ANALYSIS: Another rushed Southwest arrival … the SWA1455 crash at Burbank, March 2000

Frequently, aviation accidents happen when the flight crew or ATC (or both) are in a hurry and cutting corners. Depending on other conditions, the accident may be anything from a ‘lesson learned’ to a media embarrassment to a wholesale loss of life.

Southwest Flight 1455 crash, Burbank, 3/5/2000. Yes, that is a gas station and, no, Chevron does not serve up jetfuel.

As noted in the earlier aiREFORM post, the accident flight was far faster at 3,000′ altitude than are comparable Southwest flights from BNA to LGA; i.e., it was showing 270 knots, while the other flights are typically 200-230 knots at that position on final, when preparing to land.

Last month’s Southwest Flight 345 accident at LaGuardia was a repeat of a ‘lesson learned’, and evidently a lesson forgotten. Thirteen years ago, on March 5, 2000, a very similar accident happened when Southwest Flight 1455 was more than two hours late on a hop from Las Vegas. The flight landed at Burbank and crashed through a fence, then came to a stop just feet short of the gas pumps at a Chevron station. A car was pinned under the aircraft but nobody in the car was hurt. After the accident, everyone was stunned at how close this one had been to a fireball. Here are a couple articles:
News: 3-7-2000Analysis: 8-26-2002

And, here is the Probable Cause, at the end of NTSB’s report on the Burbank accident:

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the flight crew’s excessive airspeed and flightpath angle during the approach and landing and its failure to abort the approach when stabilized approach criteria were not met. Contributing to the accident was the controller’s positioning of the airplane in such a manner as to leave no safe options for the flight crew other than a go-around maneuver.

The most significant similarity: both flights were substantially behind schedule, causing both flight crews to look past the hazard of unstabilized approaches. In both cases, the flight crews failed to follow clear warnings that they needed to abort the approach and ‘go around’.

In a few months, NTSB will finish their investigation on Southwest Flight 345 and maybe they will find evidence of some of these ‘rush-job’ problems. Perhaps NTSB will establish that ATC should have either made the runway change earlier (which would have meant a Runway 13 landing), or compensate for the unfavorable wind direction by not allowing Southwest Flight #435 to scream in to their landing. In either case, it seems clear to this former air traffic controller: we are well paid by FAA to keep people safe, and more judicious ATC work could easily have prevented both the Burbank and the LaGuardia accidents.

A past coworker, who was also an excellent controller, noted too often controllers become mere spectators. He is well remembered for offering this wisdom:

“…Sometimes you have to put the ‘C’ back into ‘ATC’…”

Marble on Green