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Friday, 3 November, 2000, 16:50 GMT
Last seconds of doomed airliner
Image showing two runways
From the moment Flight SQ006 was cleared for take-off it was headed for disaster.

But neither the pilot nor the air traffic controller knew it for another one minute and 54 seconds.

Rescue workers
The plane broke into several pieces
Transcripts of the conversation between the two show that neither had the slightest suspicion that the plane had taxied onto a runway closed for repair.

Their only concern was at the effects of Typhoon Xangsane.

It was gusting winds of up to 50 knots across the runway, and obscuring visibility as rain lashed through the darkness.

Disaster unfolds

The fatal chain of events revealed by the cockpit voice recorder begins at 18 seconds past 11.15pm local time (15.15GMT).

"Singapore 6, runway 05L. Wind 020 (degrees) at 28, gusts to 50. Clear for take-off," the control tower tells the pilot.


We can see the runway not so bad... OK, I am going to put it to high first

Pilot to control tower
Eight seconds later Captain Foong Chee Kong acknowledges the message.

"Clear for take-off," he replies.

Nearly a minute goes by; still no one realises the plane is on the brink of disaster.

It is about to start speeding down a runway littered with equipment; a take-off which can end only in disaster.

At 11.16 and 19 seconds, the captain tells the control tower the typhoon is not preventing take-off.

Relative leaves flowers beside wreckage
Relatives have been to the scene
"We can see the runway not so bad," he tells the control tower. "OK, I am going to put it to high first."

At 11.16 and 51 seconds the first officer tells the captain the speed they have reached: 80 knots.

"OK, my control," said the captain.

There is still time to abort, but no one thinks there is any reason to.

Point of no return

Another 16 seconds of acceleration, and the plane passes the point of no return.

"V1," says the first officer.

It is the so-called critical speed, at which take-off has to be continued, come what may. The plane is travelling at such speed that it is impossible to slow it down within the remaining runway.

Kay Yong, Taiwans Aviation Safety Council managing director
The transcript was revealed by Taiwan's air safety head Yong Kay
Still the pilot is unaware he is speeding towards disaster. Instead, he simply thanks the control tower.

The nose of his aircraft leaves the ground.

Finally, at 11.17 and 12 seconds, the inevitable happens.

Unintelligible

The captain swears.

"Something there," he says.

One more second passes. The banging as the plane shears into the repair equipment is loud enough to be picked up on the voice recorder.

Another second, and the captain can be heard still speaking. But his words are unintelligible.

From 11.17 and 14 seconds the only sound is of crashing and destruction.

By 11.17 and 18 seconds the recording stops.

Inferno

The Boeing 747 had become an inferno. Its full tanks had ignited as the plane slumped back to the ground.

The pilot was among those to escape with their lives: his testimony will now prove crucial to understanding how he ended up on the closed runway.

The release of the cockpit recording has removed at least one theory.

It had been thought possible that the captain had misheard his instructions, mistaking L for R.

But the transcripts show he had heard correctly as the control tower directed him to the left-hand of the two runways.

Tragically, he turned 100 metres too soon.

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See also:

02 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
International effort to find crash cause
02 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: The aftermath of disaster
01 Nov 00 | Americas
Counselling offer at LA airport
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