Wings Magazine

Tower audio helps shed light on Birmingham UPS crash

Feb. 5, 2014, Birmingham, Ala. - An audio recording from the control tower at Birmingham's airport shows workers were trying to reopen the main runway when a UPS cargo jet crashed while trying to land on an alternate runway, killing two pilots.

February 5, 2014  By The Associated Press

The recording, posted on the Federal Aviation Administration's
website, shows an air traffic controller asked a Birmingham Airport
Authority worker about reopening the runway less than two minutes before
the Airbus A300-600 jet went down shortly before dawn Aug. 14.


The main 12,000-foot runway was closed for maintenance at
the time and the UPS aircraft crashed while attempting to land on a
shorter 7,000-foot runway at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International
Airport that lacks the most advanced guidance equipment. The jet clipped
trees and slammed into a hill less than a mile from the end of the



The recording shows a cargo jet from UPS competitor FedEx landed safely on the main runway just a few minutes after the crash.


The recording will be part of the evidence as
the National Transportation Safety Board conducts a hearing set for Feb.
20 in Washington to determine the likely cause of the crash.


The main runway, which had a more
complete guidance system, was closed for maintenance on its lights
during the crash, which occurred about 15 minutes before the main runway
was supposed to reopen.


Pilots consider the approach to the shorter
runway to be more tricky because of the lack of full instrumentation and
a large hill at the end of the runway, but the NTSB has not indicated
whether the runway's configuration might have been a factor.


On the audio recording, UPS First Officer Shanda
Fanning is heard talking with an air traffic controller in the
Birmingham tower about the aircraft's approach. The controller tells her
the primary runway is still closed and asks if they want to land on
Runway 18.


"Yes sir, the localizer 18 will work," Fanning says.


About 45 seconds after he clears the UPS flight
to land, the controller is heard asking an airport worker about getting
the main runway back in operation.


"Airport 12 are, uh, we, uh, on schedule to open back up at (5 a.m.)?" he asks.


"Affirm, they're very close to the end right
now," answers the airport worker, apparently speaking from a vehicle
near the runway.


Less than two minutes later, the airport worker calls back to the tower: "Tower, Airport 12. Did you see that?"


The tower responds: "Airport 12, there's a crash. UPS 1354 heavy crashed, uh, on the hill."


The pilot of a FedEx cargo jet that also was in
the air approaching the airport radioed in that he had reduced his
speed. That aircraft landed safely on the main runway just moments after
it reopened.


The UPS wreckage was in flames by
then, lighting up the sky on a drizzly, overcast morning. As airport
vehicles rushed away from the central part of the field to the site, one
worker struggled to understand what had happened.


"Are we clear to go to our standby positions?" asked a worker from the fire unit at the Alabama Air National Guard installation.


"The aircraft is not coming to the airport," the controller answered.


"So it's already crashed?" asked the Guard worker.


"Affirmative," said the controller.


Investigators from the NTSB have said
they did not find any mechanical problems with the A300-600,
manufactured by Airbus. The NTSB has said the hearing later this month
will review landing procedures, training, adherence to standard
operating procedures and proficiency.


The hearing also will examine human factors
including decision-making, communication between pilots, fatigue and
fitness for duty. The board said it will review UPS dispatch procedures
and software limitations.


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