Pilot error blamed in 2007 Kenya Airways crash in Cameroon that killed 114 people

By Jason Straziuso, AP
Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pilot error blamed for 2007 crash that killed 114

NAIROBI, Kenya — The pilot of a Kenya Airways flight that crashed and killed all 114 people on board three years ago didn’t notice the plane was banking right and when he did finally notice he turned farther right, triggering a downward spiral, an investigative report released Wednesday found.

The crash of the Boeing 737-800 on May 5, 2007, occurred during a thunderstorm less than two minutes after take-off, but the report said weather did not likely cause the crash. Instead it blamed “spatial disorientation” by the pilot.

The report said the pilot didn’t adhere to standard operating procedures, had poor situational awareness and “reacted inappropriately in the face of an abnormal situation.”

No instrument scanning was done by the crew during the initial roll, and because it was night, the pilot had no visual references to correct the situation, the report said.

The report, which was released Wednesday by the Cameroon Civil Aviation Authority, was conducted with the help of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and Boeing experts in the United States.

The report said the Kenya Airways pilot had recurring performance deficiencies going back five years before the crash.

Kenya’s acting Transport Minister Amos Kimunya said the government is “satisfied,” that the report is complete but declined to comment on whether it was a fair document. Kenya Airways chief executive Titus Naikuni said he echoed the minister’s sentiments but the airline also differed with the report’s conclusions on its training for pilots of its Boeing 737 fleet and the procedures they follow.

About 90 seconds into the flight, after the pilot noticed the rightward drift, he said “we are crashing.” Seconds later a young first officer mistakenly told the pilot to turn right, before correcting himself and saying “left, left, left.”

The plane crashed nine seconds later, a minute and 42 seconds into the flight.

The 114 people on board came from 26 nations, including an American AIDS expert who worked at Harvard University; businesspeople from China, India and South Africa; Cameroonian merchants; a U.N. refugee worker from Togo; and Briton Anthony Mitchell, a Nairobi-based correspondent for The Associated Press.

Anuj Kumar Sehgal, a colleague who worked with Chauhan Amol, an Indian businessman who died in the crash, read the crash report and said “The maximum is I’ll stop flying Kenya Airways, what else can be done?”

Naikuni said that Kenya Airways had paid out 92 percent of the claims for compensation from family members.

The investigation into the crash has been a long and difficult process. The plane went down in a mangrove swamp less than four miles (6.5 kilometers) from the runway, but it took officials 40 hours to find the plane. It took officials weeks to identify remains and there was a further delay before Cameroonian authorities released them to next of kin.

The wreckage indicated the plane flew nose-first into the ground. It was found buried deep in a crater of reddish-brown muck with only tiny bits of the rear fuselage and wings left above ground.

Investigators at the time of the crash said the dive indicated that a violent gust of wind may have flipped the airliner over. But the investigation found that the pilot turned the plane to the right and into the fatal dive.

The report said that:

— The behavior of the flight crew demonstrated “a lack of rigor in piloting.”

— At one point the captain turned the wheel to the right and the first officer countered by turning to the left.

— The captain didn’t adhere to standard operating procedures and the plane took off without authorization from air traffic control.

The report noted that the pilot was 52 but that the first officer was only 23. Before takeoff the pilot admonished his first officer to turn on the plane’s windshield wipers, and the report speculated that the first officer, already a shy person, did not speak up to tell the pilot about the flight’s problems when he should have because of their relationship.

The report said that Chicago-based Boeing, the plane’s manufacturer, doesn’t sufficiently explain rudder trim modifications due to temperature variations during climb and descent. But it added that the amount the plane was pulling to the right should have been easily correctable by the pilot.

Associated Press Writer Tom Maliti contributed to this report.

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