Page last updated at 12:24 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 13:24 UK

Cargo flight 'a near catastrophe'


Aerial footage of cargo plane's emergency landing

A string of failures caused a plane to crash-land at an airport before taking off again and carrying out an emergency landing at another, a report has said.

Air accident investigators said inappropriate and incorrect procedures could have led to a "catastrophe".

These included a badly timed air traffic message to the TNT Airways cargo plane as it tried to land at East Midlands in poor weather in June 2006.

The plane was damaged but later made an emergency landing at Birmingham.

The Belgian Boeing 737 - on a cargo flight from Liege in Belgium - finally came to a stop with part of its undercarriage missing. None of the crew was injured.

Shower of sparks

While the plane was being removed from the Birmingham International runway, about 200 flights had to be cancelled or diverted and passengers faced long delays with thousands moved to other airports.

In its report on the incident, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said that at a critical moment on its approach to East Midlands airport, air traffic control had wrongly passed a message to the TNT pilot from his company.

This confused the pilot, who turned off the autopilot, causing the plane to lose height, the report said.

He then failed to abort the landing in time and came down on grass alongside the East Midlands runway.

The impact broke off the right landing gear, but the pilot decided to take off again.

By the time the plane finally landed in Birmingham, its flaps were jammed, a set of wheels was missing and one engine scraped along the runway in a shower of sparks.

Review of procedures

The report by the AAIB said: "The circumstances of this event could easily have led to a catastrophic accident.

"Actions by individuals which contributed to the accident were either inappropriate or were not in compliance with existing procedures," it added.

Issues highlighted in the report included:

  • The weather forecast did not indicate mist and fog might occur

  • The air traffic control message as the plane tried to land at East Midlands airport was inappropriately timed

  • The captain inadvertently disconnected the autopilots in attempting to respond to that message and lost "situational awareness"

The AAIB recommended that TNT Airways review its standard operating procedures.

A month after the incident TNT sacked the Belgian pilot, saying that although he had shown skill in his handling of the situation, the incident was down to human error.

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