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Confusion on Departure Instructions May Be Key to McEntire Band Jet Crash

April 13, 1991

SAN DIEGO (AP) _ A misunderstanding between a pilot and a flight adviser may have contributed to last month’s plane crash that killed most of country singer Reba McEntire’s band, a transcript released Friday revealed.

All 10 people on board, including seven members of McEntire’s band and her road manager, died March 16 when the plane crashed atop Otay Mountain near the U.S.-Mexican border.

The plane was en route to a concert in Indiana after the band’s performance the night before for San Diego employees of IBM Corp.

The cause of the crash has not been determined. But taped conversations released by the Federal Aviation Administration show that pilot Don Holms contacted a flight service specialist for information about departure procedures three times before his pre-dawn takeoff from Brown Field.

The flight service specialist was based 25 miles away at Montgomery Field, another city-owned airstrip. He read the pilot verbatim information about eastbound and westbound takeoff procedures in their second conversation.

Holms indicated he understood, but called moments later seeking clarification about the proper altitude after takeoff.

Transcripts show that the flight service specialist agreed when Holms asked if he should stay below 3,000 feet.

Holms took off about an hour later and within three minutes, the plane slammed into the mountain at 3,300 feet.

The flight service specialist, whose job is to pass routine information between pilots and air traffic controllers, told National Transportation Safety Board investigators that he interpreted Holms reference to ″3,000 feet″ as meaning above ground level, said NTSB investigator Richard Childress.

That would have allowed the plane to clear Otay Mountain. Investigators believe the pilot may have thought the reference was to sea level.

Montgomery Field officials said the flight service specialist involved would not be made available for comment. They did not identify him.

Little was left in the crumpled wreckage of the twin-engine Hawker Siddeley jet except the plane’s Rolls-Royce engines, which have been sent to their factory for inspection.

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