[ARCHIVE] 1998-08-17: Notes regarding the KAL801 Crash in Guam (Air Safety Week)

Excerpts from “News Briefs” in Air Safety Week, 8/17/1998…

Territories in tally.

The crash of Korean Air flight 801 at Guam last year was a significant factor in aviation deaths remaining around 1,000 per year in the U.S. and its territories. According to a preliminary report of transportation deaths in 1997, the National Transportation Safety Board noted that highway deaths accounted for more than 94 percent of the transportation deaths in 1997 (42,000). U.S. airlines had a much better record in 1997, which was not marked by the high death tolls run up in 1996 by the crashes of ValuJet flight 592 and TWA flight 800. However, the 228 persons killed when the Korean Air 747 crashed in a “classic” tragedy of controlled flight into terrain, the overall number of aviation deaths remained at roughly 1,000. The NTSB’s data, showing a relatively constant number of deaths, suggests that the death rates may be declining – given the continued boom in air travel and low gas prices that are putting more people than ever on the nation’s highways.

Too close to “coast.”

Readers will recall our coverage of the ValuJet flight 592 crash, and the fact that it “coasted” on the Miami air surveillance radar to a point 12 miles distant from the airport, well after the airplane had crashed into the Everglades at a point some 17 miles distant (see ASW, July 13, pg., 1). The “coast,” according to investigators, was a computerized prediction. Now comes the August 6, 1997 case of Korean Air flight 801, which crashed into Nimitz Hill about 3 miles short of runway 6L while on approach at Guam.

Kurt Mayo, the duty controller at the time, later told investigators that he followed the progress of the doomed jet on his radar scope. Mayo said at no time did the data block on the radar go into coast. If the radar lost both primary (“skin paint”) or secondary (transponder) returns from Flight 801, why wouldn’t the air surveillance radar go into coast, as was the apparent case for ValuJet? Scott Dunham, an NTSB radar expert, offered this insight: “The track probably terminated close enough to the airport so that it looked like the plane landed when it (the radar’s computer) expected it to.” The track would have been handled like a normal arrival, he surmised; rather than go into a coast status, the data block would have been dropped.

Copied 6-3-13 from the 8/17/1998 edition of Air Safety Week.
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