American Airlines Flight 1420

by nph | February 3rd, 2010

americanAmerican Airlines Flight 1420 had made the trip from Dallas-Fort Worth to Little Rock, Arkansas, on June 1, 1999. Storms in the Little Rock area were intense as the McDonnell-Douglas MD-82 came in for its landing.

But the plane overshot the runway, and the jetliner came to rest about 150 yards beyond the runway. The plane had broken apart. Of the 139 passengers and six crew members on board, there were 11 fatalities. Most of the survivors had injuries, ranging from minor to very severe.

An article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette said that depositions and internal American documents indicate that a series of unfortunate events and judgments contributed to the accident. Those included:

  • More than 900 bolts of lightning struck near Little Rock National Airport, Adams Field, in the 15 minutes before the plane crashed, but the airline’s dispatcher in Fort Worth didn’t look at the monitor that would have told him that.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration’s weather observer at the Little Rock airport had reported a thunderstorm in progress 28 minutes before the plane touched down. Three minutes before landing, rain had made the storm a bigger threat, but the observer’s computer was resetting itself and couldn’t transmit that fact.
  • The airplane itself had elaborate weather-reporting tools, capable of providing better information to the pilot than the monitors at American’s operations center in Fort Worth. But the rookie copilot had the radar pointed at the wrong angle to accurately measure the danger of the storm.
  • American’s meteorology department issued a thunderstorm warning for Arkansas before the plane left Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. But the weathermen did not warn that the Little Rock airport was in the path of the storm, because company policy forbade that.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable causes of this accident “were the flight crew’s failure to discontinue the approach when severe thunderstorms and their associated hazards to flight operations had moved into the airport area and the crew’s failure to ensure that the spoilers had extended after touchdown. Contributing to the accident were the flight crew’s 1) impaired performance resulting from fatigue and the situational stress associated with the intent to land under the circumstances, 2) continuation of the approach to a landing when the company’s maximum crosswind component was exceeded, and 3) use of reverse thrust greater than 1.3 engine pressure ratio after landing.

The flight spawned numerous lawsuits from both the families of those who died in the crash and survivors.

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