Taken from USA TODAY
By Alan Levin, USA TODAY
Initial reports from Madrid, where 153 people died in a fiery crash just off the runway Wednesday, indicate that an engine problem or some other disturbance occurred as the Boeing MD-82 was taking off.
If so, the jet’s two pilots would have been pressed to instantly carry out emergency procedures, according to aviation safety experts and MD-80 pilots.
“A failure to act promptly or a failure to act correctly by a flight crew during that critical phase of flight can be very, very problematic,” says Mark Goodrich, a pilot and safety consultant.
Few details have emerged to indicate what might have caused the jet loaded with holiday travelers to break into pieces just off Madrid-Barajas Airport, sparing only 19 of the 172 people aboard. Nothing has been officially ruled out, from mechanical failure to terrorism, although Spanish media has reported that video shows the engine did not explode at takeoff.
The experts and pilots say investigators will focus on those hectic seconds when the jet lifted off with an apparent emergency.
As investigators studied the wreckage, medical crews began the grim task of identifying the dead. Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez said DNA tests would be used on some victims, many of whom were badly burned.
Spanair, a financially troubled carrier, said that the flight to the Canary Islands had been delayed because of a problem with the jet’s air-intake system. The problem was not considered critical, and the flight was allowed to continue, airline spokesman Javier Mendoza said.
Because large jets such as the MD-80 series take off at such high speeds, pilots are tested repeatedly during their careers on how to respond to an emergency, says Capt. Sam Mayer, an official with the Allied Pilots Association at American Airlines. Calculations are performed before each takeoff, and pilots use that data to choreograph how they must act if something goes wrong.
If pilots slam on the brakes after accelerating too much, they will skid off the end of the runway. If they try to take off on one engine without enough speed, the jet could wobble out of control. A fully loaded MD-80 needs to be at about 180 mph to safely fly on one engine.
A failure to maintain proper speed could explain why survivors said the Spanair jet dipped from side to side before crashing, says John Cox, a retired pilot and consultant. Other factors, such as damaged aircraft controls, could also trigger an accident after takeoff, he said.
Contributing: The Associated Press