Air China 767 hit mountain's north side on second attempt

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South Korean authorities are confirming that Air China’s Boeing 767-200ER was making a second landing attempt into Gimhae airport near Busan when it crashed onto a 782ft (239m)-high ridge on the north side of a mountain earlier this week.

Captain Wu Xin Lu, 30, was attempting a manual approach from the north to runway 18R (which runs north-south) as it lacks the instrument landing aids guiding aircraft in to the south end of the runway, 36L, a Korean Transport Ministry official says from Seoul.

Landings are normally made from the south on 36L or the parallel runway 36R, except when tail winds are not favourable, he says, asking not to be named.

Wu, who is now recovering in hospital, aborted his first approach to runway 36R because of tailwinds, says the official. He was then circling to line up on 18R when the 17-year-old aircraft hit the ridge, which lies on the north side of a 2,092ft (638m)-high peak, known locally as Shinosan, 4.5km from the end of runway 18L on a bearing of approximately 355°.

The manoeuvre should have been completed before Shinosan, says the official. Although Wu had landed at the airport five times previously, he reportedly had not conducted this approach before.

Hills and peaks in the area make landing in inclement weather tricky, pilots say. “Gimhae Airport has been considered to require special care, due to the surrounding topography and limited options for approach in marginal weather conditions,” says the Air Line Pilots Association of Korea in a statement calling for a thorough investigation and fair treatment for Wu.

While Wu and the other 37 survivors, including two flight attendants, are recovering from their injuries, rescue workers continue combing the crash site, seeking the two people who remain missing. Their task is made no easier by the rain and fog persisting since the crash on the morning of 15 April.

Of the 155 passengers and 11 crew, 126 have been confirmed dead. The aircraft was operating as a scheduled service to Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city, from the Chinese capital Beijing.

Joining the rescuers today will be accident investigators from China, Korea and the US National Transportation Safety Board. They are inspecting the site, hoping to discover evidence for the causes of the crash.

Possibly later today or more likely tomorrow, they will began analysing the data on the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, says the official.