National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman Robert Sumwalt told reporters Sunday that video footage shows an Atlas Air Boeing 767-300ER “in a steep descent, steep nose-down attitude” several seconds before the converted freighter hit shallow marshland along the Texas gulf coast Saturday afternoon, killing the two-person flight crew and a jumpseating passenger onboard.
Flight 3591 departed Miami International Airport (MIA) at 11:33 am EST Saturday bound for Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH.) The aircraft dove into Trinity Bay near Anahuac, roughly 40 miles southeast of IAH, at approximately 12:40 pm CST.
Archived ATC communications indicate the flight crew checked in with Houston Approach while descending through 17,800 feet MSL on the LINKK ONE standard terminal arrival route (STAR). Controllers initially cleared the flight for the transition to Runway 26-Left at IAH, but later advised the crew of a narrow storm band east of the airport.
“591 Heavy, there’s a little bit of light – well, now it’s showing a little bit heavy – light to heavy precipitation just west of, it looks like VANNN, and it is moving eastbound, so once you get in closer if you need to go vectors around it, we’ll be able to accommodate that,” ATC reported.
Two minutes later, one of the pilots stated “we’ll go on the west side” around the weather, but ATC responded that route would conflict with departing traffic from IAH. The pilot replied they would instead deviate easterly; however, online flight tracking data indicates the aircraft later veered off the northwesterly track of the STAR to a heading of 275 degrees and continued on that path before entering a steep dive from approximately 6.500 feet MSL.
No further communications appear to have been received from the aircraft, and Sumwalt added, “I saw no evidence of the aircraft trying to turn or pull up at the last moments” in security camera footage obtained from the Chambers County Jail, approximately one mile east of the accident scene.
Two bodies have been recovered, but as of Sunday night crews had not yet located the aircraft’s flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder. A receding tide that left boats unable to traverse the roughly 200- by 100-yard debris field hampered those efforts.
The accident aircraft, N1217A, first entered passenger service with Canadian Airlines in 1992 and also flew for China Airlines and LAN Airlines before its 2016 freighter conversion for Atlas. The widebody jet was one of 30 767s operated for Amazon.com’s Prime Air subsidiary.