Although gusting winds and blowing snow would have complicated landing at Council Bluffs' airport, a winter storm on Friday probably wasn't severe enough to cause a plane to crash, one expert said.
Weather data from 9:15 p.m., about the time the Cessna 340A crashed several miles south of the airport, indicated that a landing should have been possible during the storm, said Bob Moser, an aviation instructor who manages the flight simulation facility at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
"I've flown that approach in the simulators successfully with the exact same weather conditions plugged in," Moser said.
"Those are not beyond the capability of that aircraft or that pilot. I would not categorize anything he did as unsafe."
Friday's crash killed all four people in the aircraft, including pilot Steve Revord, 51, an experienced flight instructor.
One of the passengers has been identified as Shawn Sorenson Peters, an executive with Dallas Johnson Greenhouse, which hired Revord to fly the company-owned plane. The names of the other two passengers have not been released yet.
Because the plane likely wasn't carrying a "black box" flight recorder, investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board may need up to a year to determine what caused the crash.
The storm made conditions less than ideal for landing a small aircraft, Moser said. The airport's weather reports indicated winds gusting from the north and northwest at more than 40 mph and visibility reduced to three-fourths of a mile. Around an inch of snow fell in Council Bluffs during the storm, according to Accuweather, the World-Herald's weather consultant.
The Council Bluffs airport recommends that pilots flying smaller aircraft have a minimum visibility of one mile to attempt a landing, Moser said.
But that doesn't mean Revord was irresponsible to try a landing in lower visibility, he said.
"It's always the pilot's discretion to try the landing," he said. "If he couldn't get a visual on the runway before landing, he could always have diverted to Eppley (Airfield) instead."
Eppley officials did not record any delays or cancellations related to the weather Friday, said Phil Jensen, the airport's operations supervisor.
When bad weather causes low visibility or gusting winds, airport officials let pilots decide whether to land, Jensen said.
A host of variables -- including the pilot's qualifications, the aircraft's guidance systems and an airline's rules -- then determine whether the weather is too bad to attempt a landing.
"Our job is to make sure pilots have the best conditions possible on the runways, to clear them of snow and ice and make sure they aren't too slick to land," Jensen said.
Conditions were favorable to ice forming on the aircraft's wings, said John Gresiak, a senior forecaster with Accuweather.
The type of plane that crashed generally is equipped with deicing equipment on its wings, however, Moser said.
The storm wasn't likely to produce a dangerous wind shear, Gresiak said. Wind shear is caused by sharply different wind speeds at different altitudes and can be dangerous for aircraft trying to take off or land.
Though Friday's storm was quick moving, Revord probably knew what to expect in Council Bluffs.
The flight started in Texas and made a stop in northwest Arkansas before heading to Council Bluffs.
Steve Searle, fixed base operator at the Jasper County Airport in Texas, said he remembers the pilot getting a 15- to 20-minute weather briefing by phone before taking off.
Searle said when the pilot rejoined the three other people in
the group, one of them asked how the weather was in Iowa.
Searle said the pilot told the group that it was snowing in the region, but Revord didn't seem concerned.
"It wasn't any big deal to him," Searle said, adding that others in the group didn't seem concerned either.
Though Moser did not want to speculate on the cause of the crash, he said that 15 percent of accidents in smaller planes are caused by mechanical problems.
The inclement weather on Friday may have been a contributing factor to other problems Revord encountered when he tried to land.
But the weather alone was not enough to cause such a disastrous result, Moser said.
"I would probably fly that approach myself in those same conditions," he said.
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