Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Afriqiyah Airways 8U771

Another horrible crash outside the US, this time an aircraft nearing final approach. Since the weather was fine it sounds like a mechanical issue but every time I see this comment from a government official on day one it raises an eyebrow:
The minister also said an investigation would be launched to establish the cause of the crash but he ruled out a terrorist attack.
How could anything be ruled out at this point? Offhand, the plane was a Libyan-owed African Airlines craft hauling mainly Europeans. The LIFG terror group operates in the area, which used to be an AQ-affiliated group opposed to Qaddafi although recent stories suggest they've backed off AQ and gravitated towards the dictator. Does anyone ever leave AQ?

Still, one has to consider the A330-200 series involved here, which was close to the same model that crashed over the Atlantic (Air France 447) last summer where preliminary indications suggested a pitot tube problem affecting the instrumentation. If a similar problem occurred on this flight so close to the ground--at night--on a non-precision approach--it could explain the crash. They would not have known anything was wrong until hitting the ground unexpectedly.

However, according to this report it would appear something was wrong in the air, and they knew it:
Images of the crash scene suggest that the plane went down “hard and fast.” According to Dutch sources the pilot radioed ahead to have ambulances ready at the airport. A passenger also “twittered” from the plane that he saw something wrong with one of the wings.
Would like to see that tweet before it goes down the memory hole. If there was "something wrong with one of the wings" that could bring in non-mechanical explanation.

Regardless, stories say the French investigative group BEA will lead the inquiry; we are still waiting for some kind of finding from them regards Ethiopian 409, a Boeing 737-800 that crashed off Beirut just after takeoff earlier this year, and Yemenia 626, an Airbus 310 that crashed while circling to land just off the coast of Comoros last year (which also featured the miraculous survival of a lone child). Let's hope the families and loved ones get an answer to what happened soon.

MORE 5/16/10

The first pilot error theory has arrived:
The sources said that as the pilot approached Tripoli International Airport, he took the plane off auto-pilot hoping to manually land the aircraft. He realized he was in trouble and tried to pull the plane up and turn the auto-pilot back on to give it another try, the sources said.
Guess these were different Libyan sources than the ones who initially said the weather was "good". As to the autopilot explanation, not sure they are basing that on the CVR or something else. In America the investigative bodies usually release transcripts but recent crashes investigated by BEA have not featured such transparency. So we'll see.

It certainly doesn't square with the above-mentioned report of someone tweeting about a wing problem, but there are many reasons why that could mean nothing, including a nervous passenger who saw the slats extend for the first time, etc. The main thrust of that narrative was the "Dutch sources" who claimed the pilot radioed ahead to have emergency equipment standing by, something that would never occur with the most recent go-around auto-pilot theory.

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