Atlas 767 cargo jet, part of Amazon fleet, crashes in Texas; 3 people onboard killed

Amazon Prime Air jet
An Amazon-branded Boeing 767 cargo jet flies over Seattle in 2016. (Red Box Pictures Photo / Scott Eklund)

An Atlas Air Boeing 767 cargo jet crashed today into Trinity Bay on the Texas Gulf Coast with three people on board, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

“Human remains have been found on scene,” the FBI’s Houston office said. “At this time, there are no signs of survivors.”

Update, Feb. 24, 3 p.m. PT: In a new statement on Sunday, Atlas confirmed that the three people aboard the flight did not survive. Atlas set up Family Assistance Center to support the families affected. Boeing updated its statement here. The Daily Mail identified one of the pilots as Sean Archuleta.

The plane is part of the Amazon Air package delivery fleet, according to aviation records. It was heading from Miami to Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport when radar and radio contact was lost shortly before 12:45 p.m. CT (10:45 a.m. PT), about 30 miles southeast of Houston, the FAA said.

Local TV stations aired video showing a long trail of debris in the bay’s shallow waters.

“Who knows what’s under the water that we can’t see, but it looks like total devastation from the aircraft part,” Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne told reporters. “Knowing what I saw, I don’t believe anybody could survive it.”

Investigators from the FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are on their way to the accident site. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation. New York-based Atlas Air Worldwide, which operated the plane on Amazon’s behalf, said it is cooperating fully with the FAA and the NTSB.

“We can confirm there were three people on board the aircraft,” Atlas Air said in a statement. “Those people and their family members are our top priority at this time.”

Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, expressed sympathy and concern. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the flight crew, their families and friends along with the entire team at Atlas Air during this terrible tragedy,” Clark said in a written statement sent to GeekWire. “We appreciate the first responders who worked urgently to provide support.”

Boeing said it was “deeply saddened to learn of the Atlas Air 767 freighter that crashed near Anahuac, TX, earlier today.”

“We are concerned about the safety of the three people reported to be on board,” Boeing said in its tweeted statement. “Boeing is prepared to provide technical assistance to the NTSB as it investigates the accident.”

Atlas Air and another leasing company, Air Transport Services Group, or ATSG, each operate 20 Boeing 767-300 jets to serve Amazon’s delivery network. The service was launched in 2016, and now flies in and out of more than 20 airports. Today’s incident was the first fatal air accident connected with the Amazon transport operation.

Last December, Amazon said it would work with ATSG to add another 10 767s to the delivery service over the next couple of years.

Atlas Air Flight 3591 made use of a 767 jet that was converted from a passenger aircraft to cargo, and entered service with Atlas in April 2017, FlightRadar24 reported. The plane was registered with the tail number N1217A. Like all the tail numbers associated with planes servicing the Amazon network, 1,217 is a prime number.

Pilots working for Atlas Air and ABX Air, a subsidiary of ATSG, have long complained about short staffing and operational issues relating to the Amazon delivery operation. But it’s way too early to say whether such issues played a role in today’s crash, or to speculate about the cause of the crash.

Update for 6:35 p.m. PT Feb. 23: Daniel Wells, Atlas Air captain and president of the Airline Professionals Association, Teamsters Local 1224, released the following statement on the crash:

“Our union stands together as a family and in support of our members’ families. Our focus is on our friends and colleagues who were on that plane, and we are doing everything we can to support their families.

“Teamsters Local 1224 representatives are already on the ground supporting this investigation. We also thank the first responders who rushed to the scene to help.”

The union said members of Teamsters Local 1224 were on the flight.

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