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Fri, Aug 25, 2006

Yet Another MU-2 Down, 2 POB Lost

Highly Capable Aircraft Design Continues to Rack Up A Disproportionate Amount of Accidents

ANN has learned of yet another tragic MU-2 accident that occurred mid-day, Friday, in an area of IFR weather, North of Daytona Beach, FL. The second MU-2 accident in FL, in as many months, this aircraft went down just 5 NM NW of Ormond Beach where local conditions consisted of rain showers and areas of reduced visibility.

The aircraft impacted in a near vertical attitude in a wooded area near the St. Rt. 40 and St. Rd. 11. Two persons were confirmed as having been onboard and killed on impact.

The aircraft was enroute from Bloomington, Indiana, at 0940 EST and proceeded direct from there to the impact site at an assigned altitude of 27,000 feet. The initial destination was listed as Melbourne (for a reported fuel stop) though the final destination was reported as Eleuthera, Bahamas. No radio communication has been reported that left any evidence that the aircraft knew it had a problem prior to the accident.

The aircraft was registered as N171MA, and was a 1980 Mitsubishi MU-2B-40, powered by two TPE 331s. The aircraft owned by Drug and Laboratory Disposal, Inc., of Allegan Michigan. The company is in the hazardous waste disposal business.

The MU-2 series, certified in standard category, is well-known among industry experts and test pilots for its excellent handling characteristics and performance criteria, is also under intense scrutiny for an accident record that seems heavily out of proportion for the size of the fleet. Over 80 aircraft of about 800 airframes have been involved in fatal accidents that have killed over 250 people as of this time.

Earlier this year, the FAA completed its third attempt to find a cause for the accident rate by conducting an additional design review. For the third time in the aircraft's much-maligned history, the Mitsubishi MU-2 has received the conditional support of the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA once again stated that enhanced training procedures are the answer to reducing accidents in the speedy twin-turboprop.

The MU-2 is "a complex aircraft requiring operational techniques not typically found in other light turboprop aircraft," the FAA said in the safety proposal. "Fully understanding the system complexity is much more critical during an emergency situation."

"An MU-2B pilot is seven times more likely to lose control and have a fatal accident during an emergency when compared to pilots flying similar types of airplanes in similar situations," the agency added.

"We don't believe there is a safety issue with the airplane itself," said FAA spokesman Les Dorr Jr. "It meets its original certification standards."

"We continue to believe that if pilots are properly trained to fly this airplane, this airplane can be flown safely," Dorr added. "We want to make sure the pilot training is standardized and mandatory."

The agency stopped short of recommending a type-rating for the aircraft -- something that the airplane's manufacturer has supported.

A number of people have attempted to paint the aircraft as dangerous, including one Colorado legislator who made an emotional but factually insupportable attempt to get the aircraft restricted or grounded. Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo insisted that the only way to solve the MU-2's problems is to 'ground the aircraft.'

"Additional training for pilots is helpful, but is not a sufficient solution given the MU-2's crash statistics," Tancredo said in a statement quoted by the Rocky Mountain News. "Grounding the aircraft remains the optimum solution, but this is a good first step for the FAA, who, like a recovering alcoholic, has taken the first step of admitting that there is a problem."

ANN will keep an eye on this story and present more details as they become available.

FMI: www.faa.gov

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