Accident investigators have two tasks: one immediate, the other longer term. The immediate task, following an accident, is to determine whether there is - or even might be - useful advice that should be disseminated to the operators of the type of aircraft that crashed. It's not necessary to be absolutely certain of facts before advising operators to check a component or a procedure if circumstances suggest a risk might exist.

The Spanair Boeing MD-82 accident at Madrid is one of those mishaps for which the number of plausible causes is almost infinite, given the very sparse data being made available by the investigators. We have been told the aircraft got airborne, but clearly it was unable to stay airborne, and we have also been told it hit the ground with a very high nose-up attitude. That is about all we have been told.

Spanair MD-82 crash
 © PA Photos

As we went to press, therefore, because of the lack of information provided, intelligent speculation by experts and interested parties - like MD-80 operators - about the possible causes, could still include any one of the following theories: incorrect take-off configuration derated power selected by the crew despite Madrid's high-density altitude at the time and a tailwind of 9kt (17km/h) during the take-off run incorrect speeds calculated or set engine failure or of loss of power uncommanded thrust reverser deployment. Then there are all the potential combinations.

Several days ago Spanish investigators returned from their visit to the UK Air Accidents Investigation Branch with the downloaded data from the flight recorders in their possession. It is in their power, by now, at least to rule out some of that list, even if they are unwilling - at this point - to pronounce on the primary factors they believe might have contributed to the accident.

Accident investigators are public servants. They are paid by the public to serve the public. The information they hold does not belong to them, it belongs to the public. Ordinary people are not so stupid they would fail to understand information - even incomplete information - if it were provided to them competently.

One of the main problems here, as in most of the world's countries, is that the investigators are taking second place to the judiciary in the investigation, and lawyers, unlike investigators, do not seek knowledge with the aim of preventing a recurrence of this type of accident they seek evidence they can use to prosecute individuals. Hence the silence, and the lack of information provided to MD-80 operators who need it.

Source: Flight International