Investigation report reaffirms pilot error as cause of 1999 Boeing MD-11 crash

A Hong Kong accident review board has rejected claims by China Airlines (CAL) of Taiwan that windshear contributed to the August 1999 crash of a Boeing MD-11 at Hong Kong International airport, upholding the accident report's conclusion that an "extremely hard" landing due to errors by the captain was to blame.

The formal investigative report into the crash - which killed three people and seriously injured 50 others - was completed by Hong Kong's Civil Aviation Department (CAD) and sent to interested parties in April 2002, but its findings of pilot error were disputed by CAL, which claimed windshear was a cause.

The airline filed a notice of review with Hong Kong's Department of Justice, forcing the CAD to suspend publication of its report and requiring the government to set up a board of review. The CAD report identified the cause of the accident as "the commander's inability to arrest the high rate of descent existing at 50ft [15m] radio altitude".

Arriving from Bangkok with 300 passengers and 15 crew on board, the MD-11 - in the livery of CAL subsidiary Mandarin Airlines - touched down during a tropical storm. Investigators found that the aircraft touched down hard on the runway in a slightly right wing down attitude and the underside of the engine contacted the runway.

This was followed by the collapse outward of the right main landing gear that led to damage to the wing and resulted in its failure. "As the right wing separated, spilled fuel was ignited and the aircraft rolled inverted and came to a rest upside-down alongside the runway facing in the direction of the approach," says the CAD. Its report says there was a strong wind from the north west and heavy rain, but the Automatic Terminal Information Service was warning pilots to expect "significant windshear and severe turbulence on the approach".

An instrument landing system approach was carried out to runway 25L and after becoming visual with the runway at around 700ft, the commander disconnected the autopilot, but left the autothrottle system engaged. The aircraft continued to track the extended runway centreline, but descended and stabilised "slightly low on the glideslope until the normal flare height was reached".

Before impact, when the aircraft was 250ft above the ground, the co-pilot noticed a "significant decrease in indicated airspeed" and called "Speed", which was followed by an excessive application of power that increased indicated airspeed to 175kt (325km/h) - 15kt above what it should have been.

As the aircraft's rate of descent increased, it "reached approximately 18ft/s [5.49m/s] at touchdown", which was "well beyond the design structural limit of 12ft/s".


Source: Flight International