UPS Flight 1354 crash on approach to BHM, on 8/14/13

Fatal Air Crash

Investigators scour a hillside looking for evidence in the fatal crash of a UPS cargo plane in Birmingham, Ala., on Friday, Aug. 16, 2013. The twin-engine Airbus A300 aircraft went down on Aug. 14 during a flight from Louisville, Ky., while attempting to land.
JAY REEVES — AP Photo

Three days after the accident, here is a summary (with links) of the data, facts, causal theories and investigative focal areas for the crash:

  • The crash happened at 4:49AM when an Airbus 300 flying from Louisville [KSDF] to Birmingham [KBHM] first clipped trees and a powerline at Treadwell Road, then impacted a hillside, broke apart and erupted into flames. Both pilots were killed.
  • The flight crew’s workday began with a 9:30PM Tuesday departure out of Rockford IL, a stop in Peoria, IL, and another stop at Louisville, KY. The flight to Birmingham was their third leg in an overnight work shift.
  • Weather was not an apparent issue. The hourly METAR weather sequence, produced just four minutes after the accident, was: KBHM 140953Z 34004KT 10SM FEW011 BKN035 OVC075 23/22 A2997 AO2 SLP141 T02330222. [Translation: 4-knots of wind from the north, visibility ten statute miles, few clouds at 1,100′, ceiling 3,500′ broken, and an overcast layer at 7,500′] On the other hand, it was a very dark sky; the moon had set at 6:08PM the evening before, and the sun was not due to rise until 6:09AM.
  • The flight had been cleared by ATC to execute a Localizer Runway 18 approach. The approach was unusual in that the normal landing runway for this cargo flight is the 12,000′ Runways 06/24. NTSB has said that the runway assignment was due to work on the runway lights for Runway 06/24. At least one news article discusses the hazard of landing larger aircraft on the 7,000′ Runway 18.
[Q: Is there evidence of cockpit discussion regarding runway selection? Do the tapes show a pilot request to ATC? Do the tapes show an assignment of the runway (by the tower, by approach, or even by the center controller) with an explanation? Could the flight crew have landed on the longer runway, if they requested (i.e., was it a matter of trucks on the runway and changing a few lightbulbs, or was the runway lighting substantially out of service?)?]
  • NTSB reported on Friday that the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) onboard the Airbus 300 did announce “sink rate, sink rate” seven seconds prior to initial impact, alerting the flight crew to an excessive descent rate hazard. At four seconds prior to initial impact, one pilot commented out loud that he/she had the airport in sight.
  • *…Unfortunately, FAA has a past history of fatal accidents in which MSAW had been disabled, so as to eliminate ‘nuisance alarms’. The most serious of these accidents happened in August 1997, when Korean Air Flight 801 crashed on approach to Guam, killing 228. wikiFAA’s radar includes a Minimum Safe Altitude Warning (MSAW) system designed to produce alerts so that the controller can quickly advise the pilot. Typically, MSAW compares the flight altitude and descent rate to a digital terrain model, then generates the alert. Thus, an aircraft about to clip a tree and powerline at one mile north of the runway threshold should be detected by MSAW, and it should generate an alert.*
  • Red boxes show eight of the homesites for airport-related house removals between 2006 and 2010. Oddly, the one house immediately east of Treadwell/Tarrant Huffman remains today.

    The impact location was an open field on rolling hills. Images at Google Earth show that roads and structures (apparently past homes) were removed from parts of this location between March 1997 and February 1998, in what appears to have been airport-related earth grading work. Further analysis of these images shows the removal of a smaller group of houses between 2006 and 2010. Three of those houses were immediately east of the Treadwell/Tarrant Huffman road intersection; the other houses were removed from areas further south, and to the east or west of the expanded airport boundary (encompassing the runway safety area to the north of Runway 18).

  • NTSB has established that the pilot flying was Cerea Beal, Jr. Other sources show Mr. Beal, age 58, was a father and resident of Matthews, NC, near Charlotte, and flew for UPS since 1990. The pilot not-flying was Shanda Carney Fanning, age 37, from Lynchburg, TN, flying for UPS since 2006. Both pilots had substantial hours of flight experience, including time in the Airbus 300.
  • *…NOTE: controllers typically work the overnight shift at the end (day five) of their workweek, in shift rotations that increase personal fatigue but lengthen the controller’s weekend time away from work.There were two controllers on duty in the Birmingham tower, but one was reportedly on a break. The working FAA controller was interviewed by NTSB and described flashes typical of a powerline strike, than a red flash on the hillside, when the impact erupted into a fire. At the time of this Friday NTSB briefing, they had not yet interviewed the controller who was on a break.*

Some links…

    • 8-16-2013Member Robert Sumwalt holds third press briefing
      …YouTube video, with updated info, followed by answering press questions.
    • 8-17-2013NTSB: Black box data reveals UPS 1354 equipment normal
      …NTSB member Robert Sumwalt held the fourth and final media briefing for the UPS crash, revealing that inspection of the Flight Data Recorder and UPS maintenance records has found no aircraft basis for the accident. He also advised they will conduct a flight test with a similar Airbus 300, to see how the approach is flown and also to study UPS’ instrument approach procedures.
    • 8-20-2013Autopilot, Autothrottles Engaged in UPS Crash
      …An article at Flying magazine with some info to add to. Suggests a distinct similarity between the UPS crash and the SFO Asiana crash a month earlier: both were unstabilized approaches where pilots were apparently depending on automation. Also, both were nonprecision approaches that lacked glidepath automation, and the flightcrews oddly failed to use the visual glidepaths (PAPI lights) to ensure they were at a safe approach angle.
    • CommentsDissecting the Birmingham UPS A300 Crash
      …Check out the comments in this 8/16/13 Flying magazine article. The comments by Jim Underwood are especially worth reading.
    • KBHMaiREFORM webpage for Birmingham Airport
    • KBHMAirport Diagram
    • UPS1354The flight, as presented at FlightAware.com