Within about an hour of the Monday 10 November overrun at Rome Ciampino, the airline put out a statement that the Boeing 737-800 had suffered a multiple birdstrike on approach.
It certainly did. The gory evidence that the aircraft hit a flock of birds is all over the nose cone and wing leading edges.
Birdstrike alone is not an explanation of the outcome, it’s a statement of circumstances that definitely had a bearing on what happened. If his account is accurate, a clear description by a passenger of the aircraft pulling up followed by a rapid drop to hit the runway hard may be an indication that the captain tried to avoid the flock, but hit many birds just the same.
The late sighting of a flock of birds followed by a multiple birdstrike affecting both engines would have been a major distraction to the crew during a critical part of the final approach. New photographs of the aircraft’s underside show that, on touchdown, the aircraft suffered a substantial tailstrike.
That, and the failure of the left main gear, indicates that the pilots were trying to arrest a very high sink rate when touchdown took place.
The new pictures clarify the situation the pilots faced, so although the following may seem like semantics, here’s some contextual information about Ryanair standard operating procedures: the carrrier has strict instructions to its pilots that, if their approach is not stablised by 500ft (152m) on final approach they are to go around. But a birdstrike to both engines would have forced them to abandon any attempt at a go-around even if they were unhappy with their approach profile, fearing that demanding power from damaged engines would be the greater risk.
I have been to Ryanair’s pilot selection and training base and seen the way the airline works there. Its selection standards are high, the simulator test for aspiring pilots consists of flying a demanding pattern on raw instruments, during which crew resource management skills are closely observed.
Ryanair may be a low-fare carrier, but where crew training and engineering/maintenance are concerned it does not cut corners.