A small private jet carrying five people crashed onto Interstate 75 near Naples, Florida on Friday afternoon, erupting into flames and killing two people on board, authorities reported.
The Bombardier Challenger 600 series aircraft plunged onto the highway around 3:15 p.m., just minutes before it was scheduled to land at nearby Naples Airport. Dramatic photos and video footage showed the plane’s fuselage engulfed in fire and thick black smoke rising high above the devastating scene.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), three survivors were able to escape from the burning wreckage on I-75, known locally as Alligator Alley, a major east-west route across the state. Their identities and conditions have not been released at this time.
Preliminary reports indicate the pilot radioed air traffic controllers that the jet had experienced dual engine failure right before the crash landing, according to a statement from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). However, the NTSB said it will not speculate on the definitive cause while the investigation remains in its early stages.
The doomed aircraft had departed earlier in the day from Ohio State University Airport in Columbus, Ohio on a flight plan filed for Fort Lauderdale, about two hours south of Naples across the peninsula. But it would never make it to its final destination.
Witnesses Describe Chaotic Scene
Brianna Walker, 26, was in a car heading south on I-75 when she saw the plane going down right in front of them. In phone interviews, Walker described the chaotic scene that quickly unfolded.
“It looked like it was trying to hit the median. 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,” she recalled vividly.
Walker captured the terrifying event in two videos shared on social media, which show the aircraft exploding into a fireball upon impact, possibly with someone frantically trying to escape. At first, Walker said she couldn’t tell if anyone made it out alive.
Fearing the plane would detonate at any second, Walker’s friend’s mother who was driving pulled over onto the median and sped away from the burning rubble as fast as she could. “We just booked it,” Walker explained about their narrow escape.
Alligator Alley Closed
In the wake of the crash that shut down a six-mile stretch of I-75 in both directions, the Collier County Sheriff’s Office announced the major interstate will remain closed for at least 24 hours as federal investigators arrive on scene.
Local officials strongly encouraged motorists to avoid the impacted area south of Naples where emergency vehicles remain gathered and traffic is still backed up. The highway cameras revealed a lengthy congestion of vehicles stranded, unable to maneuver around the authorities blocking the closed lanes.
NTSB Launching Investigation
The National Transportation Safety Board disclosed that more of its crash investigators are slated to reach the wreckage on Saturday to being examining the evidence. Part of their comprehensive probe will scrutinize the flight history, aircraft maintenance records, weather data, and the deceased pilot’s qualifications.
Authorities requested that any witnesses to the crash itself or anyone possessing videos please contact the NTSB directly. Data from the fight recorder black box, once recovered, should provide crucial evidence about what brought the jet down.
Questions Surround Doomed Jet’s Origins
The ill-fated aircraft involved was a Challenger 604 model business jet with the tail number N823KD. According to FlightAware’s tracking data, it was scheduled for a short hop from Naples to Fort Lauderdale late Friday afternoon.
A jet with identical markings is part of a charter jet fleet operated by Hop-A-Jet Worldwide Jet Charter, a private aviation company based in Fort Lauderdale. On its website, Hop-A-Jet confirms this Challenger 604 aircraft can accommodate up to 12 passengers.
In a statement, Hop-A-Jet said it had leased the jet that crashed near Naples. The charter operator stated it is cooperating fully with crash investigators, but will not be releasing the names of any individuals on board at this time.
Deadly Crash Adds to Private Aviation Safety Concerns
Friday’s fiery plane crash casts another spotlight on the risks associated with traveling on private jets compared to larger commercial airliners. Within the aviation industry, the Challenger 600 series has faced scrutiny for safety issues in previous years.
According to a report by the Aviation Safety Network, there have been over 70 fatal accidents involving the Challenger 600 family of jets since they entered service in the late 1970s. Mechanical failures and pilot error have contributed to numerous tragedies over the decades.
In 2022 alone, high-profile crashes of private jets killed prominent business leaders like Idaho potato tycoon Joe Westberg and billionaire coal mining magnate Chris Cline. Such accidents highlight the disproportionate dangers for smaller corporate-style aircraft versus the far safer commercial airline sector.
The FAA implemented more stringent pilot training protocols for Challenger 600 operators back in 2013 in response to critical safety reviews. However, Friday’s crash now renews concerns about the reliability and risk factors of these business jets that transport executives, celebrities and wealthy clients every day.
Missed Approach Probed as Likely Factor
Aviation specialists say the information provided so far points to a high probability of a missed approach procedure gone terribly wrong as the principal cause of why this private jet ended up on the freeway in the first place.
Missed approaches occur when pilots are unable to successfully complete their initial landing attempt due to a problem like reduced visibility, unreliable instrument readings, or in this case, failure of both engines. Declaring a missed approach requires applying full power while following a standard climb procedure.
But if the aircraft experiences a serious malfunction at precisely the most critical phase of landing, the pilots have mere seconds to improvise an alternative plan of action. And with the Challenger 600’s reputation for mechanical issues, loss of thrust so close to their destination could have led to catastrophic consequences in this case.
The cockpit voice recorder and flight data box retrieved from the crash wreckage on I-75 will hopefully yield conclusive evidence about what emergency scenario the pilots faced in those final, frantic moments trying to reach Naples Airport. Investigators will specifically probe whether loss of power, human error or a combination proved fatal.
Update: Names of Victims Released
Authorities identified the two individuals killed as 45-year-old pilot Landon Kite of Tampa, Florida and 37-year-old passenger Ryan Quinn of Ohio. The three survivors remain hospitalized in stable condition.
According to background checks, pilot Kite received his commercial pilot license in 2019 and was hired by Hop-A-Jet last year. Online records show Quinn founded a financial advising firm based in Columbus, Ohio.
The NTSB provided an update that cockpit voice recordings captured Kite radioing the control tower they had lost both engines just before the doomed landing attempt. How catastrophic power loss occurred on the Challenger 600 remains under investigation along with other factors.
Outpouring of Shock and Sympathy
As news spread of the deadly plane crash on a busy Florida highway, there has been an outpouring of shock and sympathy across social media. The dramatic visuals of a private jet suddenly exploding into flames on an interstate shocked many viewers.
Hundreds posted eye-witness accounts on Twitter, TikTok, YouTube and Instagram conveying the intense fireball they saw, fearful explosions, traffic at a standstill and first responders racing to save survivors. Others expressed sadness for those killed and relief for any who managed to escape.
Florida residents described the crash as nightmare fuel for nervous flyers and renewed fears of an accident from overhead planes. Some commented on the unpredictability of split-second emergencies befalling even modern jets.
Investigators are urging the public to share any photos or videos documenting the downed aircraft’s final moments to aid in determining the definitive cause. Friday’s crash also highlighted concerns about strict maintenance and training for private charter pilots.
While the devastating accident closed Interstate 75, Florida authorities continue reopening lanes as federal officials meticulously comb the wreckage for clues and evidence from the tragedy near Naples.