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1999 Sunjet Aviation Learjet/Payne Stewart Crash
Crashed on October 25, 1999

On October 25, 1999, at approximately 12:13 PM CDT, a Sunjet Aviation Learjet 35, registration N47BA,  carrying PGA Tour professional golfer, Payne Stewart, crashed in a field near Aberdeen, South Dakota. The aircraft was traveling from Orlando, Florida to Dallas, Texas.

At approximately 7:54 AM EST,  the aircraft took off from Orlando Sanford International Airport for a 15 minute flight to Orlando International Airport to pick up it's chartered passengers.  The flight arrives 30 minutes later and picks up it's passengers, Payne Stewart, his agents Van Ardan and Robert Fraley; and Bruce Borland, a highly regarded golf architect.

At approximately 9:19 ES, the aircraft took of from Orlando International Airport without incidence. A few minutes later, Jacksonville Air Route Traffic Control Center had the aircraft climbing from an altitude of 9.500 feet to 14,000 feet.

At 9:21:51 AM EST, the aircraft was cleared to a flight level of 26,000 feet (FL260). The aircraft acknowledged these instructions.

At 9:23:16 AM EST, Jacksonville Air Traffic Control clear the aircraft to Cross City and then direct to Dallas, Texas. 

At 9:26:48 AM EST, the aircraft was instructed to change radio frequency and contact another Jacksonville Air Traffic Controller. These instructions were acknowledged. At 9:27:10 AM EST, the aircraft climbed to an altitude of 23,000 feet.

At 9:27:13 AM EST, Jacksonville Air Traffic Control cleared the aircraft to climb and maintain a flight level of 39,000 feet (FL390). At 9:27:18 AM EST, the aircraft acknowledged these instructions by stating "three nine zero bravo alpha." this was the last known transmission from the aircraft.

At 9:33:38 AM EST, Jacksonville Air Traffic Control instructed the aircraft to change radio frequency to contact another control. These instructions were not acknowledged. Addition attempts were unsuccessful trying to contact the aircraft.

At 9:52 AM CDT, a United State Air Force (USAF) test pilot from the 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin Air Force base in Florida was vectored within 8 miles of the unresponsive aircraft. The pilot made two attempted to contact the aircraft unsuccessfully. At approximately 10:00 AM CDT, the test pilot performed a visual inspection of the aircraft (N47BA) and confirmed there was no ice accumulation on the exterior of the aircraft as well as no visual damage. He could not see any passengers within the aircraft and the windows were dark. Both engines on the aircraft were running. The test pilot did confirm that the left and right sides of the aircraft's front windshield was opaque as if condensation or ice was forming on the interior side.

At approximately 11:13 AM CDT, two Oklahoma Air National Guard (ANG) F-16's were vectored to intercept the N47BA aircraft.  The F-16's lead pilot radioed to Minnesota Air Route Traffic Control Center that he could not see any movement in the aircraft. He also radioed that the windshield was dark and could not verify if there it was iced over.  At 11:33 AM CDT, on of the Oklahoma F-16's maneuvered in front of the N47BA aircraft. He radioed back to Minnesota ARTCC “we’re not seeing anything inside, could be just a dark cockpit though…he is not reacting, moving or anything like that he should be able to have seen us by now.” At 11:39 AM CDT, the F-16's broke off to rendezvous with a midair refueling tanker.

At 11:50 AM CDT, two North Dakota Air National Guard (ANG) F-16's were vectored to intercept the N47BA aircraft. The Oklahoma F-16 returned to meet up with the North Dakota  F-16's . The North Dakota F-16 lead pilot radioed "we’ve got two visuals on it. It’s looking like the cockpit window is iced over and there’s no displacement in any of the control surfaces as far as the ailerons or trims.”

At 12:10:41 PM CDT, the sound of the N47BA aircraft's engine can be heard winding down as well as audible stickshaker warning and autopilot disconnect can be heard on the cockpit voice recorder (CVR). The CVR also captured the cabin altitude warning alarm until the plane descending below an appropriate altitude. The aircraft then turned to the right and continued it's descent. Following the aircraft was one Oklahoma and one North Dakota Air National Guard F-16.

At 12:!1:26 PM CDT, the North Dakota F-16 lead pilot radioed  “the target is descending and he is doing multiple aileron rolls, looks like he’s out of control…in a severe descent, request an emergency descent to follow target.  The Oklahoma pilot radioed “It’s soon to impact the ground he is in a descending spiral.”

At 12:13 PM CDT, the N47BA aircraft crashed in the field.

The airplane was carrying 4 passengers and 2 crew members aboard on the flight. All individuals perished in the crash.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause of this accident was incapacitation of the flight crewmembers as a result of their failure to receive supplemental oxygen following a loss of cabin pressurization, for undetermined reasons.


Download the Aircraft Accident Brief Investigation Report for the Payne Stewart Plane Crash
(File Size is 0.8 MB)