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'Lack of airmanship' doomed 737

By David Kaminski-Morrow in London

Peruvians say captain took 'unnecessary risks, committed errors of judgement and demonstrated poor planning'

Peruvian investigators have uncovered a catalogue of appalling airmanship that resulted in the 23 August 2005 fatal loss of a Transportes Aereos Nacionales de Selva (TANS) Boeing 737-200 as it attempted to land in a storm.

Despite being aware of poor weather and the fact that unavailable runway lighting at Pucallpa Airport necessitated a visual approach, the crew did not divert or change course to avoid the storm's nucleus. The captain was training a first officer, who had previously flown Soviet-era and Chinese-built turboprops, and who had just 60h on 737s. The duty co-pilot was seated in the cabin, to make way for the trainee, while a non-crew engineer was in the other cockpit seat.

As the pilots attempted to spot Pucallpa's runway 02, the aircraft descended to 1,500ft (460m) - just 987ft above the ground - but was subjected to intense hail bombardment that caused the crew to lose situational awareness.

Shortly after the crew disengaged the autopilot, the 737 entered a sharp descent exceeding 1,700ft/min (8.6m/s) and struck terrain 34s later, 3.8nm (7km) from the Pucallpa VOR, carving a 1,500m swath through trees. The accident killed 35 of the 91 passengers and five of the seven crew.

Peru's accident investigation board CIAA attributes the crash to the crew's decision to continue the approach despite a non-stabilised descent. A "lack of airmanship", the absence of the assigned first officer, and a failure to adhere to standard operating procedures were contributing factors.

The report criticises the captain for having "too much confidence in himself while taking unnecessary risks - he committed errors of judgement and demonstrated poor planning before and during the flight". It adds that the crew failed to make appropriate decisions and did not appreciate the developing hazardous situation. The pilots focused their attention on trying to locate the runway, neglecting the flight and allowing the aircraft to deviate from a safe course.

The investigation was hampered by interference from local residents, who plundered the wreckage.

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