NTSB blames pilot error for fatal crash that struck a UPS truck and Santee homes
The pilot who crashed his small plane into a UPS delivery truck and then crashed into two homes in Santee became disoriented while flying in overcast skies, and that likely caused the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board found in its final report, which released more after more. Two years after the accident.
The pilot and delivery truck driver died when the six-seat Cessna C340 plane crashed shortly after noon on October 21, 2021. A couple in their 70s were injured, and neighbors pulled them from one of the burning homes. The house next door was also destroyed, but the residents – a newlywed couple – were not home.
There were clouds, and the pilot, Dr. Sujata Das, was using flight instruments when the plane went down about 11 miles east of its intended destination, Montgomery Gibbs Executive Field in Kearney Mesa.
It crashed at Greencastle and Jeremy streets, less than a tenth of a mile east of Santana High School’s football field, on the eastern edge of campus.
Das was a cardiologist at Yuma Regional Medical Center. He was flying a Cessna plane from Yuma, Arizona, to San Diego County, where he lived. The delivery driver was Steve Krueger, a San Diego resident who has been a UPS employee for nearly 30 years.
According to an NTSB report released last week, investigators found no evidence of mechanical problems with the plane. It found that the conditions were consistent with known effects of “spatial disorientation” and determined that it was likely the cause of the accident.
The 13-page report includes communications between the pilot and the airport control tower immediately before the accident.
The report notes that moments before the plane crashed, the air traffic controller repeatedly asked the pilot to “climb,” or fly the plane to a higher level. The report states that the controller issued a low-altitude alert twice, which is essentially a warning to the pilot to make a correction.
Two aviation experts likened spatial disorientation to vertigo.
The finding meant the pilot “was suffering from an optical illusion, which he didn’t fully understand since he was in the clouds and had to rely on his instruments,” Max Trescott, a pilot and host of “Aviation News Talk,” explained. Exactly what position the plane was in and exactly what it was doing when he was experiencing spatial disorientation.
“This is something that happens to pilots because our bodies, the senses that we have in the plane are often incorrect as to whether the plane is level with the wings or pointed up or down when it’s in the clouds because you can’t see out,” he told the Union-Tribune.
Robert Katz, a commercial pilot and flight instructor from Dallas with more than 40 years of flying experience, said flying in the clouds is like “being in a cotton ball. You can’t see anything outside the plane. There’s no natural horizon.”
Some victims filed a lawsuit against the doctor’s estate after the accident. The status of those lawsuits was unclear Monday afternoon, and attorneys for both sides did not respond to requests for comment.