Air China pilot and controllers refer to different runways

Chinese, South Korean and US accident officials are investigating how an Air China Boeing 767-200ER hit a ridge near South Korea's second-largest city Busan on 15 April, killing 126 of the 166 people on board.

Korea says the Air China aircraft (B-2552), operating flight 129 from Beijing, was making a second approach to land at Busan's Kimhae airport when it crashed near the top of a 782ft (239m)-high ridge, probably while still in clouds.

The Korean captain, Wu Xin Lu, was making a non-precision approach from the north to runway 18R, having abandoned an approach to the instrument landing system-equipped reciprocal runway 36L because of high tailwinds, says a ministry official. In the rainy weather and poor visibility he was circling to line up on 18R when the 17-year-old aircraft hit a ridge 8.3km (4.5nm) from the end of runway 18L, slightly to the right of the extended centreline.

There were 37 survivors, including Wu and two flight attendants, and rescue workers continued to comb the crash site late last week. Of the 155 passengers and 11crew, 122 were confirmed dead as Flight International went to press. A passenger says that the aircraft pulled up and increased power just before impact.

The aircraft's crash path up the wooded slope was long, indicating a relatively shallow impact angle, explaining the high survival rate. The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder have been recovered.

Investigators will consider whether there was confusion between the Air China pilots and airport air traffic control (ATC). According to a brief radio transcript the pilot appeared to make it clear, after abandoning the approach to 36L, that he intended to carry out a circling approach to 18R, but ATC continues to refer to 36L, but finally acknowledges the 18R intention when it is repeated. The pilot's last report was: "CCA129 on base turn on final."

Source: Flight International