Report into potential China Airlines disaster offers no probable cause but indicates ATC clearance distracted pilots

Auto-suggestion might have played a part in a near-disastrous China Airlines Airbus A340 take-off from a taxiway at Anchorage, Alaska, USA, according to the US National Transportation Safety Board's report on the incident. There were 237 passengers and 15 crew on board when, on a clear, moonless night on 25 January 2002, the aircraft struggled airborne leaving its wheel-prints in a snow berm at the taxiway end.

Although the factual incident report does not offer a probable cause, the crew's attention seems to have been distracted by air traffic control (ATC) giving take-off clearance as the aircraft was approaching a junction between taxiway Romeo - on which they were proceeding southward - and taxiway Kilo.

The crew were preparing to turn right on to taxiway Kilo, and had they followed ATC instructions - which they acknowledged correctly - they would have turned right again from Kilo on to runway 32. But after the take-off clearance, they took the first right turn as being the entry to the runway and, despite the fact that Kilo was lit as a taxiway with green centreline lights and blue edge lights, they began their take-off run.

When the tower controller realised what the aircraft was doing, he decided it was too late to warn the crew, so alerted the emergency services because of the restricted length of the take-off run available - 2,073m (6,800ft), at 23m wide.

Once the crew called airborne the controller told them to "fly heading 240" and contacted airport operations to look for any evidence of damage to the taxiway or aircraft. There was none, but wheelmarks were seen in the snow berm at the taxiway end. The aircraft continued to Taipei, Taiwan, where the crew of two pilots and a check pilot were suspended from duty. Any information on the flight data or cockpit voice recorders had been overwritten during the long trip.

Source: Flight International