You see, they weren't pushing the old man's car to the limit. They were flying a 50-passenger jet, a Bombardier CRJ200. Fortunately, there were no passengers aboard to share the fatal consequences.
"Paging the Darwin Awards, please pick up
the white courtesy phone."
Jesse, 31, was captain of Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701, and Peter, 23, was the co-pilot. They were transporting an empty plane from Little Rock, Arkansas to Minneapolis, where it was needed for a morning flight. They decided to see what that baby could do. Their fun began while ascending, as they pulled 1.8 G's in a maneuver that activated an automatic stall avoidance system.
Then they decided to "forty-one it," take the jet to 41,000 feet--eight miles--the maximum altitude the plane was designed to fly. The thrust of the engines pressed them into their seats with 2.3 times the force of gravity as they soared ever higher, laughing and cursing in a friendly manner, ignoring the overheating engines, and the stick shaker that warned they were operating outside of safe aerodynamic parameters.
At this point, Air Traffic Control contacted the pilots to find out what they were up to. A female controller's voice crackled over the radio: "3701, are you an RJ-200?"
"I've never seen you guys up at 41 there."
The boys laughed. "Yeah, we're actually a, there's ah, we don't have any passengers on board, so we decided to have a little fun and come on up here."
Little did they know that their fun was doomed when they set the auto-pilot for the impressive climb. They had specified the [I]rate[/I] of climb rather than the [I]speed[/I] of the climb. The higher the plane soared, the slower it flew. The plane was in danger of stalling when it reached 41,000 feet, as the autopilot vainly tried to maintain altitude by pointing the nose up.
"Dude, it's losing it," said one of the pilots.
"Yeah," said the other.
Our two flying aces could have saved themselves at that point. An automatic override began to pitch the nose down to gain speed and prevent a stall. Unfortunately, Jesse and Peter chose to overrule the override. Oops. The plane stalled.
"We don't have any engines," said one.
"You gotta be kidding me," said the other.
Jesse and Peter still might have saved themselves. They were within gliding range of five suitable airports. Unfortunately, they did not reveal the full extent of their difficulties to the controller. They said that they had lost only one of the two engines. They glided for 14 full minutes, losing altitude all the way. As they drifted closer and closer to the ground at high speed, still unable to get the engines restarted, they finally asked for assistance: "We need direct to any airport. We have a double engine failure."
Unfortunately, it was too late. "We're going to hit houses, dude," one of pilots said, as they desperately tried to reach an airport in Jefferson City. They missed the houses and the runway, crashing two and a half miles from the airport. Both men died in the crash.
"It's beyond belief that a professional air crew would act in that manner," said a former manager of Pinnacle's training program for the Bombardier CRJ200.