Atlas Air confirms three fatalities in freighter crash outside Houston

 Carrier did not identify crew members who perished (Photo: BOEING)
Carrier did not identify crew members who perished (Photo: BOEING)

Air cargo carrier Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ:AAWW) confirmed today that three crew members perished when a Boeing 767 freighter en route to Houston from Miami crashed yesterday into the shallow waters of Trinity Bay in Anahuac, Texas, just minutes from arriving at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

Atlas did not release the names of the victims. The Houston Chronicle identified them this afternoon as Capt. Sean Archuleta, Capt. Ricky Blakely and First Officer Conrad Jules Aska. In a statement today, Purchase, New York-based Atlas said it has established a Family Assistance Center staffed with specialists to support the families of the deceased. Atlas CEO William J. Flynn is on site with a team from the airline, it said.

Atlas Air flight 3591 was operated for Seattle-based e-tailing giant, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) as part of a contractual relationship in which Atlas provides aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance services to Amazon. The relationship is better known by its acronym of “ACMI.” Amazon has leased 20 Boeing 767-300s from Atlas for that purpose.

 Air traffic controllers lost radar and radio contact with the plane when it was about 30 miles southeast of the airport, The Chronicle said, citing comments by the Federal Aviation Administration. The aircraft disintegrated upon impact, leaving what witnesses called total devastation. The Chronicle reported earlier today that the largest piece that authorities had recovered was 50 feet long.

In freighter configuration, the 767-300 model can carry up to 116,000 pounds of cargo. It is unclear at this time how much tonnage the plane was carrying. Jesse Cohen, a long-time airline executive and FreightWaves’ air cargo market expert, said the model is commonly used in air commerce, and is a “very capable and proven” mid-sized aircraft. Amazon, which uses the aircraft to transport goods ordered by its “Amazon Prime” customers, has so far agreed to lease 50 of the planes. Besides the 20 from Atlas, it has leased 30 from Air Transport Services Group (NASDAQ:ATSG), an Atlas competitor.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which handles air, rail and pipeline accident investigations, has taken charge of the inquiry. Because the aircraft was a cargo plane, the NTSB will review the characteristics of the cargo on board to determine whether any of the parcels could have contained any kind of declared or undeclared dangerous goods, such as lithium-ion batteries, that have in the past been cited as the cause of aircraft incidents.

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Mark Solomon

Formerly the Executive Editor at DC Velocity, Mark Solomon joined FreightWaves as Managing Editor of Freight Markets. Solomon began his journalistic career in 1982 at Traffic World magazine, ran his own public relations firm (Media Based Solutions) from 1994 to 2008, and has been at DC Velocity since then. Over the course of his career, Solomon has covered nearly the whole gamut of the transportation and logistics industry, including trucking, railroads, maritime, 3PLs, and regulatory issues. Solomon witnessed and narrated the rise of Amazon and XPO Logistics and the shift of the U.S. Postal Service from a mail-focused service to parcel, as well as the exponential, e-commerce-driven growth of warehouse square footage and omnichannel fulfillment.