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Pilot Miscues Led to American Airlines Crash in Jamaica

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A series of miscalculations by pilots who may have been fatigued led an American Airlines plane to skid off the end of a rain-soaked Kingston, Jamaica, runway in 2009, investigators concluded.

The Boeing Co. (BA) 737-800 carrying 148 passengers, including three infants, and a crew of six slid through a fence and came to rest on a rocky shore of the Caribbean Sea. The plane broke into three pieces, and 14 people were seriously injured.

The undated Jamaica Civil Aviation Authority report, posted on the agency’s website, found the pilots made multiple errors and didn’t follow procedures, faulted American’s training and concluded that controllers at Norman Manley International Airport didn’t perform as required.

The cause of the accident was the plane’s touchdown more than 2,600 feet beyond the optimal landing zone on the 8,911-foot runway, the authority said in the report. Also contributing was “the flight crew’s decision to land on a wet runway in a 14-knot” or 26-kilometers-an-hour tailwind, the agency said.

“We have implemented recommendations from the report” into crew training, American said today in a statement. Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman, declined to comment further. The Fort Worth, Texas-based company merged with US Airways Group Inc. in December to create American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL)

Gregg Overman, a spokesman for the Allied Pilots Association union, didn’t respond to a voicemail message requesting comment.

Accident Echo

Flight 331’s crash has similarities to an Asiana Airlines Inc. accident in San Francisco on July 6, 2013, according to the report and information released by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.

In both cases, pilots should have aborted their landings and climbed away from the airport after it became clear they weren’t on track to land within airline specifications.

In the Jamaica accident, the captain and co-pilot failed to follow airline procedures that should have led them to break off the landing, the report found.

They landed in heavy rain with the wind at their rear, factors that made it harder to stop the plane, the report concluded. The plane was capable of landing in the opposite direction, which would have allowed it to touch down at least 30 miles (48 kilometers) an hour slower, according to the report.

Watery Runway

They also didn’t properly assess how long it would take to stop, didn’t take into account the likelihood of standing water on the runway and configured the plane for a faster landing than was necessary, according to the report.

A long day may also have degraded their performance, it concluded. “The flight crew members were possibly fatigued after being on duty for nearly 12 hours, and awake for more than 14 hours,” the report said.

The report found deficiencies in American’s training and procedures.

A U.S. Federal Aviation Administration Safety Alert for Operators had urged airlines to tell 737 pilots to calculate a plane’s ability to stop under existing conditions before landing. American hadn’t made such assessments mandatory, according to the report.

Since the accident, American wrote a letter to all pilots urging adherence to standard procedures and issued a series of bulletins on improving safe landings. The airline also made changes to its flight manuals.

The report also faulted the airport tower controller’s actions for several violations of procedure. Air-traffic didn’t notify the crew that there was “heavy rain” and didn’t assign the correct runway, both of which were required, according to the report.

The accident along with the Asiana crash, which killed three, have been cited by the FAA as examples of how regulatory changes in aircraft and cabin design make it more probable passengers will survive crashes.

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