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On October 19, 2004, an American Airlines commuter airplane departed from Lambert St. Louis International Airport, flying to Kirksville, Missouri. The crew was on its sixth flight of the day, on day three of a four-day rotation. While on approach, the captain and first officer had numerous casual and unprofessional conversations regarding the weather and the lack of an instrument landing system. These conversations carried on during their approach. The captain was so close to the airport he believed he had “approach lights in sight.” Seconds later, at 7:36 p.m. (CDT), the aircraft impacted the tops of trees and crashed into a wooded area surrounding Kirksville Regional Airport. The aircraft broke into multiple pieces on impact. A post impact fire engulfed the aircraft and surrounding trees. Two passengers escaped the wreckage but suffered serious injuries. The crew and eleven other passengers died. The first responders were unable to arrive at the scene until 8:30 p.m. due to the difficulties in locating the aircraft.
The investigation found the contributory causes to be the pilots’ failure to follow established procedures and properly conduct a non-precision instrument approach at night in IMC, including their descent below the minimum descent altitude (MDA) before required visual cures were available (which continued unmoderated until the airplane struck the trees and their failure to adhere to the established division of duties between the flying and nonflying (monitoring) pilot. Also, contributing to the accident was the pilots’ failure to make standard callouts and the current Federal Aviation Regulations that allow pilots to descend below the MDA into a region in which safe obstacle clearance is not assured based upon seeing only the airport approach lights. The pilots’ unprofessional behavior during the flight and their fatigue likely contributed to their degraded performance.”