10 Intense European Plane Crashes | Smithsonian Channel
(airplane engine revving) - [Narrator] It's a textbook maneuver to prevent stalling, but it doesn't work. The plane continues to pitch up until it loses lift and falls from the sky. Investigators need to know why. (dramatic music) TAROM Flight 371 has slammed into a farmer's field, just a few hundred yards from a local train station outside Bucharest. All 60 people on board are dead, making this the worst air disaster in Romanian history. - Tape it off.
Keep the press away. - [Narrator] The wreckage is still smooth as lead investigator, Sorin Stoicescu, and his team set to work. The stakes are incredibly high Teams of investigators arrived from France and Belgium to assist the Romanian team.
With close to 258 A310s flying worldwide. Everyone wants to know if a flaw in the plane led to this catastrophic accident. Stoicescu examines the engines retrieved from deep in the crater, they're in bad shape, severely bent and burnt, but is there any indication that they faltered or exploded before they hit the ground? - No burn marks inside, only outside.
- [Narrator] A first look shows no signs that the engines caught fire in the air. - Let's see the blades. - [Narrator] The rotor blades are badly damaged, to be expected given the force of impact with the ground, but a skilled eye can tell a lot from the direction of the markings. - See here? It's all impact damage. - [Narrator] The marks show the damage happened when the blades bent on impact, not in the air.
The initial inspection suggests engine failure did not cause the crash. It's Easter Monday in 1994 at Amsterdam Schiphol airport. - Set torque. My controls. - [Narrator] KLM Cityhopper Flight 433 is on its way from Amsterdam to Cardiff, Whales.
- Look out ahead of us? Can you see that? - Oh yeah. - [Narrator] Captain Lievaart spots thunder clouds ahead. He wants to get above them. - Ask control for flight level 200. - Amsterdam KLM 433. - [Traffic Controller] Go ahead 433.
- Is flight level 200 available? - Climb to 200. You are re-cleared flight level 200. - [Narrator] Amsterdam air traffic control okays the climb to 20,000 feet. - Okay, we're not climbing anymore. - [Narrator] Approaching 17,000 feet.
Captain Lievaart notices a problem with his plane's performance. - No. - [Narrator] It's not climbing as quickly as it should be. - We need to return to Amsterdam, make a pan call, request to maintain flight level 160. Tell them we have a technical issue. - Amsterdam KLM 433 pan pan, pan pan, pan pan.
We have an engine problem and we'd like to maintain 160 for return to Schiphol. - That's copy sir. You may turn right heading to Schiphol. - [Narrator] The pan call sends the controller into action. - We have a pan from KLM 433, now returning to Schiphol. (sirens blaring) - [Narrator] At the airport emergency vehicles race to positions near the runway.
KLM 433 is just 500 feet above the ground. - Watch your speed. - [Narrator] The plane has slowed to a dangerously low speed. - I'm on it. (passengers gasp and scream) - [Narrator] A sudden bank to the right takes the passengers by surprise.
The captain struggles to keep the plane level. - Going around, set torque, flap seven, gear up. - [Narrator] Then tries to abort the landing attempt. (passengers scream) Flight 433 is now beyond recovery.
(dramatic music) - [Lievaart] Steer, steer, steer! - [Stassen] Gerrit, Gerrit, Gerrit! (suspenseful music) (explosion blasting) (intense music) - Crash, crash, crash runway zero six, emergency runaway zero six. - [Narrator] KLM Cityhopper 433 has crashed in full view of Amsterdam Schiphol airport control tower. The crew of Alitalia Flight 404 is nearing the end of an evening flight to Zurich, Switzerland. - Alitalia 404, flight heading three two five radar vectors to ILS one four. - Radar vectors to runway one four on heading three two five.
- [Narrator] Captain Raffaele Liberti is a senior Alitalia pilot with more than 20 years experience. - How much is the visibility? - Visibility is nine kilometers. - [Narrator] First Officer Massimo De Fraia is the pilot flying the plane tonight. He's new to the airline, having joined just last year.
The plane is McDonnell Douglas DC-9 that's been flying since 1974. - The DC-9 was one of the mainstays of the industry from the 1960s through the two thousands. It was very, very popular in the US, Western Europe and around the world. - [Narrator] Flight 404 left Milan's Linate Airport 25 minutes ago.
The flight path takes it almost directly north over the Alps to Zurich's Kloten Airport. At Zurich air traffic control it's a busy evening. - Swiss 3611 maintain two three zero - [Narrator] Alitalia 404 is lining up for its approach to the airport. The pilots are preparing for what's called an ILS, or instrument landing system approach. - Instrument landing system is a series of technologies, primarily radio transmitters on the ground that allows an aircraft to align itself, both vertically and horizontally with the runway.
- [Traffic Controller] Alitalia 404 reduce to one eight zero knots. - Reducing one eight zero, four zero four. (suspenseful music) Do you have the glide slope? - Uh, it's on one. - Let's do it on one. - [Narrator] The crew sets the navigation instruments to pick up the ILS signal from the runway. - Radio unconfirmed.
- There is a set of signals which goes out at an angle from the ground that gives them an idea of the glide slope. - Captured low, capture glide path so we're on the beam. - [Narrator] Flight 404 is third in line on approach with the runway 12 miles straight ahead. The pilots can't see it yet, but their navigation instruments show they are locked on to the proper signals. (suspenseful music) All they need need to do now to finalize the approach is intercept radio beacon known as the outer marker. - The outer marker check is at 1,250 feet, almost four miles.
- Didn't we pass it? Didn't we pass the outer marker? - No, no, it hasn't changed yet. Alitalia 304 speed as convenient, contact tower 118.1. - [Liberti] 118.1, goodbye.
- That doesn't make sense to me. - [Narrator] The runway should be just ahead, but the first officer still can't see it. Something's not right.
- Go around. - No, no, no hold the glide. Can you hold it? - Yes sir. (crashing) (crew screaming) (plane engine roaring) (passengers screaming) (explosion blasts) - [Narrator] It's a Sunday morning at Barcelona Airport in Spain. - After start checklist.
Anti-ice. - Anti-ice off. - Rotor trim. - Rotor trim is zero.
- [Narrator] The crew of Germanwings Flight 9525 is preparing for departure. - Flight attendants please take your seats for takeoff. - [Narrator] Captain Patrick Sondenheimer is a former Lufthansa first officer who recently transferred to Germanwings.
First officer Andreas Lubitz, who has been with the airline for just over a year will handle the flight. - [Traffic Controller] Cleared for take off, zero seven right. - Germanwings 9525. (airplane engine revving) - Take off thrust.
(dramatic music) - [Narrator] Just after 10:00 AM Germanwings flight 9525 gets airborne. They're heading Northeast over the Gulf of Lion towards the French Alps. They should be in Dusseldorf in just over two hours. 27 minutes into the flight the plane reaches its cruising altitude of 38,000 feet. (dramatic music) - Marseille, Germanwings 9525 we're at flight level 380.
- [Narrator] Air traffic control in Marseille tracks the plane is crosses France. Four minutes later, the controller in Marseille notices something odd. - Garmanwings, Marseille, confirm what cruising altitude you're cleared for. - [Narrator] Flight 9525 is descending without permission. - [Traffic Controller] Germanwings, this is Marseille. Come in please.
We've got a problem here. Germanwings, unresponsive, descending rapidly. - [Narrator] The plane is dropping steadily. In just minutes it's lost 10,000 feet.
The control center is now on emergency mode. - Now approaching 25,000 feet. - [Narrator] The Airbus is hurdling downwards at maximum operating speed, an astonishing 350 knots. - Germanwings, come in. Lima, echo, x-ray relay from Marseille.
I need you to try and contact Germanwings 9525. What is their situation? - [Narrator] The plane has dropped below 7,000 feet, the towering mountains looming closer. It's been 10 minutes with no radio contact, an eternity for controllers. (controls beeping) - Pull up.
New low terrain. (dramatic music) - We've lost contact. - [Narrator] The plane is now too low to be detected by radar. (controls beeping) - [Computer] Pull up. New low. (passengers screaming) (explosion blasts) - [Narrator] Air traffic controllers at Stuart Airport can't explain why Atlantic Airways Flight 670 careened over a cliff.
- The other flight had no problem. - [Narrator] An identical plane landed safely on the same runway just 25 minutes before the crash. (airplane engine roars) (tires screech) Sven-Erik Strandberg was piloting that plane.
- It was not that wet. It was just a little bit damp, so we didn't notice very much on landing at all. So it was uneventful.
- [Narrator] The idea that a wet runway was to blame. Just doesn't seem to add up. - Can you describe how the landing looked to you? - [Narrator] But investigators get a new lead when they talk to some of the firefighters who saw a Flight 670 land.
Several reports seeing a trail of mist streaming from the plane's wings after it touched down. - The witnesses stated that they saw wing vortexes from the aircraft. For us, this is one evidence that the lift spoilers were not working as intended.
- [Narrator] When an airplane is in flight, the wings create trails of turbulent air known as wing tip vortices, but only while the wings are generating lift. - In the air, you can actually see these like corkscrews following up from the wings. - [Narrator] The 146 has six spoilers that should have deployed on touchdown to disrupt that lift and help the plane. Stick to the runway and stop. - As soon as you select the spoilers, you will feel the the airplane sink down towards the runway and you can apply the brakes. (dramatic music) - [Narrator] Did the spoilers on Flight 670 somehow fail to deploy? It may be difficult question for the team to answer.
All six of the plane spoilers were destroyed by fire. After being delayed for more than an hour, Spanair Flight 5022 is finally getting back underway. There are 166 passengers on board. Many of them looking to escape the stifling heat of Madrid in August. (service lights beeping) - [Translator] Everyone was full of anticipation. Everyone wanted to be on their way.
- [Narrator] Anna Stefanides has come to Spain from Sweden. She is on her way to the Canary islands to meet some friends. (Anna speaking foreign language) - [Translator] Most of Europe has holidays, different summer holidays in August.
(Anna speaking foreign language) I was going to Gran Canaria to meet my girlfriends. We were going to have one week's holiday for ladies. (Anna speaking foreign language) - Spanair 5022 you're next in line on runway 36 left. - Okay. Here we go. - [Narrator] At 2:23, the MD82 aircraft starts speeding down the runway. (suspenseful music) (airplane engine revving) - 100.
- [Narrator] The captain watches their speed. They can't lift off until they reach 157 knots, take off speed. - V1, rotate. (plane engine roaring) (suspenseful music) (monitors beeping) - [Narrator] An alarm warns the pilots something is going wrong.
- Engine failure? - [Computer] Pull up. (dramatic music) (plane engine roaring) - [Narrator] The first officer increases power, but he's losing control of the plane. (dramatic music) - Up. - How the hell do you turn off that warning? - [Narrator] The plane is less than 40 feet from the ground. (plane engine roaring) - [Computer] Pull up. (Anna speaking foreign language) - [Translator] I managed to think, "This is my last trip."
I've had a good life." I thought, "Now I die." (Anna speaking foreign language) - Fly the plane. Fly it! - Oh God. (airplane engine roaring) (dramatic music) (explosion blasts) (somber music) - [Narrator] Just seconds after takeoff Flight 5022 slams into a riverbank beside the runway. The plane with 172 people on board is now shattered wreckage spread over half a mile.
The commuter flight from Belfast Northern Ireland was supposed to land in cork at 9:00 AM. (pilot speaks foreign language) - [Narrator] 30 minutes later, it's still circling the airport. - Cork faces out to the Atlantic. So fog is very common and fog will roll in and it will roll out sometimes at no notice.
- In part of the world, we have a sayin' it was like pea soup because it was very very thick. - I hope we land soon, I've got work to do. - [Narrator] There are ten passengers waiting to land this morning, including Laurence Wilson, traveling to Cork for the day on business. - I was going to Cork to do forklift truck trainin'. I'd been in that same location doing the same course several times before, so it was sorta really old hat. (indistinct) I've done it before.
- [Narrator] Today's flight is aboard a Fairchild Metro III. Flying the plane today is First Officer Andrew Cantle of England. While he concentrates on circling over Cork, Spanish captain, Jordi Sola Lopez is checking the weather at nearby airports. - [Traffic Controller] Surface wind is calm, visibility is 900 meters in fog. - All copy, thanks very much, And the weather, is it improving in Cork? - [Narrator] At 9:35 the controller tells the captain the fog has lifted slightly. - Visibility and touchdown zone is 500 meters.
- Okay, in that case, any chance to perform an approach there? - You are clear to land runway 170. - [Lopez] Clear to land runway 170. - [Narrator] After 30 minutes circling the airport, the crew must now shift focus to the complex task of getting their plane on the ground. (suspenseful music) - We're good. I've landed in worse. (airplane engine revving) - Line slows coming in. - [Narrator] The pilot confirms the plane is lining up with a runway.
- Okay, guys, I'll be coming in. - [Narrator] And they're descending at the correct speed. - [Cantle] Speed's okay. - I took control of the power, okay? - [Narrator] The captain tells the first officer he'll adjust the engine power during the landing. - That's fine, yeah.
(airplane engine roaring) - All day lights are on. Landing gear is down. (landing gear whirs) Yes, the weather is much better here. (airplane engine roaring) (suspenseful music) - I was on the left-hand side of the plane looking out just behind the wing I remember I couldn't see anything, no runway, nothin' at all. - [Narrator] The captain pulls the thrust levers back to reduce power. Unexpectedly, the plane rolls hard to the left.
- What the heck? (airplane engine roars) Go around. - Go around. (passengers scream) - Hang on! - I remember looking out the window and seein' grass about 10 foot below me. I knew that wasn't good. (passengers shrieking) I thought I was gone, I did. For a minute or two I thought I was gone. I thought, "This is it, I'm outta here, that's alls about it."
(airplane engine roaring) (controls beeping) (metal scraping) (suspenseful music) - How much fuel have we used? - [Narrator] Flight engineer Gilles Jardinaud keeps a vigilant eye on fuel consumption. - We've got 800 kilos. - [Narrator] Concorde burns through it at an astonishing rate. In the short taxi to the runway the planes four engines have already used as much fuel as the average car uses in six months. (dramatic music) Booking a seat on the famed jet requires deep pockets.
The return fare to New York costs more than $9,000. - It was not something unaffordable for those people we had on board. Some of them will tell you that they didn't even know how much they were paying.
- Air France 4590 runway two six right, clear for takeoff. - 4590 cleared for takeoff, two six right. - [Narrator] The tower controller today is Gilles Logelin.
- I was stationed in a Southern control tower, which has a very good view over the two runways that we use. This day was the same as usual. I gave him the takeoff clearance.
(dramatic music) (controls beep) - Four greens. (dramatic music) - V1. - [Narrator] The first officer tells the captain they've reached V1, or decision speed. They're now going too quickly to abort the takeoff. - You cannot stop anymore. You have to go on. You have to continue take off whatever happens.
(dramatic music) (tries screech) - Watch out! - [Narrator] Suddenly the plane begins veering left. - Stop! - [Narrator] The flight engineer urges the captain to abort to take off, but it's too late to stop. (controls beeping) Captain Marty lifts the supersonic jet into the air. Gilles Logelin realizes he's now watching a disaster.
- This was a very unexpected situation to see flames on an aircraft that is departing on a runway. You don't have time to lose, so immediately I've pushed the red button, which is a button for alert. (sirens blaring) - 4590 you have flames behind you.
- Roger. - [Narrator] The plane is engulfed in flames. - Failure, engine two.
- Engine fire procedure. - [Narrator] Captain Marty struggles for control as the engineer shuts down the burning engine and activates a fire extinguisher. - What's the air speed? - [Narrator] he plane's airspeed is now dangerously low. - The air speed, the air speed. - Something is happening, (dramatic music) (passengers shrieking) something that is not covered by training, something that in pilot career, you don't want to face.
- First Officer Marcot wants to head for a nearby airport. - Le Bourget, Le Bourget. - [Narrator] But the crew can't out fly the fire that is rapidly consuming their plane. (dramatic music) (passengers screaming) The supersonic marvel of modern aviation (pilot grunts) (explosion blasts) slams into an airport hotel. (traffic controller speaks French) - Of course, a kind of big, like a big mushroom of smoke.
I think, until the very last moments, I were thinking that something would save the situation. (suspenseful music) - [Narrator] All 118 people aboard BEA Flight 548 are killed. (suspenseful music) At AIB headquarters engineers piece together the wreckage of flight 548. By testing the reassembled systems, investigators should be able to tell if there was a broken part or faulty mechanism that could have caused the stall.
They soon notice a problem. - That can't be right. - [Narrator] A lever is set to an unexpected position. It's used to operate crucial lift devices on the wing known as droops. Droops are aerodynamic surfaces that can be extended from the front of the wing.
They increase lift during takeoff to help the plane climb. Droops should only be retracted once the plane has enough speed to maintain a lift without them. If one of the pilots pulled in the droops too early, it would have instantly put the plane into a dangerous stall. (suspenseful music) (controls beeping) - [Narrator] There's no way to tell just by looking at the droop lever whether the crew moved it before the crash, or if it was jostled out of place by the crash itself.
It might even have been moved during recovery operations. - Hang on, will you? (suspenseful music) - [Narrator] To determine how the all-important lever was last moved, they must carefully examine the cables connected to it. (suspenseful music) - Retracted.
- [Narrator] There's no longer any doubt. Someone in the cockpit moved the droop lever, it's a troubling discovery. They traveled to BEA's flight simulator outside London.
The team hears about a nagging problem for pilots of the Trident plane. (suspenseful music) The handle used to retract the droops is nearly the same shape as the one used to adjust the flaps. - [Investigator] I can see why you'd confuse them. - V line 548, climbing is clear. - [Narrator] It's the copilot who's supposed to raise the flaps after takeoff. - [Traffic Controller] 548 airborne at zero nine, good day.
- Roger. - [Narrator] But the third pilot sometimes helps out. - 85 seconds. - [Narrator] If the flaps were already up, it would be all too easy to pull in the droops instead. If their theory is right, investigators should be able to find other cases where pilots made the same mistake. The team reviews the flight records from nearly 100 other Trident flights.
- It's not just this crew. - [Narrator] They find two near accidents where pilots pulled in the droops by mistake. It now seems the crash of BEA Flight 548 was the result of a confusion over control levers. Authorities implement a number of changes designed to prevent similar accidents from happening again.
Handles on the Trident and other planes are redesigned to eliminate the possibility of confusion, and cockpit voice recorders are how standard equipment in almost all commercial passenger planes. Before the crash, XL Airways Flight 888, the captain tries to fly out of trouble. He increases power while pushing his sidestick forward to bring the nose down. It's a textbook maneuver to prevent stalling, but it doesn't work.
The plane continues to pitch up until it loses lift and falls from the sky. Investigators need to know why. (suspenseful music) The flight plan calls for flying the plane through a series of 35 in flight tests that make up what's known as an acceptance flight. - [Traffic Controller] Okay, get your power in idle.
- [Narrator] A computer simulation helps investigators analyze Flight 888's final flight check. - Okay, here we go. - [Narrator] Captain Kappel deliberately slows his plane down for the test,, but the computer lets the speed drop too far, below the minimum needed to keep the plane in flight.
Investigators notice a warning on the cockpit flight display moments before the crash. - [Investigator] There. What is that? - [Narrator] They learn that the warning is supposed to alert the pilots the flight computer is no longer helping to fly the plane. (pilots grunting) It is switched to full manual mode.
The warning comes on when the plane's computer gets conflicting information. The frozen sensors are telling the computer the plane is flying level while other onboard sensors are relaying its extreme nose up attitude. One must be wrong.
- The plane gave the pilots control right here. - [Narrator] It seems the crew of Flight 888 either didn't see or didn't understand the warning being sent by the computer. (suspenseful music) - Stick forward. - [Narrator] The pilot uses his sidestick to try to lower the nose. - Stick forward. - In manual mode,
that's just not enough. The crew also needs to adjust the trim wheel for a more dramatic change of pitch, but they never do. Investigators need to know why such an experienced crew failed to act quickly when the plane was in danger.
They suspect one reason may be the unusual nature of this flight, an acceptance flight designed to test the plane's limits. - [Traffic Controller] Okay. That's good. You're in the turn. Let's roll the 33 then the 45. - Okay. - [Narrator] Every time they test the plane. - [Pilot] Hands off now.
- [Narrator] The automation fixes the problem. (mysterious music) - Yup. Yes. Voila. It's all good.
- [Narrator] Even when they hear alarms, they don't worry. - [Traffic Controller] We need to over-speed. - You just want to hear the over-speed warning? (mysterious music) - [Narrator] They're expecting the plane to correct the problem. - There it is. You can cancel the warning if you like. (mysterious music) - [Narrator] They trusted their plane too much.
- Stick forward. - Flaps up, flaps up. - With their plane in a catastrophic stall, the seven men aboard Flight 888 were doomed. - Oh God. Oh God! - Damn it.
(airplane engine roaring) - [Narrator] The official accident report highlights several contributing factors, including the decision to perform flight checks at low altitude. - Yeah, we need to go slow with recovery. - The report also calls for clearer rules governing acceptance flights, and more training for stall recovery. (gentle music)