Flash probe reveals crew confusion

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Interim report into Egyptian airline's January accident explains how 737-300 dived out of control

The interim report on the 3 January Flash Airlines Boeing 737-300 crash paints a picture of a confused crew who watched the aircraft adopt an extreme bank angle and dive towards the sea before acting to attempt recovery. The Egyptian ministry of civil aviation report does not give any probable cause.

The aircraft took off normally from Sharm el Sheikh runway 22R at 04:42 local time on a moonless night and headed over the sea, cleared to carry out a left climbing turn, initially to 14,000ft (4,270m). Bound for Cairo for a refuelling stop before flying to Paris with a duty crew of seven, six off-duty crew and 135 passengers, the aircraft was set for a slow climbing turn over the sea to gain altitude before flying north over mountains. With the captain as the pilot flying, the aircraft proceeded as cleared until passing about 3,500ft and 140° heading in a left turn when the captain made an exclamation. There was a momentary input of roll-right aileron, and 1s later the autopilot disconnected.

The captain called for "heading select", which would have provided him with a flight director roll demand bar. When the aircraft rolled through wings level, the report says there were "a series of aileron motions that command a right bank and subsequent right turn". The captain exclaimed: "See what the aircraft did?" and the co-pilot responded: "Turning right sir".

Three seconds later, when the bank angle was 17° right, the captain said: "What?" and the co-pilot again assured him the aircraft was in a right turn, to which the captain replied: "How turning right?" by which time the bank was nearly 30° right. After the captain said: "OK, come out," the ailerons returned to neutral and the roll increase abated, then momentarily reversed before the aileron inputs again commanded right roll. As the bank increased beyond 50° right the co-pilot said: "Overbank," and simultaneously the aircraft reached its highest altitude at 5,460ft. When the bank increased through 60° the pitch angle had reduced to zero and descent had begun. The captain called for the autopilot, but it was not engaged. The co-pilot then called "overbank" three times and right bank reached 111°, with 43° nose down as the 737 passed through 3,470ft. The first officer said: "No autopilot commander," and 2s later there was a large left roll aileron input. The investigators say the aircraft hit the surface 3min 04s after starting its take-off roll with 25° right bank, 24° nose down with a vertical acceleration of +3.9g and speed of 416kt (770km/h).

DAVID LEARMOUNT / LONDON