Investigation into Flash Airlines accident highlights several potentially fatal factors
When the final report on the 3 January 2004 Flash Airlines crash into the Red Sea is published in late March it will not identify a probable cause for the accident, according to the Egyptian chief investigator Shaker Qelada. He indicates that a number of potential causes will be cited, but the report will not clarify whether these are alternatives or cumulative effects.
The Boeing 737-300, flying a charter taking French holiday-makers back to France from Sharm el-Sheikh on Egypt’s Red Sea coast, was airborne 3min 6s from the beginning of the take-off roll until it crashed into the sea in a steep dive at night, according to the preliminary factual report published by the investigators.
Egypt is leading the investigation under the state of occurence norms. The French accident investigation office the BEA has never released any information or opinion regarding the probable causes of the Sharm el-Sheikh accident .
The Egyptian civil aviation authority, quoted by the country’s official news agency MENA, says the report will, among other factors, cite “faults in the automatic pilot”. According to the flight data and cockpit voice recorder (FDR and CVR) information in the factual report, the autopilot would not remain engaged; there was 5s between the captain calling for the autopilot and the co-pilot reporting it was “in command”, then another 2s before the autopilot disengage warning sounded. The FDR indicates the autopilot remained disengaged for the rest of the flight.
A possible cause for the autopilot’s failure to engage is that the aircraft was out of trim. According to the FDR read-out in the factual report, when the captain called for flap retraction some 30s before the attempt to engage the autopilot, the No.1 leading-edge slat alone remained extended in its mid-position for the rest of the flight – with no warning of this status acknowledged by either of the crew.
The slat asymmetry would have produced a tendency to roll right, from this point the aircraft began gradually to roll from the crew’s intended left turn into a right turn with progressively steepening bank, reaching 111˚ right wing down at its maximum. During the 1min between the autopilot disengage warning and the aircraft’s impact with the sea, the captain says “Autopilot” four times, seemingly unable to understand why it was allowing the aircraft to turn right. With only 10s to go to impact, the co-pilot exclaims “No autopilot, commander!”DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON
View the French accident investigation bureau BEA's video simulation of the January 2004 Flash Airlines crash in Egypt