A preliminary report issued by the NTSB yesterday on the facts surrounding the December 20 accident of a Continental Airlines Boeing 737-500 at Denver International Airport noted that after the captain unsuccessfully tried to correct the airplane’s deviation from the runway centerline on takeoff with the rudder, he tried briefly to use the tiller to manipulate the steering of the nosegear. That attempt proved unsuccessful as well, as the airplane veered off the runway at about 2,650 feet from the runway threshold, continued across a snow-covered grassy drainage basin area, and crossed a taxiway and a service road before finally coming to rest. Of the 38 passengers and crew to sent to hospitals, five were admitted. No fatalities resulted from the impact or post-crash fire on the right side of the aircraft.
According to the report, both pilots knew about the crosswind conditions that existed at the time of accident, having received an advisory from air traffic control that winds were 270 degrees at 27 knots just prior to takeoff. The weather observation (Metar) in effect for Denver International Airport nearest the time of the accident reported winds at 290 degrees and 24 knots with gusts to 32 knots.
Physical inspection of the engines and information from the FDR has not indicated any evidence of pre-impact malfunctions with either engine. The FDR data shows that the number-one engine lost some power before the number two-engine during the accident sequence, likely indicating snow and earth ingestion as the airplane departed the runway. The FDR data also shows that the crew commanded both engines into reverse thrust following rejection of the takeoff and after the aircraft had already left the runway.
A preliminary examination of the rudder system revealed no abnormalities or malfunctions. The main landing gear and brakes, which had separated from the aircraft during the accident sequence, remained were good condition, said the report. Investigators found no signs of hydraulic leaking or flat spots on the tires. They also found the flight deck controls and corresponding control surfaces in the proper takeoff configuration.