Local pilot believes Rice aircraft was 'falling not flying' during final descent

Local pilot believes Rice aircraft was 'falling not flying' during final descent
Kevin Glasheen
Kevin Glasheen

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - KCBD met with a local pilot on Sunday to discuss the newly-obtained audio of Dr. Mike Rice's fatal crash.

"November 01 Delta, approach."

"East, Local, are you talking to the…"

"Uh yeah… No one can get a hold of him."

"No, there's been a plane crash."

That was the final Air Traffic Control transmission from Dr. Mike Rice's last flight. The doctor took off from Carlsbad, NM around 6:30 p.m. Central Time on Feb. 4 for what should have been a 40-minute flight.

Because the Lubbock skies were overcast, he had to fly an instrument approach. At 14,000 feet, Dr. Rice was cleared to descend to 7,000 feet.

Fellow pilot Kevin Glasheen, who flies an aircraft similar to the plane Dr. Rice piloted, believes the real problems happened during that descent.

"We know the tower that he struck is about 800 feet above the ground in of itself, and so Dr. Rice was never cleared to descend that low [and] shouldn't have been that low at that point," Glasheen said. "From the video, it appears that it was an uncontrolled descent. In other words, from the descent rates, it looks the aircraft was not flying but was falling when it struck the tower."

In the transmission, you can hear the doctor experiencing difficulty setting up his instruments.

"Actually, I want to do the 35 left R NAV," Dr. Rice told Air Traffic Control. "I'm just having trouble getting my instruments set up. I may have to circle up here a little bit till I get everything figured out."

Glasheen said Dr. Rice needed three things to keep his aircraft flying.

"He needs an altitude indicator to keep straight and level," Glasheen said. "He needs an airspeed indicator to keep it flying fast enough that it won't stall, and he needs an altimeter to tell him how high above the ground he is. Two of those three instruments are vulnerable to ice."

Dr. Rice experienced another problem when a second pilot was having trouble navigating in the air.

"I'm going to have to resequence you in for traffic just east of the airport trying to land. The weather seems to be giving him a hard time," Air Traffic Control said.

"Okay. Climb to 7,000 feet and what heading did you want me to fly?"

"November 01 Delta, turn left to a heading of 270."

"Left 270," Dr. Rice confirmed.

As he was making his final approach into Lubbock, Air Traffic Control had to change his approach.

"When you add the difficulty of an instrument approach in icing conditions and you're told to abort the approach, and at that time, reconfigure the aircraft [from] a descend-to-land configuration to a climb-out configuration, that means you're going to have to raise the gear back up; take the flaps back out; add power to the aircraft; disconnect the autopilot from the approach; and add power, nose up, and try to get it into a good climb," Glasheen said.

Glasheen said that he is not sure what ultimately caused Dr. Rice's loss of control, but said the three problems highlighted in the transmissions were big contributing factors.

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