A federal investigator testified Monday that a charter jet had a center of gravity well forward of where safety regulations require when it crashed on takeoff at New Jersey’s Teterboro Airport in 2005, injuring 20 people and prompting a national review of air charter companies.
The testimony came in the third week of the trial of three former executives of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Platinum Jet Management. The now-defunct company had a celebrity clientele, including Jay-Z, Beyonce, Shaquille O’Neal, Joe Montana and Celine Dion.
Brothers and co-founders Michael and Paul Brassington and maintenance chief Brien McKenzie face charges that include conspiracy to defraud, lying to investigators and, in the case of Michael Brassington, endangering the safety of an aircraft.
William English coordinated the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation at Teterboro, and his testimony Monday echoed the conclusions contained in a 124-page NTSB report released in 2006.
The report found the plane crashed because its crew hadn’t properly calculated its weight distribution and had tried to take off with a center of gravity that was too far forward.
Though the plane’s weight was listed as slightly above the maximum allowed for takeoff, it was distributed “significantly forward of the allowable center of gravity,” English testified. The evidence reviewed by the NTSB showed that “the nose of the plane never lifted off the runway,” he said.
The plane, carrying 11 people, smashed through a fence at the end of the runway, struck two cars as it crossed a busy intersection and crashed into a clothing warehouse where people were working. Jurors viewed photos of the fiery aftermath Monday.
None of the defendants is charged with causing the accident.
Instead, prosecutors allege the Brassingtons and two other executives who pleaded guilty last year set up a charter business that ran commercial flights without the proper certification, ignored safety standards even after partnering with another certified company and understated their planes’ weights in order to illegally load up on cheap fuel at airports like Teterboro.
Three former company employees pleaded guilty last year, and the pilot of the plane that crashed had his case severed and faces trial in Florida.
According to court papers, some clients and brokers paid Platinum as much as $90,000 per charter. A defense attorney in opening statements mentioned that Jay-Z and Beyonce flew from Las Vegas to Teterboro on Feb. 1, 2005, on the same plane that crashed the next day.
All three defendants face charges of lying to authorities both before and after the crash. On Monday, attorney Michael Salnick, representing Michael Brassington, sought to show his client admitted making a mistake on a post-crash report but had tried to correct it.
The crash hastened the installation at Teterboro of safety features designed to stop planes from going off the runway. It also spurred the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct a nationwide review of charter operators. As a result, the FAA eliminated the practice of allowing one charter company to piggyback off the certificate of another.
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