure from Columbia Metropolitan Airport just before midnight Sept. 19 quickly became a disaster as the Learjet 60 made a series of clicking noises that drew the attention of pilot Sarah Lemmon and her co-pilot, James Bland.
“What was that?” Bland asked.
“I don’t know,” Lemmon said. “We’re not going though.”
Moments later, Lemmon cursed and slammed on the plane’s brakes. “What is going on here?” one of the pilots asked.
Bland told the air traffic control officials to prepare for a crash. “Roll the equipment, we’re going off the end,” he said, referring to emergency vehicles.
The plane shot off the end of the runway, ripped through a fence and crossed a highway before coming to rest in flames. Lemmon, Bland and two others were killed. Former Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker and DJ AM, whose real name is Adam Goldstein, were injured and treated for burns.
Barker and Goldstein had performed together under the name TRVSDJ-AM at a free concert in Columbia the night of the crash. The jet, which was headed for Van Nuys, Calif., was owned by Global Exec Aviation, a California-based charter company.
The NTSB has not released its final report on what caused the crash. But investigators have said there was little rubber left on the jet’s wheels and the brakes were badly damaged.
Minutes before the crash, Lemmon and Bland discussed what they would do if something went wrong.
“We’ve got plenty of runway,” Lemmon said. But, she said, if a major problem develops, she would take the plane up and burn off some fuel before landing elsewhere.
“Then we’ll look for a longer runway nearby probably Charleston,” Lemmon said. It was unclear why the plane didn’t try to take off, because the transcript indicates they were going fast enough.
The jet’s owner, Inter Travel & Services Inc. of Irvine, Calif., and its operator, Global Exec Aviation Inc. of Long Beach, Calif., have sued the airport, arguing that the design of the area beyond the runway contributed to the seriousness of the crash. The companies claim there was not enough room for the plane to stop, that a fence damaged the jet’s fuel tanks, and that the roadway around the airport caused the plane to crash nose first into a raised embankment.
The companies have also sued Learjet Inc., Bombardier Aerospace Corp. and Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., for more than $12 million in damages, saying those manufacturers’ designs were also to blame.
At least four other lawsuits have been filed.