The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has obtained security video showing Atlas Air flight 3591 in a “steep nose-down attitude” prior to crashing in Trinity Bay near Houston on 23 February.
“The aircraft is in the video… at a steep descent – [a] steep nose-down attitude,” NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt said during a press conference on 24 February. “I saw no evidence of the aircraft trying to turn or pull up at the last moments.”
The security video was taken from a county jail at a distance of slightly more than 1nm (1.9km) from the site where the Boeing 767-300ER Freighter crashed following a flight from Miami.
Authorities have confirmed three people were aboard the aircraft. Atlas Air says there were no survivors.
The video shows the aircraft for approximately 5s, says Sumwalt, adding that the NTSB is sending the footage to laboratories in Washington DC for analysis.
He made his comments in Anahuac, Texas, which is near the crash site. The agency’s top priority is to recover the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, a process that may require dredging, divers or wading “through the debris field and feeling for them”, says Sumwalt.
He also confirmed several details about the flight, which took off from Miami at about 11:30 local time. The 767 was approaching Houston George Bush Intercontinental airport on the “standard arrival routes from the south-east”, says Sumwalt.
At about 12:30 Houston time, the aircraft was descending through 18,000ft. Shortly after, Houston air traffic controllers advised the pilots of “light-to-heavy rain ahead, and provided radar vectors around the weather”, Sumwalt says.
Controllers then cleared Atlas flight 3591 to descend to 3,000ft.
At 12:39, while the aircraft was at about 6,000ft and travelling at 240kt, “communication was lost with the aircraft, as was radar contact”, Sumwalt says. “There was no distress call.”
The aircraft had not been logged as carrying hazardous materials, he adds.
The NTSB has recovered “remains of both wings” and landing gear components from a debris field that measures about 183m (600ft) by 91m, Sumwalt says.
“We have conducted aerial surveys and up-close examination of debris fields via airboats,” he adds. The NTSB intends to load debris onto barges for transport to shore and onward to a local hangar.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has recovered two bodies and is assisting the NTSB with collection of witness statements and documentation of debris, says an FBI spokesperson.
The criminal investigation agency’s involvement in the early stages of NTSB investigations is common practice, he adds.
The Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing, Atlas Air, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, pilot union International Brotherhood of Teamsters and engine maker General Electric are assisting the NTSB with the inquiry, says Sumwalt.
Boeing manufactured the CF6-80C2-powered 767-300ER, registration N1217A, in 1992 and delivered it new to Canadian International Airlines, according to Cirium Fleets Analyzer.
Atlas Air affiliate Titan Aviation Leasing acquired the aircraft in January 2016, at which time it entered service with Atlas Air, Fleets Analyzer shows.
Parent company Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings owns both Atlas Air and Titan.
Since April 2017, Atlas Air has operated the 767 for online retailer Amazon under the Prime Air brand, Fleets Analyzer shows.