Test Pilots Surprised At Failure To Recover
Jan. 25, 1995
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ Two test pilots who attempted to simulate USAir Flight 427's final flight path said Tuesday they were surprised that pilots in the falling jet were unable to recover from sudden leftward movements.
Lester Berven of the Federal Aviation Administration and Michael Carriker of Boeing Commercial Aviation Group, creator of the crashed plane, said that in repeated computer simulations they recovered from rolls similar to Flight 427's.
``We were aghast that this could happen,'' Berven told a National Transportation Safety Board hearing called to investigate the crash.
All 132 people aboard were killed Sept. 8 when the plane pitched slightly left, recovered, then went into a severe left roll and plummeted to the ground.
A spiral of wind from a plane four miles ahead is believed to have initially jostled the plane, according to other witnesses at the hearing. But what caused the subsequent severe trouble remains a mystery.
Berven and Carriker said information from the Boeing 737-300's so-called ``black box'' leads them to believe that First Officer Charles Emmett, who was flying the plane, should have been able to right the plane as it fell.
A union official discounted their theory.
``What they are saying is only speculation,'' said Tom Kreamer, a senior executive with the Air Line Pilots Association. ``The rudder moved the opposite of the way it was supposed to have moved to save the plane. We have to determine what forced that rudder over, and there is no reason to believe that an experienced pilot would flip a plane over on its back on purpose.''
A Boeing senior engineer, James Kerrigan, said the data in the Flight 427 tests are only approximations of the USAir flight conditions.
Investigators asked detailed questions about the plane's rudder _ a part that has received intense scrutiny as a possible cause of the crash. Experts have said the plane's twisting motion as it fell suggests the rudder was slammed all the way to the left.
Rudder failure is a possible cause in the crash of another Boeing 737-300 at Colorado Springs, Colo. The FAA has begun a review of all rudder systems on Boeing 737s, and USAir has warned its pilots to be aware of the possibility of spontaneous rudder movements on its 737s.
Investigators also have discussed possible problems with a flap on the leading edge of FLight 427's left wing. Dellicker said the part, called a slat, has not been ruled out as a cause of the crash.
The officials also heard from survivors of the crash's victims, who complained that USAir treated them insensitively after the accident.
About 10 members of the Flight 427 Air Disaster Support League, many with photographs of dead loved ones pinned to their clothes, said they wanted the NTSB or the FAA to appoint an independent family advocate to deal with relatives after a crash.
``We believe the fundamental flaw is the fact that the airline _ USAir in our case _ is the only entity empowered to deal with the families' ... needs,'' said Marita Brunner, whose brother-in-law died in the crash.
NTSB chairman James Hall will look into the request, NTSB spokesman Michael Benson said.