The Story Of Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701

On October 14, 2004, operating under the Northwest Airlink banner, Pinnacle Express Flight 3701 crashed close to Jefferson City, Missouri, while repositioning to Minneapolis. The aircraft involved in the accident was a 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200 with the registration N8396A. Manufactured in 2000, the plane had accumulated 9,613 flight cycles and 10,168 flight hours.

Earlier in the day, a different flight crew was supposed to fly the plane from Little Rock National Airport (LIT) to Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport (MSP). While attempting a takeoff, the crew received an error message and aborted the flight. Because the aircraft was needed the following morning in Minneapolis, Pinnacle Airlines dispatched a maintenance crew to Little Rock to resolve the issue. The mechanics soon fixed the problem, and the aircraft was ready to fly overnight to Minneapolis in time for the morning flight.


There were no passengers on the plane

The only people onboard the flight for the repositioning were 31-year-old Captain Jesse Rhodes and 23-year-old First Officer Peter Cesarz. Both pilots had completed their training at flight schools in Florida and got jobs flying for Gulfstream International Airlines. They later left Gulfstream to join Pinnacle and, at the time of the crash, had hundreds of flying hours on the CRJ-200.

Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3710 departed Little Rock at 21:21 local time with a flight plan indicating they would cruise at 33,000 feet. During the climb out of Little Rock, the plane pitched several times upwards. At 21:35, the pilots asked for permission to increase their altitude to 41,000 feet, the Bombardier CRJ series maximum operating altitude.


Nineteen minutes later, both engines lost power, and the pilots quarreled to control the plane. The pilots declared an emergency and quickly descended, regaining control of the aircraft at 34,000 feet. The pilots tried successfully to restart the engines as they had been trained to do but failed. At 22:09, they asked Air Traffic Control (ATC) to guide them to the nearest airport for an emergency landing.

ATC immediately told them to divert to Jefferson City Memorial Airport (JEF) in Jefferson City, Missouri. While continuing losing altitude, the pilots realized that they would never make it to the airport and started to look for a road where they could land the plane. They ran out of time, and the plane crashed, killing both pilots.

The investigation of Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701

While investigating the accident, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) discovered that pilots at Pinnacle had a society called the “410” club. To be a club member, you had to take the Bombardier CRJ200 up to its maximum ceiling height of 41,000 feet.


After the crash, the NTSB discovered a radio message from an air traffic controller in Olathe, Kansas, when studying the cockpit voice recorder. In the message, you can hear the controller ask, “are you an RJ (regional jet) 200?” adding, “I have never seen you guys up at 41,000 feet.” Rhodes replied, “Yeah … we don’t have any passengers onboard, so we decided to have a little fun and come on up here.”

The NTSB’s conclusions about Pinnacle Airlines Flight 3701

On January 9, 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report on Flight 3701, which concluded that the probable causes of the accident were:

  • The pilots’ unprofessional behavior, deviation from standard operating procedures, and poor airmanship
  • The pilots’ failure to prepare for an emergency landing promptly, including communicating with air traffic controllers immediately after the emergency about the loss of both engines and the availability of landing sites
  • The pilots’ improper management of the double engine failure checklist

When later asked about the crash, Pinnacle Airlines’ training program Thomas Palmer said: “It’s beyond belief that a professional aircrew would act in that manner.” Following the crash, Pinnacle Airlines restricted pilots from flying the CRJ-200 above 37,000 feet. They also gave all of their CRJ-200 pilots extra simulator training in high altitude operations that explained what had happened on Flight 3701.

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