A very familiar gear-failure-on-landing scenario

for an MD-11


FedEx Plane Crashes In Tokyo
Published: March 23, 2009
Filed at 12:52 a.m. ET

TOKYO (Reuters) - A FedEx cargo plane caught in a gust of wind crashed and burst into flames as it landed at Japan's Narita

 airport on Monday, killing the two crew and closing the main runway at the busy gateway to Tokyo.

Airlines cancelled more than 30 flights and diverted some to other airports as the longest of two runways was closed.

"We have information that strong winds caused the plane to divert from the runway," a Narita Airport spokeswoman said.

The FedEx plane landed hard, tipped onto its left wing and burst into flames, video of the crash on public broadcaster NHK showed.

A bright orange fireball and black billowing smoke engulfed the plane as it flipped and skidded off the runway. Firefighters sprayed

 foam onto the broken remains of the plane with its wheels in the air.

The MD-11 plane had been on a cargo flight from Guangzhou, China, FedEx said in a statement.

The plane's two American crew had died, a transport ministry official told reporters, in what was the first fatal crash at Narita airport since it opened in 1978.

It was unclear how long the main runway would be closed at Narita, the main international airport for the Japanese capital.

Japan Airlines, Japan's main international airline, said 27 flights had been cancelled, affecting nearly 6,700 people, and some arriving flights had been diverted to Tokyo's Haneda airport and Sapporo airport in northern Japan.

All Nippon Airways said in a statement that the airline had cancelled 9 flights so far, including international flights to New York, Washington and London.

Japan's meteorological agency had issued an advisory of gales for the area around the airport and a local observatory said it had notified airlines of possible wind shear -- a condition in which wind speed and direction suddenly change. The MD-11 was a freighter made by McDonnell Douglas, part of Boeing.



Winds, handling seen causing jet crash

Analysts, pilots say MD-11 notoriously difficult to land, has history of problems

A day after a FedEx MD-11 cargo jet crashed in strong winds at Narita Airport, experts are still divided over what the main reason for the crash was.

Burnt out wreckage of a FedEx cargo plane is seen in bottom, at Narita International Airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan, Tuesday, March 24, 2009, one day after the crash of the FedEx cargo plane. Investigators say wind shear may have caused the deadly crash of a FedEx jet that cartwheeled on the runway at Tokyo's main international airport and burst into a fireball, but experts note that the model, MD-11, is notoriously difficult to land.

Japan main airport opens runway after deadly crash

By JAY ALABASTER 18 hours ago

TOKYO (AP) Investigators hauled away charred wreckage and planes began to land again Tuesday morning on the main runway of Japan's largest international airport, where a day earlier a FedEx cargo flight crashed and exploded, killing its two pilots.

About 170 workers laboured Monday night under giant construction lights to clean up the scene and remove the remnants of the MD-11 cargo plane, pieces of which were put onto large flatbed trucks and moved to a spot about 1,000 feet (300 meters) away for investigation.

The runway was declared fit for use by airport officials and officially reopened at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday.

The plane's black box data recorder and cockpit voice recorders have been recovered and the data seems to be usable, according to Transport Ministry spokesman Michinobu Osuka. Officials from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were expected to arrive in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon to assist in the investigation, he said.

A team of officials from FedEx Corp. landed in Tokyo on Tuesday morning to take part in the investigation. William Margaritis, senior vice president of communications, told reporters at the airport it was too early to speculate on what caused the accident.

"We have a team of experts here to work closely with our folks here in Japan, and with the government authorities, to get all the necessary information about the incident, and we're going to spend as much time as necessary until we get to all the issues and the facts and the information that we need," he said.

The first fatal crash at Tokyo's Narita airport left a scorched, debris-strewn trail down the longer of its two landing strips, which remained closed for about 27 hours after the crash. The American pilot and co-pilot Kevin Kyle Mosley, 54, and Anthony Stephen Pino, 49 were killed.

Dozens of flights were cancelled or rerouted, and at least 10,000 passengers were affected. About 500 spent the night at the airport, according to spokeswoman Misuho Fukuda.

In video footage, the plane appeared to bounce on its landing, slamming down, veering sharply to the left and then exploding into a fireball as it flipped and skidded to a halt in a grassy strip next to the runway. It was arriving from Guangzhou, China, where last month FedEx opened a new $150 million operations hub for the Asia-Pacific region.

It was the first fatal crash in the company's 37-year history, according to U.S. FedEx spokesman Maury Lane.

Investigators have said the accident may have been caused by low-level turbulence or wind shear sudden gusts that can lift or smash an aircraft into the ground during landing.

Some pilots have also said the MD-11 can be difficult to handle. The plane, which has been largely retired from passenger service because of the introduction of more economical planes, has been involved in previous accidents in which it flipped while landing.

The plane has had no fatal crashes since 1999.

While aviation officials have said it was likely wind shear around the airport on Monday that was responsible for the accident, in which two pilots were killed, some aircraft experts have said the MD-11 model is also very difficult to pilot.

This view is supported by the fact that there have been a number of other similar accidents involving the same model overseas in which a crash on landing has led to the plane flipping over.

The Japan Transport Safety Board is to investigate the accident, and intends to pay particular attention to the model's handling.

The Narita Aviation Weather Service Centre had issued a warning about wind shearing earlier in the day, with winds gusts of up to about 65 kph being recorded above the 4,000 meter-long Runway A.

The plane attempted to land in the poor conditions, but bounced twice just after touching down on the runway before flipping over as it burst into flames and veered off the runway. Its American pilot Kevin Kyle Mosley, 54, and copilot Anthony Stephen-Pino, 49, were killed.

The safety board said the aircraft touched down for a second time after first making contact with the runway, with its nose dipping too far. The board also found that tires on both of the two front landing gears had been dislodged.

The board concluded that the plane flipped over after its front landing gears were dislodged when it initially bounced on the runway.

According to senior officials of the Construction and Transport Ministry and pilots of Japanese airlines, the FedEx plane appeared to approach the runway at a steeper angle than normal and bounced after failing to touch down properly.

A senior ministry official said it was likely that when the pilot tried to recover the plane's equilibrium, the nose was too low and the plane became unbalanced and turned on its back.

Usually if a plane bounces on its initial landing attempt the pilot will lift off again, increase thrust and try again.

Another MD-11 FedEx cargo jet also flipped over and caught fire on landing in July 1997 at Newark International Airport in New Jersey, although no one was seriously injured.

In another incident, the same model of plane operated by China Airlines was involved in an accident on landing at Hong Kong International Airport in 1999, killing three people.

A pilot for one Japanese airline who has flown the MD-11 said: "The stability of this model is extremely poor compared with other aircraft. We always say it's like balancing on a ball--it's difficult to adjust course when landing."

According to the pilot, the MD-11 needs to approach the runway at a higher speed than other models when coming into land.

"[But] at the higher speed it's difficult to make delicate adjustments when landing," the pilot said.

Kazuki Sugiura, a civil aviation analyst, said: "The model has good specifications, but even the slightest movement on the control stick can upset the plane's balance. The controls of the MD-11 tend to be too sensitive."

The FedEx plane was attempting to land in strong winds, and aviation experts said it was possible that wind shear, in which the speed and direction of the wind changes rapidly, made it difficult for the pilot to control the plane.

The sensitive handling might have exacerbated the problem.

According to the ministry, between 6:02 a.m. and 6:46 a.m. on Monday, just before the accident, nine planes--none of them MD-11s--landed on Runway A without any problems.

When the safety board and Chiba prefectural police inspected the accident site and the wreckage of the plane, nine navigation lights on Runway A were found to have been damaged.

Many marks had been left on the runway where the fuselage of the plane had hit the tarmac.

The prefectural police set up a special investigation team and plans to question FedEx officials, with a view to possibly bringing charges of professional negligence resulting in death.

(Mar. 25, 2009)


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