Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Altimeter 'had role' in air crash

Wreckage at Schiphol Airport (26 February 2009)
The plane crashed short of the runway where it had been due to land

Investigators have said a faulty altimeter played a role in the plane crash near Amsterdam's Schiphol airport last week that killed nine people.

Dutch Safety Board chairman Pieter van Vollenhoven said the plane was landing on automatic pilot and the problem with the altimeter led to a loss of speed.

He said the aeroplane had twice before reported problems with its altimeter.

The Turkish Airlines plane crashed just short of the runway. It hit the ground tail-first and broke into three pieces.

The Boeing 737-800 had been carrying 127 passengers and seven crew. Four Americans and five Turks died, including the captain and two other members of the crew. Dozens were injured, many critically.

27 October 2005: A fire at the airport's detention centre killed 11 people and injured 15
4 April 1994: Three people were killed and 13 seriously injured when a KLM flight carrying 24 people crashed on landing
4 October 1992: An El Al Boeing 747 cargo plane crashed into an apartment block after takeoff, killing 43 people

At a news conference in The Hague, Mr Van Vollenhoven said the plane had been at an altitude of 595m (1950ft) when making its landing approach to Schiphol airport.

But the altimeter recorded an altitude of around ground level.

The plane was on autopilot and its systems believed the plane was already touching down, he said.

The automatic throttle controlling the two engines was closed and they powered down. This led to the plane losing speed, and stalling.

Mr Van Vollenhoven said Boeing had been instructed to warn its clients about possible problems with altimeters on similar aircraft.

Warning alarm

Mr Van Vollenhoven said that a conversation recorded between the captain and two first officers in the cockpit showed they had noticed the faulty altimeter but did not consider it to be a problem, the Associated Press reported.

Communications between Flight 1951 and air traffic control just before the crash

"The crew initially did not react to these events, he said, but when a warning system sounded, they tried to restart the engines.

"But the plane was too low at 150m. As a consequence the plane crashed 1km before the runway," said Mr Van Vollenhoven.

BBC Transport correspondent Tom Symonds says that while it is not unusual for a plane's approach and descent to be controlled by autopilot, the crew normally take over at a few hundred feet.

Crash site

The plane came down in ploughed fields several hundred yards (metres) short of the runway, having left Istanbul's Ataturk Airport at 0622 GMT.

Witnesses described seeing it appear to glide through the air, having lost all propulsion, before hitting the ground.

Passengers on board said the crew gave a landing announcement, then the plane dropped suddenly.

An exchange between air traffic controllers and the crew recorded minutes before the crash gave no indication of any technical trouble.

Last week, Turkish Airlines said that the plane had undergone repairs for a systems malfunction two days before the crash, briefly being taken out of operation after the pilot reported a problem with the Master Caution Light programme, which checks the aircraft is functioning correctly.

But the airline said it should not be seen as a potential cause of the crash.

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