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Feds: No engine failure in fatal UPS plane crash

August 16, 2013

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (AP) — Federal investigators found no initial evidence that a UPS cargo jet suffered engine failure or was burning before it clipped trees at the end of a runway and slammed into a hillside in Alabama, killing the two pilots, officials said Thursday.

Robert Sumwalt, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during an afternoon news conference the findings were only preliminary, and investigators hope to get additional evidence from data and voice recorders that were pulled from the plane’s burned-out tail section earlier in the day.

“They were blackened and sooted,” he said of the recorders, one of which captures voices in the cockpit and the other which records flight information about the plane’s operation. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to obtain good data.”

UPS on Thursday night identified the victims as Capt. Cerea Beal, Jr., 58, and First Officer Shanda Fanning, 37. In an email, the company said the Jefferson County, Alabama, medical examiner had confirmed their identities.

A former Marine helicopter pilot, Beal had been with UPS since 1990. Fanning, described by UPS as an aviation enthusiasr, had worked with the company since 2006.

The twin-engine A300 was attempting to land on a 7,000-foot-long (2,100-meter-long) runway at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport when it crashed before dawn Wednesday. Sumwalt said the airport’s other, 12,000-foot (3,657-meter) runway was shut down for repair work on its lights at the time.

Pilots are forced to navigate over a large hill to reach the shorter runway, and the plane clipped trees in a neighborhood before plummeting into the ground well short of the landing area.

Sumwalt said there was no indication of problems with the lights on the runway where the jet attempted to land, but investigators did find pieces of wood from trees inside an engine, plus dirt.

Investigators are still analyzing the debris, he said.

One of the investigators’ tasks will be to probe why the plane was low enough to hit trees. The impact sheared off pieces of the aircraft and sent them crashing on to two homes.

Residents who live near the airport said they have worried for years about the possibility of a plane crash.

The plane was built in 2003 and had logged about 11,000 flight hours over 6,800 flights, Airbus said in a news release.

The A300, Airbus’ first plane, began flying in 1972. Airbus quit building them in 2007 after making a total of 816 A300 and A310s. The model was retired from U.S. passenger service in 2009.

Wednesday’s crash came nearly three years after another UPS cargo plane crashed in the United Arab Emirates, just outside Dubai. Both pilots were killed.

Authorities there blamed the Sept. 3, 2010, crash on the jet’s load of 80,000 to 90,000 lithium batteries, which are sensitive to temperature. Investigators determined that a fire probably began in the cargo containing the batteries.

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Associated Press writers Becky Yonker and Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Josh Freed in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

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