Jammed Flight Control and Failure to Implement Preflight Procedure Led to Jet’s Runway Excursion


Aerial view of the wreckage
​​​Aerial view of the wreckage. NTSB photo.

​​​WASHINGTON (September 28, 2023) — Jammed flight control surfaces that should have been identified in a preflight inspection injured two and caused a runway excursion that destroyed a jetliner in Texas, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

On Oct. 19, 2021, a McDonnell Douglas MD-87, overran the departure end of Runway 36 at Houston Executive Airport in Brookshire, Texas. Of the 19 passengers on board the private flight destined for Bedford, Massachusetts, two were seriously injured. None of the four crewmembers were injured. The airplane was destroyed.

As the airplane traveled down the runway at takeoff speed, the captain pulled back on the control column to get airborne, but the airplane did not pitch up. The first officer called “abort” and the crew deployed thrust reversers and applied heavy braking, but the jet was moving too fast to stop on the remaining runway. 

The plane overran the runway, continued through an airport perimeter fence, crossed a road and struck power lines before coming to rest in a pasture, where a post-crash fire ensued. 

Three weeks after the accident, the NTSB issued an investigative update in which it detailed how the investigators found the left and right elevators jammed in the trailing edge down position when they examined the airplane at the accident site. Elevators jammed in such a position would prevent the plane from rotating or pitching up and becoming airborne.

The jammed condition of both elevators resulted from exposure to localized, dynamic high wind while the airplane was parked. A previous investigation of a 2017 runway excursion accident in Michigan involving another MD-80 series airplane found that airplane to have a jammed right elevator caused by exposure to dynamic high wind while the airplane was parked. Following that investigation, the NTSB recommended that Boeing issue revised procedures designed to detect a jammed elevator condition during preflight inspections. Boeing developed the recommended procedures, which were detailed in an operations bulletin that was sent to all MD-80 series airplane operators in May 2020.

The first officer who conducted the preflight inspection didn’t follow the updated procedures that would have identified the jammed elevators because he was not aware of them. The investigation found that the airplane operator, Everts Air Cargo, had not downloaded the bulletin, nor were they aware of its contents. The NTSB said that failure to implement that preflight procedure was also causal to the crash.

The 31-page final accident report is available at https://data.ntsb.gov/carol-repgen/api/Aviation/ReportMain/GenerateNewestReport/104129/pdf.

Links to the accident docket (opened on February 27, 2023), photos and other resources are available at DCA22MA009.aspx​ (ntsb.gov).   

To report an incident/accident or if you are a public safety agency, please call 1-844-373-9922 or 202-314-6290 to speak to a Watch Officer at the NTSB Response Operations Center (ROC) in Washington, DC (24/7).