Burbank 737 Crash: Jetliner coming in too steep before touchdown, pilot warned to 'pull up'

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Jetliner coming in too steep before touchdown, pilot warned to 'pull up'

Source: Associated Press Publication date: Mar 07, 2000

BURBANK, Calif. (AP) -- A cockpit warning system barked "pull up" to a [Southwest Airlines] pilot during a steep landing at Burbank Airport in the seconds before the plane shot off a runway, federal investigators said Tuesday.

Engines remained at low or idle power settings through Sunday's descent from 3,000 feet at an angle in excess of six degrees, National Transportation Safety Board chairman Jim Hall said in a statement released in Washington.

The flight path angle for the runway the pilot was trying to use is three degrees, the NTSB said after preliminary review of cockpit voice recordings, flight data recordings, radar data and interviews with air traffic controllers.

"That's fairly steep. ... If they were coming in at a six-degree angle, there was something wrong with the approach," said Bill Waldock, associate director for the Center for Aerospace Safety Education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz.

A 7 mph tailwind may also have increased the aircraft's speed, he said.

During final descent, the pilots heard "sink rate" and "pull up" commands from the plane's ground proximity warning system, the NTSB said.

The pilots were interviewed Tuesday by NTSB investigators.

The plane's flight data recorder showed the Boeing 737-300, carrying 142 people on a flight from Las Vegas, touched down at 208 mph and crashed 20 seconds later into end-of-runway fences. Impact was at 37 mph.

The jet then burst onto a main thoroughfare, struck a car and screeched to a halt just 39 feet from pumps at a gas station. Fifteen people suffered minor injuries.

Whether the pilot landed too far down the runway was under investigation, NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said.

The crash reinvigorated the long-running battle over Burbank Airport expansion, especially relocation of the airport terminal. Burbank Airport serves 4.7 million passengers annually. The terminal is just 313 feet from the center of the 6,032-foot runway used by the jetliner.

The Federal Aviation Administration recommended in 1980 that the Burbank airport terminal be moved, but renovation plans were stalled for years by homeowner groups and Burbank officials who feared a new terminal would mean more flights.

In Washington, Southwest Airlines chief Herb Kelleher said the company will correct any safety defects uncovered in the investigation.

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines was fined $90,000 for operating a plane last September in an "unairworthy condition" after a wheel fell when the plane was taking off at the same airport, the FAA said.

The plane -- the same model as the plane that ran off the runway and through a blast fence at the Burbank airport Sunday -- flew on 46 flights with an improper bearing, which may have contributed to a wheel detaching from the main landing gear during takeoff, the FAA said.

"We take great pains to assure the quality of our aircraft, this (type of incident) is very rare," airline spokesman Beth Harbin said.

Southwest has asked to meet with the FAA to discuss the fine but hasn't heard back from the agency, Harbin said.

Publication date: Mar 07, 2000 ) 2000, NewsReal, Inc.


-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), March 07, 2000


Thanks for your post, Carl. Its good to have you here.

What's with these pilots? They've got to know that rules and procedures are critical to safety. How'd that airport ever get a runway so close to a highway without a massive protective wall?

-- John (littmannj@aol.com), March 07, 2000.

"May be a problem with Landing Gear and Infrared". Information from one 80's programmer.

-- Depending (upon@kindstrangers.com), March 07, 2000.

Thanks for the post Carl.

Something was seriously wrong with that approach. A six degree approach and 208 mph landing speed is well outside the normal parameters of a 737. Another report said the reversers were working normally so, if that's true, he must have also touched down too far down the runway as well. At Burbank, if you don't hit the runway in the first 1000 feet, you're not going to get stopped at 208 mph.

My guess is that, since they were already two hours late, they were trying to salvage a bad approach instead of going around. The pressure to maintain schedules is one the greatest threats to safety we have since the government began keeping on-time statistics.

-- Jim Cooke (JJCooke@yahoo.com), March 07, 2000.

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