NEW YORK, CMC – Crash investigators believe excessive speed and other possible errors in landing procedures caused a Caribbean Airlines jet to roll off a Guyana runway late last month, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Preliminary findings by investigators point to “pilot error rather than mechanical or other system malfunctions,” the paper said.
No one was killed, but images of the four-year old Boeing 737's broken fuselage, along with reports of terrified passengers scrambling out of the wreck, sparked widespread public and industry interest in the causes of the accident.
“Eyewitness accounts and data retrieved from the plane's data-recorders indicate the twin-engine Boeing aircraft, carrying 163 people, landed too fast and too far down the strip in Georgetown, Guyana, on July 30,” the Journal said.
It quoted a senior Guyana transport official as saying that the cockpit crew of Flight 523 reported no problems to air-traffic controllers on approach, and said data analyzed by investigators so far also doesn't highlight any major system malfunctions.
The head of Guyana's civil aviation authority, Zulfikar Mohamed, also downplayed theories that hydraulic or mechanical problems played a significant role in the accident, the paper said.
In two separate interviews last week, Mohamed also gave “the strongest sign yet that at least some investigators believe that movable panels on the front and rear edges of wings - essential to decelerate most airliners during descents - apparently weren't extended as required before touchdown,” the paper add.
“It appears that way,” the Journal quoted Mohamed as saying, based on early findings and informal discussions with US and other investigators.
It said photographs taken after accident don't show either sets of panels, called flaps and slats, extended on the plane.
According to the paper, Mohamed said that investigators found the handle in the cockpit, normally used to extend the flaps, in the up position, which would be consistent with the panels not being extended.
“The handles certainly may have been in a position they shouldn't have been,” he said.
“According to Mohamed, investigators still have to rule out the possibility that the wing panels could have retracted after touchdown, or rescue crew could have inadvertently moved the flap handles when they were removing the plane's injured pilot or other perhaps other survivors,” the Wall Street Journal said.
But it said safety experts and people familiar with the investigation discounted those possibilities.
“Completely retracting flaps fully extended for touchdown on a relatively short runway such as the one in Guyana, typically would take longer than Flight 523 remained on the runway,” the paper said.
“Furthermore, passenger-evacuation procedures usually require pilots to extend, rather than retract, flaps,” it added.
It said that Guyana is formally in charge of the investigation, but much of the technical work relies on help from Boeing and the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
It said the board sent seven staff members to the site, “an unusually large contingent for a crash without fatalities, underscoring that local officials are relying heavily on the safety board's expertise.
“It would be highly unusual for an experienced captain, such as the one who commanded the Caribbean Airlines flight, to fail to extend flaps prior to landing. Such a mistake, according to safety experts, normally would prompt obvious and repeated warning in the cockpit, and the plane would be extremely difficult to fly at normal approach speed,” the Wall Street Journal said.
“The airport experienced light rain around the time of the accident, but visibility apparently was good. Investigators, among other things, are trying to determine if some distraction in the cockpit could have resulted in improper landing procedures,” it added.
“The Guyana crash illustrates the persistent hazards of so-called runway excursions: accidents and serious incidents in which airliners careen off runways, often because pilots landed too fast, touched too far down the strip, or didn't recognize the difficulty of stopping on wet, slushy or snow-packed surfaces,” the Journal continued.