The Turkish Airlines Boeing 737-800 that crashed on final approach to Amsterdam Schiphol on 25 February is the second aircraft in a little more than a year to land short of a runway on approach to a major airport.
The other event involved a British Airways Boeing 777. It landed about 350m short of runway 27L at London Heathrow in January 2008.
The two events may not turn out to have much in common when we finally know the causes, but it’s worth looking at the similarities.
Both hulls were badly damaged by the impact with the ground, but there were no fatalities in the case of the British Airways flight and in the Turkish Airlines 737 only a few fatalities among the one hundred and thirty-four people on board.
And, of course, neither aircraft caught fire.
The Turkish 737′s hull looks as if the vertical speed at impact was greater than for the 777, which may account for the fatalities that occurred, but it was clearly survivable by most of those on board.
In neither case was the weather on approach – in itself – a challenge for the aircrew, given that they were approaching runways that have first class navigation aids and high intensity approach and runway lighting.
The interim report on the British Airways event says that the reason the crew had to put the aircraft down short of the runway is that, when they called for power, having put the aircraft into landing configuration, the engines didn’t respond, so the crew had to steepen the approach to maintain flying speed.
The cause of the engines’ failure to respond is believed to have been a temporary restriction to the fuel supply caused by ice crystals in the fuel. If this is confirmed in the final report, it will have been a unique accident cause for modern jet aviation.
So here we have a latest-generation aircraft landing at one of the world’s great hub airports in misty weather – but with more than adequate visibility – and somehow it didn’t make it to the runway. What happened?
Frankly, nobody knows at this stage. Did this crew suffer a power failure of some kind? We don’t know, but certainly the unique circumstances surrounding the long-haul British Airways flight were unlikely to have been repeated in this short-haul case.
Could it have been a birdstrike, like the one that the US Airways Airbus A320 suffered before it ditched in the Hudson recently? Maybe, but we have no evidence right now.
As modern airlines go, Turkish Airlines does not have a good accident record, having experienced two fatal crashes in the last ten years.
They lost a Boeing 737-400 in 1999, and an Avro RJ100 in 2003. The Avro RJ event also occurred on final approach, but in poor visibility.