Japanese investigators are examining how the pilots handled the FedEx Express Boeing MD-11 freighter that crashed on landing at Tokyo Narita airport, and are also looking at whether windshear was a contributory factor.
Video footage of the landing shows the MD-11 was stable on its final approach to Runway 34L, with wings level, and touchdown was firm but apparently normal. Immediately its nose-gear touched the runway, however, the MD-11 pitched up dramatically and became airborne again. During this "ballooning" phase the aircraft suddenly pitched down and its nose landing gear hit the runway extremely hard just before the main gear contacted the surface.
Immediately following this second impact the MD-11 banked rapidly left, causing its left wing and engine to hit the runway, with most of the wing rapidly breaking away, releasing fuel that caused an instant and massive fireball. The MD-11's burning wreckage came to rest upside down to the left of the runway. Both pilots died.
© Sipa Press/Rex Features
The Japan Transport Safety Board says when the aircraft touched down a second time, its nose dipped too far. The board is also looking at the incidence of windshear around the time of the accident. An aircraft accident investigator at the board told Flight International that "about 4min before [the crash] another aircraft captain reported wind shear at 2,000ft [600m] and the information was reported to the aircraft around the airport."
The investigator says the Japan Meteorological Agency has reported that just before the accident there was a northwesterly wind of 29kt (15m/s) with a maximum of 36kt and a minimum of 17kt. He says cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder have been recovered and dispatched for analysis.
"We will investigate all factors," says the investigator, adding that the board will "check other MD-11 accidents and speak to other aircraft accident investigating bodies".
The accident happened at around 06:50 on 23 March. Tokyo Narita's 4,000m-long runway, 16R/34L, was closed for about 26h, resulting in 101 flights cancellations and about 50 flights being diverted. The aircraft involved was registered N526FE, its serial number 48600, according to Flight's ACAS database, and it was owned by FedEx Express.
There have been other accidents involving MD-11s that have crashed on landing. In 1999, a China Airlines MD-11 crashed on landing in strong winds at Hong Kong airport and flipped on to its back. In 1997 a FedEx Express MD-11 freighter crashed on landing at New York Newark airport in the USA and burst into flames.