The pilot of a Bombardier Challenger 604 had been cleared to land in Naples, Florida, February 9, when he reported dual engine failure about 30 seconds before the twinjet crashed during an emergency landing attempt on Interstate 75.
The aircraft struck vehicles on the busy highway before coming to rest 2.75 nautical miles short of Runway 23 at Naples Municipal Airport. Both pilots died, identified by local police in a social media post on February 11 as Edward Daniel Murphy, 50, of Oakland Park, Florida; and second in command Ian Frederick Hofmann, 65, of Pompano Beach, Florida. Crewmember Sydney Ann Bosmans, 27, of Jupiter, Florida, and passengers Aaron Baker, 35, and Audra Green, 23, of Columbus, Ohio, where the flight originated, were transported to area hospitals for treatment of unspecified injuries. One motorist was reported to be injured in the 3:10 p.m. accident, a time established by ADS-B data recorded by FlightAware, and air traffic control radio transmissions recorded by LiveATC.net.
The flight reported the airport was in sight at 3:07 p.m., nearing the expected conclusion of an uneventful flight from Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, and was cleared for a visual approach. Hop-A-Jet 823 signed on with Naples tower at 3:08 p.m., reporting a right downwind for a five-mile final to Runway 23, and the tower responded by directing a right turn back toward the airport and clearing the flight to land following a departing jet, reporting wind from 220 degrees at 12 knots, gusting to 16 knots. Just over a minute passed before the next radio call:
“Okay, ah, Challenger, ah, Hop-A-Jet 823, lost both engines, emergency, I’m making an emergency landing.” The controller replied by reiterating the flight's clearance to land on Runway 23. "Uh, we're cleared to land but we're not going to make the runway. We've lost both engines."
According to timestamped ADS-B data, the aircraft was at 725 feet, 3.75 nm from the runway threshold, when that final transmission was made.
Southbound lanes of the busy highway remained closed until February 11, and the NTSB dispatched investigators on February 9 and 10 to examine the scene and recover the wreckage, according to a spokesman for the agency who invited witnesses to contact investigators. The New York Times interviewed Brianna Walker, 26, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who was driving south on Interstate 75 and witnessed the emergency landing attempt.
“It looked like it was trying to hit the median,” Walker told the newspaper. “It starts sliding across the highway, takes a car with it, the wing comes down, crushes another car and throws it into the median, and then it hits the concrete and immediately burst into flames.”
Walker posted two cellphone videos of the aftermath on social media including a short clip that shows an explosion, with a person silhouetted against the orange flames.
Family and friends of the two pilots spoke to local media about their loss. An unnamed member of Murphy’s family described the longtime pilot as a passionate aviator who was dedicated to his work, and who was probably most concerned about the lives of the others on board. Hofmann’s son, Christopher, told NBC6 that, “The family is in shock and devastated but want to express our thanks for the heartfelt support we have received. We know our father died a hero doing his best to save everyone he could on the plane. We ask for prayers during this difficult time.”
Hofmann, who flew for more than 40 years, had 25,000 hours logged with various airlines, the television station reported. Florida-based charter company Hop-A-Jet lists on its website the accident aircraft, along with another Challenger 604, a Challenger 650, a Challenger 605, a pair of Challenger 300 series models, and 7 Learjet 60s. The company provided a statement to Aviation International News:
“Our immediate concern is for the well-being of our passengers, crew members, and their families… We are dedicating company resources to assist them, including company teams trained to provide a full range of support for each family. In addition, a company team is being assembled and dispatched to the accident site to participate in an investigation.”
More than 1,000 Challenger 600 series aircraft have been built, and only a handful have been involved in fatal accidents, according to NTSB and other online records. None of those were apparently precipitated by simultaneous malfunction of the General Electric CF34 series turbofan engines that were installed, according to FAA records, on the accident aircraft.
The intense fire that broke out after the accident suggests fuel exhaustion is an unlikely reason why two engines with a history of reliability failed simultaneously, though dual engine failure caused by fuel contamination would not be without recent precedent: The FAA issued warnings and alerts in 2018 after several aircraft were damaged by the introduction of diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) into the fuel. The additive, not intended for aircraft use, causes crystalline deposits to form in the fuel system, and in 2019 led to two jets making emergency landings after engine failure in flight.
The NTSB advised that a preliminary report on the February 9 accident is expected in 30 days. By then, investigators may also have found evidence, if any exists, of a bird strike, the scenario that led to dual engine failure of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, which landed in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, after striking a flock of geese during climbout.