Captain tells his story after fiery plane crash in Lubbock - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock


Captain tells his story after fiery plane crash in Lubbock

By James Clark | email

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - NewsChannel 11 has acquired new details into a January 27th crash of a Fed Ex cargo plane in Lubbock. This past week the National Transportation Safety Board held hearings in Washington D.C. and released a 3-D animation of the crash.

A Fed Ex cargo plane operated by a company called Empire Airlines crashed a few hundred feet short of the runway. The pilot suffered serious injuries, and the co-pilot suffered minor injuries. The plane caught fire, which destroyed many of the packages on board.

An NTSB animation shows that as the plane is 400 feet above the ground and getting close to the runway it begins to warble.  The pilot and co-pilot knew something was wrong, but they didn't know precisely.  Testimony indicates that they did not know at the time that the flap on the left wing was at 10 degrees and the flap on the right wing was stuck at zero. 

The animation further shows that as the plane gets to about 90 feet above the ground it is not responding to the pilot's controls. It slams into the ground at more than 100 miles per hour.   Even though the investigation clearly shows the plane had a malfunction and the weather was bad (with freezing rain), investigators still had some pretty tough questions for the pilot and co-pilot.  

"Looking back on the accident event, is there anything you would do differently?" asks Katherine Wilson with the NTSB. 

"Given the time constraints and the other issues that we had, I think we handled it the best we could, answers First Officer Heather Cornell.

Cornell is glad to be alive and says so in her sworn testimony last week before the NTSB.  Cornell gave up controls of the ill-fated Empire Airlines flight 8284 to a more experienced captain just moments before the plane fell out of the sky.

An alarm called "the stick shaker" went off several times.   It's an indication that the plane is about to stall and lose control. 

Wilson asks Cornell "What was your response to the stick shaker activating?'  And Cornell answers, "Well, I only remember it once.  But I added power.  That's when I suggested the ‘go around' to the captain."

In simple terms Cornell was suggesting that they abort the landing attempt so they could circle around and try it again. The captain said no.

Cornell says in testimony, "We had this unknown flap anomaly going on.  We would have been climbing back into icing conditions that we just descended through. And we had our gear down.  And I kind of understood his thought process at the time."

Both she and Captain Rodney Holberton knew something was wrong with a part of the wings called flaps.  But they didn't know precisely what that problem was.

In testimony NTSB investigator Todd Gunther asks, "Why did you say no to the first officer when she asked if you should go around?"

"Because I wasn't aware of the capabilities left to the aircraft.  I had not determined what the anomaly was," answers Holberton. 

Much was made of Captain Holberton not following the airplane's QRH or quick reference handbook, which seems to suggest they should have missed the landing and gone back around for a second attempt.  But the captain says he did follow the QRH.

"Item number 2 states that before performing a procedure the crew must asses the situation as a whole taking into consideration the failures when fully identified."

And because Holberton never fully knew what was wrong, he did not implement any particular procedure or checklist from the Q.R.H. 

The hearing was for fact finding.  There is no final word yet on what caused the crash.

©2009 KCBD NewsChannel 11. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Transcript of January 27th Empire Airlines plane crash in Lubbock

NewsChannel 11 has the NTSB official transcript from the Cockpit Voice Recorder inside Empire flight 8284 which crashed at Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport January 27, 2009.

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