The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a preliminary report on 8 September that suggests the fatal crash of an air ambulance plane in Las Cruces, New Mexico, followed a fuelling mistake. The aircraft, a Cessna 421 C operated by Amigos Aviation, was undertaking a mission for Elite Air Medical Transport. It came down shortly after taking off from Las Cruces International Airport (LRU) with pilot Freddie Martinez, flight paramedic Taurean Summers, nurse Monica Chavez and a cancer patient, Frederick Green, onboard. All four lost their lives in the crash.
The NTSB said that its review of refuelling records and interviews with line service technicians showed that the plane, tail number N51RX, was incorrectly filled with 40 gallons of Jet A fuel at the airport, instead of the required 100LL aviation gasoline. The report states: “The airplane arrived at LRU about 18:34 hrs to pick up a patient for a flight to Phoenix. The pilot was still seated in the cockpit when he gave the line service technician a verbal order for a total of forty gallons of fuel. The line service technician drove the fuel truck to the front of the airplane and refuelled the airplane putting 20 gallons in each wing. The pilot then assisted the line service technician with replacing both fuel caps. They both walked into the office and the pilot signed the machine-printed fuel ticket.” After take-off, a medical crewmember onboard the plane called their medical dispatcher on a satellite phone and reported they were returning to LRU because of a problem with smoke coming from the right engine. Eyewitnesses also reported seeing smoke coming from the plane’s right engine as it descended and turned.
An immediate post-impact fire consumed much of the aircraft, said the NTSB, adding that investigators who arrived at the scene on the day following the accident reported detecting the smell of jet fuel.