FedEx MD-11 crash at Tokyo Narita

Today’s horrible loss of the FedEx MD-11 at Tokyo is prompting everyone in the industry to talk about two things: the challenging nature of landings in the Boeing (but McDonnell Douglas-designed) MD-11, and the frequently difficult wind conditions at Tokyo Narita.

This video below, showing another FedEx MD-11 landing at Narita indicates just how demanding the approach to the airport can be. I don’t know if this is to the same runway, but you get the idea. Below that is the video of today’s accident, which you’ve probably seen already.

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19 Responses to FedEx MD-11 crash at Tokyo Narita

  1. Old Lizzy March 23, 2009 at 11:13 am #

    Dreadful to watch. I was yelling “GO AROUND!” first time I saw it……I wonder why we don’t do more go arounds…I have never flown the MD11 but used to be scared to death by the A320 in a gusty crosswind; that plane definitely left me feeling very under-confident. I now fly the 757 and feel far more comfortable with ugly level crosswinds and gusts, but still one has to decide when to run away bravely.

    My heart goes out to the FedEx crews and their families.

  2. steel rider March 23, 2009 at 3:58 pm #

    Sad to see these images.

    The unique and unusual characteristic of the MD-11 is that when the aircraft touches ground and the speed brakes arm, the aircraft has the tendency to pitches up. – Possible reason why, the aircraft airborne after the first bounce, then after was pitch down to be landed.
    My condolences for those who flew their last flight.

  3. John Grant-Silver March 23, 2009 at 6:28 pm #

    It is always easy to blame dead pilots.

    I have no knowledge of the MD 11 or its reported difficulty in landing and my flying days are long over. But I was always instructed on a heavy bounced landing to do one of two things – apply power and attempt to cushion the second (and third) touch down/s or abandon the approach/landing, apply full power and go round for another attempt. Were the Fedex pilots caught so off-guard, they did not go back to basics?
    Hopefully, the NTSB will make some early comment and, in the meantime, one must grieve for the unfortunate crew members and their families and go back to comments in Ernest K. Gann’s famous book ‘Fate is the Hunter’.

  4. AirShowFan March 23, 2009 at 6:58 pm #

    Interesting how closely this matches an earlier accident:

  5. Sam Samaha March 24, 2009 at 4:55 am #

    Having flown the MD11, as well as Airbus and other jets and turbo props, I will say the MD11 is the least forgiving of all from my experience in landings, but especially in gusts. Combine the use of the LSAS (which compensates for the smaller tailplane), with the stretch of the airframe from the DC10, and the pitchup tendency after landing, with a sudden wind gust like was being encountered at the airfield that day and you have a recipe for a ones in a million disaster. Most disturbing is that I read that they didn’t pull their bodies from the cockpit until close to 1 hr after the crash, even though there doesn’t appear to have been a fire in that area. I pray that they didn’t die from bleeding, smoke or other cause while waiting for fire/rescue to put of the flames behind them. God bless their families and may they RIP.

  6. Peter Warren March 24, 2009 at 10:55 am #

    It is quite obvious from its track record that this plane is a badly designed, comparatively dangerous aircraft,put on the market and kept on the market by grossly irresponsible corporations, that is kept flying by other equally grossly irresponsible corporations that own it – such as Fedex. Both manufacturers and owners consider the number of people it kills – and which it will continue to kill because the basic problem is the entire aircraft design which occasionally renders it uncontrollable – to be less important than the profit they make with it. Besides, when (not if) it crashes, the insurance pays, so why should they care? They can use the insurance to replace it with an aircraft that is less of an airborn lunatic. The families of the dead pilots should launch a class action suit against Boeing, Fedex and others, for knowingly and callously flying a mis-designed and dangereous flying time bomb.

  7. Captain777 March 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm #

    Terrible to see things go so wrong at the last minute of a long flight.

    Everyone seems to comment on the porpoising of the a/c and windshear…and how to manage it. However, from the video, it appears that the a/c put the main gear down just fine but as soon as the nosegear touched down, the nose drops significantly, almost as though the **nosegear wasn’t there**. (see video just as plane goes by the tail of the foreground aircraft). It looks like the nosegear collapsed…leading to the porpoising.

    The apparent ‘smooth’ landing on the mains doesn’t seem to be impacted by windshear…but that nose drop may have been…or may have been a faulty/collapsing nosegear. FDR and CVR should clear that up.

    Again..terrible situation either way.

  8. Telma Helena Arieta March 24, 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    I used to fly MD-11, DC-10, B.747, B777 and B.767 as a flight attendant and I always called MD-11 “ALBATROSS” because of its landing attitude.
    I really didn’t like to fly MD-11, but I never had technical knowledge to explain my reasons.
    I used to double my attention and make a deep revew on emergency procedures when approching for landing.
    Dreadful to watch and think that it could have happened to me .
    My condolences for the crew members and their families.

  9. Kieran Daly March 24, 2009 at 3:12 pm #

    Thank you for your comments everyone. Illuminating as usual. I sympathise with Peter Warren’s frustration, and I agree with his general view about aviation safety, but I also have to say you can’t ignore with the actual operational experience and the statistics. My second post (the one more recent than this) on this subject with the MD-11-related accident history I think shows there is something to be concerned about. Even if it’s hard sometimes to understand when humans make errors, you have to address the fact that they do.

  10. Dean K March 24, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    The pitch down was an attempt to save the airplane, but sometimes its just safer to break the airplane instead and survive. Of course, you have only a fraction of a second to decide, and naturally, pilots attempt to correct the situation and go with the option that would offer the chance at the best outcome.

    Does anyone know why the pilots had perished? was it the impact or smoke/fire? The forward cabin section seems intact to me… Shame. This would be the second incident in which the pilots may have got trapped and thus did not survive.

  11. Mick Brown March 24, 2009 at 6:07 pm #

    I have flown the MD-11 all over the world and in all kinds of weather and never experienced control or landing problems.

  12. John Aislabie March 25, 2009 at 3:41 am #

    Looking at the video of the earlier landing at Narita it is fascinating, and rather alarming, to see the extent of up/down elevator being input as the aircraft goes by (try it slowly or shot by shot). Note that the elevator is not just neutral or “less up” but at some times shows significant “down” input.
    I would be interested to know from more experienced commentators whether this apparent sensitivity is comparable to other aircraft.

  13. Mike March 25, 2009 at 7:13 pm #

    Having flown the MD-11, I have some criticisms about some of the design issues, but they are mostly related to the flight management system, which was largely dictated by the ‘launch’ customer, not the manufacturer. I also flew the DC-10-30, and -10. I thought the controllability of each was quite normal … even in a crosswind. That being said, this landing appeared to have problems from the first ‘impact’. The amount of smoke from the tires, and the nose immediately dropping through to the runway (when the tendancy is to pitch up a little) may indicate something unusual. At that point the ‘porpoised’ landing appears to be out of control and a go-around was probably the only viable option. The second touchdown appears to be nose first, which never results in a good landing. The final resport will be interesting.

  14. B-747 Capt May 12, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    Folks this is nothing more than PIO – and whoever was the PF caused his own death. I am sorry. Watch the video, you can see the violent pitch and roll inputs in slow mo.
    What slammed the nose gear into the ground? The PF did.
    He did it with full forward on the yoke. Probably a retired Air Force Colonel. We see it all the time. – The FDR will show full control inputs in pitch and roll when it is released. A little opposite rudder and wing down all down final with Bug plus some and then some more would have put the upwind trucks down first. The plane is a good design. What we need is better training for these poor saps that never got the basics and a return to basic airmanship instead of autopilot on and load that FMS. The plane is good to 50 knots direct crosswind if you know what you are doing. This poor PF obviously did not.
    Monday morning Arm chair quarter back I know – I can read it already. Is it still Monday morning arm chair quarter back if its the truth?

  15. Bobby Hoover June 1, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    Hi All,
    B-747 Capt. is right, the control imputs were extreme in the fashion of USAF pilots. They trend to get into trouble with wide bodies on landings when they have everything moving, both arms and legs and mouth.I’ll bet we’ll see pitch,roll, rudder, and throttles moving all at once. Put in one imput, then the next imput and so on.

  16. HPG-747 December 3, 2009 at 7:58 am #

    Sorry to say, but this crew, however experienced, did not make proper control inputs to recover from a bounced touchdown. The video vividly shows that the flying pilot had shoved the control wheel forward and slammed the airplane unto the pavement. There are too many pilots who rely exclusively on the automatics and forget how to fly basics.

  17. Putt Putt December 11, 2009 at 5:50 pm #

    “the control wheel”

    Uh, HPG-747….do you mean the yoke, drooler?

    I happen to know the Cpt who flew this flight the very day before….they still don’t know for sure what happened.

  18. HPG-747 December 18, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    Well, captain Putt Putt, it doesn’t matter whether you knew the chap or not. The fact is that after the last bounce, the dramatic video shows that the PF had forcefully shoved the wheel/yoke [control column] forward and slammed the airplane back unto the pavement. It’s improper recovery technique; incorrect control input after bounced touchdown.

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