Cause of August Santa Barbara Airport plane crash discovered

Isaac Sieblink, Staff Writer

A C-130 plane crashed landed at the Santa Barbara Airport earlier this summer on Aug. 25, and just recently the cause of the crash was discerned. According to a preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board that was just released, the plane had an air duct failure. The plane lost hydraulic power and was unable to fully extend its landing gears, so it was forced to crash land onto the runway. 

The main runway of the Santa Barbara airport was shut down for 19 hours after the C-130 plane, which is owned by International Air Response, made its emergency landing. There were seven people present on the flight, and thankfully none of them were harmed in the traumatic landing, although the plane did catch fire and was quite damaged. 

C-130 planes are aerial oil-spill dispersant planes and this particular one was being ferried from Malaysia to its home based at Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport in Arizona at the time of the crash landing. The plane had previously stopped to refuel in Hilo, Hawaii and Santa Maria. According to the NTSB report released last week, shortly after the plane’s departure from the Santa Maria Airport at 10:20 pm, the aircraft experienced multiple systems failures.

The report stated that “the flight crew heard a loud popping noise, and the passengers heard a loud bang” that reverberated throughout the aircraft as things started to fail. The air duct that failed and necessitated the crash landing is used to siphon off hot air from the engines for other uses. Among the critical systems affected by the air duct were the C-130’s hydraulic system, which helps control key components like the landing gear and flaps. According to the recently released report “simultaneously the torque gauges provided unusual and fluctuating readings. A crew member in the cargo compartment announced misting hydraulic fluid mixed with smoke.”

At the first signs of something being wrong, the crew began to lower the landing gear; although they started the process before total system failure, they weren’t able to lower it in time. At this point, upon learning that the Santa Maria Airport was clouded by fog and would require an instrument landing, the pilot of the C-130 requested permission to make an emergency landing at the Santa Barbara Airport. The aircraft had to fly fatefully over the Santa Ynez mountains before crash landing at the airport. Their approach speed was fast and the pilot was unsure if the plane could be kept on the runway. 

Two Federal Aviation Administration inspectors inspected the airplane and determined that the air duct on one of the four engines had failed, which in turn blew hot air into electrical wires and hydraulic lines which were greatly damaged. The investigation of the crash is ongoing and a final report is not expected for several months. The damaged C-130 plane is still parked near a hangar on the north side of the Santa Barbara Airport and it is unknown if it will be repaired. Thankfully after all of the trouble, no one was injured and the plane was safely ushered to the ground.