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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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)