On its fatal 2 June, 1999, night approach to Little Rock Airport, Arkansas, the crew of American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-82 Flight 1420 had difficulty lining up with the runway, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) has revealed.

Released at a US National Transportation Safety Board public hearing, the CVR records American Capt Richard Buschmann, who was at the controls and was killed in the crash, saying that "this is a can of worms " and that the aircraft was "way off course".

At issue is the decision to land in adverse weather. Evidence shows that air traffic control gave the pilots all the weather information they needed and passed them two windshear alerts.

Despite the storm, however, the crew eventually saw the runway and decided to land. The co-pilot, however, said that he expected the captain to go around again.

Reconstruction in a simulator shows the aircraft touching down to the right of the centreline, then tracking nearly to the runway's right edge before swerving left, eventually leaving the left edge just before the end and colliding with approach light support structures.

The CVR records no verbal checklist confirmation on arming the spoilers, and they did not deploy on landing. Also at issue is whether the crew followed American Airlines' standard procedure for thrust reverser use.

Pilot fatigue remains in the spotlight as a possible reason why the crew's decisions and drills were imperfect.

Source: Flight International