‘Get on the plane,’ said the pilot

SANTEE, Calif. (AP) – Before a twin-engine plane nose-dive in a suburb of San Diego, an increasingly concerned air traffic controller told the pilot more than half a dozen times he needed to gain altitude, a recording that was among the evidence examined by federal investigators who arrived Tuesday at the scene. crash.

The Cessna 340 broke down a UPS van, killing the driver, and then hit two homes just after noon Monday in Santee, a suburb of 50,000 people east of San Diego. The pilot, Dr. Sugata Das, died and an elderly couple suffered a fire when their home caught fire. No one was inside the second residence when the crash occurred.

Al Diehl, a former National Transportation Safety investigator, said the recording between air traffic control and Das indicated he was trying to deal with a major disturbance or significant emergency on his own, violating a major rules that aviators should always tell everyone under control.

“The first thing you do when you’re in trouble is call, go up and confess – and he didn’t do any of the three,” Diehl said. “These are the very basic rules that flight instructors tell their students.”

Diehl, who helped design a Cessna cockpit, said the twin-engine aircraft had a complex system that could lead to fatal mistakes.

Clouds and windy weather can complicate Das ’ability to handle the aircraft, Diehl said. Investigators will also look to see if there may be a medical emergency, something that an autopsy should help uncover.

An investigator from the NTSB arrived at the crash site Tuesday morning and reviewed radar data, weather information, air traffic control communications, aircraft maintenance records and pilot medical records. , said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Gabris.

Das worked at Yuma Regional Medical Center in Arizona and flew from there to Montgomery-Gibbs Executive Airport in San Diego, where he lives. Shortly before the crash, when the plane was nearly a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the runway, an air traffic control alerted Das that the aircraft was too low.

In a recording made by LiveATC, a website that tracks and posts flight communications, the air controller repeatedly warned Das that he needed to climb to the top. He also warned that a C-130, a large military aircraft, was overhead and could cause chaos.

Das replied that he was aware.

Heard the controller say, “Looks like you’re really drifting of course, are you correcting?”

“Correction,” Das replied.

Das asked if he had been cleared for the path. The controller said “I need you to fly,” warning him that he was coming too low.

Das tells him he’s climbing. The controller urges him to go up again, and Das says he is going up.

“Ok. It looks like you’re going down sir. I have to make sure you’re going up, not going down,” said the controller.

Then the speaker speaks with more urgency.

“Low altitude alert, get on right away, get on the plane,” he said. “You get on the plane please.”

The controller repeatedly urged the plane to ascend 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), and when it remained at 1,500 feet (457 meters), the steward warned: “You appear to be descending again, sir.”

No response.

Diehl said the plane at the last minute made a wide right turn as if trying to return to another airport closer because something went wrong. It is not mentioned in air traffic control.

Das has been on staff at Yuma Regional Medical Center since 2005, Dr. Bharat Magu, the chief medical officer of the hospital, in a statement. Magu called the father of two young sons an outstanding cardiologist and dedicated family man.

“Our community has lost an extraordinary physician, colleague and friend, someone who dedicated his life and career to caring for patients,” Magu said.

Das is a licensed pilot and owns the plane he flies. She lived in San Diego and traveled to Yuma, according to a website for the Power of Love Foundation, a non-profit she taught that helps women and children abroad who are infected or affected by AIDS and HIV.

UPS held a moment of silence Tuesday for van driver Steve Krueger.

“Those who knew Steve said he was proud of his work, and his positive demeanor and cheerful laugh made the toughest day easier,” the company said in a statement. “Steve is held in high respect and is totally missed.”

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Associated Press writers Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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