SANTEE, Calif. — The National Transportation Safety Board is giving new insight as to what led to the deadly Santee Plane crash. The incident happened two years ago and took the lives of the pilot and a UPS driver.
Present day, FOX 5 reached out to Rich Martindell, a former aircraft accident investigator along with Jim Kidrick, a Navy pilot of 21 years, for their analysis behind the findings.
“When you fly in a cloud, you’ve got three things working against you, your eyes, your ears, and the seat of your pants,” says Kidrick.
It’s something that has left its mark on East County and beyond, after the pilot, Dr. Sugata Das who was a cardiologist in Yuma, crashed into a UPS truck and surrounding homes, which killed not only himself, but the driver known as Steve Kreuger.
“When you fly in a cloud, you’ve got three things working against you, your eyes, your ears, and the seat of your pants,” Martindell explains.
According to investigators, it was not mechanical errors with the plane, but rather signs of spatial disorientation or signs of vertigo per our experts.
“Vertigo is all inner ear kind of stuff…It’s difficult to understand but there are times where no matter what your body is telling you, the instrument is God,” Kidrick went on to explain.
The findings show shortly before incident, the pilot was told to reach a higher elevation and was given a low altitude alert warning twice.
“It was not a good conversation,” Kidrick noted. Yet, Das continued to descend.
Low visibility was also a factor. Martindell says mixed cloud coverage alters vision more than dense cloud coverage which likely triggered the vertigo symptoms.
“What you have to do as an instrument pilot is train yourself to listen to the instrument over what the body is telling you,” Martindell said.
He also says there is an FAA requirement that legally has pilots fly on a recurring basis to prevent such cases, but Martindell warns the legal guidelines aren’t parallel to what it takes to maintain paramount necessities like spatial orientation.
“Flying an instrument is a very perishable skill you have to do it frequently to stay proficient.”