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McDonnell Douglas MD-82 Plane crash, [JKK5022]

20 August 2008

The Spanair MD-82 christened "Sunbreeze", crashed at 14:25 local time, seconds after takeoff, The aircraft, registration EC-HFP, was carrying a total of 172 people of which 162 were passengers, four deadheading crew members and six flight crew. When the aircraft attempted take-off it rolled to the right, was unable to maintain adequate airspeed to prevent altitude loss and crashed in the vicinity of the runway, breaking into at least two parts which were engulfed by the subsequent explosion.

Spanair reported that the pilot delayed departure by over an hour and had previously attempted and aborted a departure due to a sensor reporting excessive temperature in an air intake, and that the temperature sensor was de-activated on the ground. After another attempt of take off the fatal crash occurred. On September 18, El Pais made available on its web site a video that investigators have been examining which captured the crash. It was taken by an airport security camera and shows the aircraft gaining very little altitude, then hitting the ground, continuing forward for some distance and finally catching fire.

In a September 7 article, El Mundo states that during the flight preparation and takeoff attempts, the aircraft had some of its systems in flight mode rather than ground mode; this explains why de-icing of the Total Air Temperature probe activated on the ground, causing overheat this also explains why the flaps and slats alarm did not sound (this alarm it is disabled in flight mode).

The maintenance logbook of the airplane has comments, 2 days before the crash, shows that overheating of the air temperature sensor occurred repeatedly the day before the crash

Initially reported that as few as 2 to 45 deaths; however the figure was quickly revised to upwards of 100. The Associated Press reports that a Spanish emergency rescue official claimed as few as 26 passengers survived the crash. The rest died either in the crash or immediately after in the fire.

By 21 August, reports clarified there were 154 fatalities and only 18 survivors. A 30 year old woman with British and Spanish dual citizenship survived with no burns as she was flung from the plane, still attached to her seat, and landed in a nearby stream. She suffered a punctured lung and broken left arm. She was spared the horrific burns that the majority of the other passengers suffered. Ervigio Corral, the head of the emergency services rescue team, said that the crash flung many of the survivors into a creek.

The US National Transportation Safety Board, aircraft manufacturer Boeing and engine manufacturer Pratt and Whitney are supporting the investigation. the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder (one of them damaged), were recovered and that there was no suspicion of foul play.

The mechanic deactivated the faulty air temperature probe because the aircraft's Minimum Equipment List allowed it to be left inoperative and this has caused considerable interest in the faulty air temperature probe as this had been the reason for turning the aircraft back after isa failed attemt of take off. On 22 August investigators interviewed the mechanic, who defended his action saying it had nothing to do with the crash. Spanair has agreed with the mechanic's view, contending that deactivation of the probe is an accepted procedure. On Sept 1, a report quoting Spanair stated that the problem detected on the first takeoff attempt was overheating caused by a temperature gauge's de-icing system, rather than a dysfunction of the temperature gauge itself; and that icing was not a risk on that flight. Aviation Week reported the probe was a total air temperature sensor. The aircraft's computer uses total air temperature to help calculate the ambient air temperature, which in turn is needed to calculate the aircraft's true airspeed. True airspeed is needed for high altitude navigation, but is not so important for maintaining stable flight. Ground Speed is calculated directly from GPS position change, when TAS (true airspeed) is compared with Groundspeed, the actual wind direction and speed at that altitude can be calculated and presented to the pilots. Indicated airspeed, a measure of the relative wind over the aircraft's surfaces, is a more important measure for ensuring stable, safe flight.

On 25 August, reports explained that investigators may be focusing on the possibility that the thrust reverser of the No. 2 (right side) engine activated during the climb, since it was found to be in the deployed position in the wreckage. Indeed one of the photographs released on the day of the accident appears to show a deployed reverser. More recent evidence has come to light that the aircraft took to the sky with a known pre-existing problem with one of its thrust reversers, which was the subject of a temporary "work around" to keep the aircraft operational. On September 7, El Mundo reported that the thrust reverser deployment was commanded after the crash, to bring the aircraft to a stop; the left reverser deployed normally, while the right one (with the pre-existing condition) did not. At this point, the reversers therefore do not appear to be the cause of the crash.

On September 3, The Wall Street Journal reported that investigators examining data from the flight data recorder have concluded that the crew did not fully extend the wing flaps prior to take off; that an alarm for that condition failed to sound due to an apparent electrical fault; In that other accident, the crew was similarly disrupted from routine operation before the fatal takeoff, and the alarm similarly did not sound. On September 5, El Mundo, citing a source in the investigation team, reported that the cockpit voice recorder shows that the pilot said "Flaps OK, Slats OK" to the copilot. The article confirms that the flaps were not extended; and that alarm for that condition did not sound.

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