The plane crash in Mexico that took the life of Latin music star Jenni Rivera and four members of her entourage was the result of a “series of factors” that could have included the age of the 1969 Learjet, the age of the pilot, and owner negligence in reporting problems with the plane’s operation before the doomed flight, according to a report issued by the Mexico’s General Civil Aviation Administration (DGAC). The findings were issued Tuesday (Dec. 3), less than a week before the one-year anniversary of the tragic Dec. 9, 2012 accident.
The investigation, cited by CNN Mexico and Mexican newspapers, found that the “high level of destruction of the aircraft” after it crashed on the land of a ranch in the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon did not allow for conclusive findings as to what caused the accident. But weather conditions, a fire or explosion on the plane were ruled out as factors in the crash, according to the DGAC, which conducted the investigation together with personnel from the United States National Transportation Safety Board, as well representatives of Mexico’s national pilots and aeronautic engineers associations.
“A sudden and abrupt lack of control” during ascent that provoked a sheer vertical drop of the plane could have been triggered by a problem with the plane’s horizontal stabilizer, the report said, based on information obtained from radar images of the plane’s short flight. Air traffic controllers received no calls of distress from the crew.
In detailing the factors that put the flight at risk, the report pointed to “an aircraft that was more than 43 years old, operated by pilots in the extremes of the span of life, one who was 78 years old and the other who was 21 years old.”
After the accident, Federal Aviation Administration records showed that the almost octogenarian pilot, Miguel Pérez Soto, was not licensed in the United States to carry passengers on a commercial flight. His license was also restricted to visual flight rules (VFR) only – meaning he was not authorized for the instrument-controlled flying that can be necessary when skies are not clear. The plane was at an instrumental flying altitude when it went down.
The Mexican Communications and Transportation Secretariat (SCT) posted on its Website following the crash that Pérez and his co-pilot, Alejandro Torres, were both licensed to fly in Mexico at the time of the flight. But one of the irregularities sited in the DGAC investigation was that Pérez should not have been allowed to fly the LearJet, which weighed 6,800 kilos at the time of the flight, because of Mexican regulations limiting pilots over 65 years of age to flying planes not heavier than 5,700 kilos. He was, however, issued a license allowing him to fly over 5,700 kilos by the DGAC in January 2012. The investigation further revealed that Torres was not authorized to fly the plane outside of the United States.
The report also indicated negligence on the part of the plane’s owner, charter company Starwood Enterprises of Las Vegas.
“The aircraft operator did not allow notes in the logs about failures detected by the crew as when the aircraft flew out of alignment and vibrated when it reached cruising altitude,” the DGAC found.
Family members of the four passengers who perished with Rivera filed a wrongful death lawsuit a month after the crash in California Superior Court in Los AngelesCounty. The complaint cited negligence by Starwood and the plane’s previous owner, seeking punitive damages in the deaths of publicist Arturo Rivera, makeup artist Jacobo Yebale, hairstylist Jorge Armando Sanchez Vasquez (known as "Gigi"), and attorney Mario Macias Pacheco. The filing asked for a jury trial to determine damages.
The complaint accused the defendants of "conscious disregard for the safety of others."
A separate lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of Isabel Carrero Gomez, the widow of the plane’s 78-year-old pilot, against the aircraft’s owners.
Last month, a judge rejected a motion by Starwood calling for the cases to be dismissed in California and moved to Mexico, ruling the case would be heard in Los Angeles.
Rivera, who was 43 years old, boarded the plane in Monterrey with her companions after giving her final concert. A live CD/DVD featuring the beloved Mexican singer’s performance that night was released this week.