Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content
Bookmark and Share this page


Opening Statement of Board Meeting on the crash of Learjet Model 35, operated by Sunjet Aviation, Inc., near Aberdeen, South Dakota
Jim Hall
Board Meeting on the crash of Learjet Model 35, operated by Sunjet Aviation, Inc., near Aberdeen, South Dakota, in Washington, DC

Good morning. We are here this morning to discuss the loss of Sunjet Aviation Lear 35, registered as N47BA. This accident occurred a little over a year ago, on October 25, 1999, in South Dakota. Six people lost their lives in the accident. The pilot was Captain Michael Kling and the First Officer was Stephanie Bellegarrigue. The passengers were Van Arden, Bruce Borland, Robert Fraley and Payne Stewart. We want to once again extend our condolences to all of their families and friends.

There are over 10,000 turbine-powered aircraft in the worldwide business jet fleet, 7,000 of which operate here in the United States. The U.S. business jet fleet has almost doubled in size in the last 10 years. Certain segments of this class of airplanes have grown almost exponentially.

As airports and commercial airliners become more crowded, and travelers experience more delays and cancelled flights, many more business travelers are choosing to travel by corporate jets owned by their companies or on leased aircraft, or aircraft shared through fractional ownership.

The jet charter business, which was the operation involved in the accident flight, uses the same high performance jet aircraft and is growing just as rapidly. I believe that everyone on these aircraft deserve to be as safe when they fly as those flying on major commercial airlines.

This investigation took 13 months to complete and was hampered by several factors:

  • Because the aircraft impacted at nearly supersonic speed and at an extremely steep angle, none of its components remained intact. Therefore, our investigators had to painstakingly examine the fragmented valves, connectors, and portions of other aircraft parts before they could draw any conclusions about the accident's cause.
  • The airplane was not equipped with a flight data recorder, an invaluable tool in most major investigations, and it had only a 30-minute cockpit voice recorder, which was of limited use during this investigation.
  • And, all of the investigators involved in this investigation were also investigating other accidents. The Investigator-in-Charge, Bob Benzon, for example, was working on four other investigations in addition to this one.

  That said, all of those involved with this investigation have endeavored to ensure that everything that could be learned from this accident was uncovered. And, as we'll hear during the staff's presentations, there were lessons to be learned and actions that can be taken to help prevent another accident similar to this from occurring. I hope that the victims' families and friends can take some measure of comfort from that knowledge.