Damaged black boxes may hold answers to FlyDubai plane crash

DUBAI // The flight recorders belonging to the FlyDubai jet that crashed in Rostov-on-Don are badly damaged and it could take a month to unlock the data they contain, Russia’s airline regulator said. The news came as investigators opened an enquiry into whether human error, weather or a technical malfunction led the Boeing 737-800 aircraft […]

DUBAI // The flight recorders belonging to the FlyDubai jet that crashed in Rostov-on-Don are badly damaged and it could take a month to unlock the data they contain, Russia’s airline regulator said.

The news came as investigators opened an enquiry into whether human error, weather or a technical malfunction led the Boeing 737-800 aircraft to miss the runway and explode on impact during its second attempt to land on Saturday.

All 55 passengers and seven crew members were killed.

“Specialists have started the inspection, opening and removing the memory modules from their protective coverings for further work to restore the cable connections and prepare to copy the data,” said Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee.

Experts began to collect genetic samples from victims’ relatives to identify bodies, which will take at least two weeks, minister of transport Maxim Sokolov said, according to Russian media reports.

The work will be led by Russia’s air safety investigation agency, with representatives from the UAE and the US, where the jet was manufactured, taking part.

“The investigators will be looking at company procedures, aircraft malfunction, human error, weather, fatigue, among many factors,” said Capt Ruben Morales, former head of flight safety operations with the International Air Transport Association.

The plane’s two black boxes, the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, were taken to Moscow for experts to examine, Russia’s emergency situations minister, Vladimir Puchkov, said.

All information must be verified before being released to the public, according to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, said Mr Morales, who is now general manager for corporate safety and security at Hong Kong Airlines.

Russian state television reported that several planes had trouble landing because of bad weather, and the FlyDubai plane crashed on its second attempt to land after circling for almost two hours.

One aircraft tried to touch down three times before diverting to another airport.

Investigations will focus on two issues – the fact that the crash occurred during landing and the weather, said Dr Ashley Nunes, an aviation analyst in Washington DC specialising in aviation safety and regulation.

“First, the crash occurred during landing, one of the most risky phases of flight. Statistics show that more than 60 per cent of crashes occur during this time largely because the margin for error tolerated from pilots is smaller given the aeroplane’s proximity to the ground,” he said.

“Secondly, bad weather can have an impact on how pilots fly because it increases their workload. Airlines like FlyDubai observe the highest standards in training their pilots. That does not make any pilot immune from the effects that high workload, such as that caused by weather, can have on how well the plane is flown, particularly during a manoeuvre as critical as landing.”

Flight FZ981 crew repeatedly asked air-traffic controllers at Rostov-on-Don for wind checks and weather information, according to a review of amateur video and audio recordings by Martin Consulting, an aviation analysis company in Dubai.

The analysts said it was likely that inaccurate weather information during the second landing attempt and language problems could have led to miscommunication of weather data, complicated by the short time the crew had to recover from wind shear – the rapid change in winds experienced by the aircraft over a short, horizontal distance.

Dr Nunes said that in such situations, the pilot ultimately decides whether to attempt a landing, though airport staff must communicate the risks.

He provided the example of the “Miracle on the Hudson” in 2009.

New York air traffic controllers tried to provide alternate airports to the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549 after the aeroplane lost both engines in a bird strike, said Dr Nunes, but the pilot decided to make an emergency water landing.

“A pilot always has final authority over the safety of his aeroplane,” he said. “Airport staff can and certainly must communicate any risks that may be present, but it is the pilot who decides.”

“If the aircraft declares an emergency, air traffic controllers will do whatever they can to get the plane down as soon as possible, wherever they can.”

*With reporting from Reuters

Source: uae news

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