NTSB Issues Probable Cause for Crash of Continental 737-500

 - July 14, 2010, 8:19 AM

The NTSB yesterday placed the primary blame for the 2008 runway excursion of Continental Airlines Flight 1404 in Denver on the captain’s “cessation of rudder input.” The Board determined that the captain needed rudder input to maintain directional control when, about four seconds before departing the runway, the Boeing 737-500 encountered a strong and gusty crosswind “that exceeded the captain’s training and experience.”

The NTSB listed as a contributing factor an ATC system that did not require or facilitate the dissemination of key available wind information to air traffic controllers and pilots, and inadequate crosswind training in the airline industry due to deficient simulator wind gust modeling.

On Dec. 20, 2008, Continental Airlines Flight 1404 veered off the left side of Runway 34R during a takeoff from Denver International Airport. As a result, the captain rejected the takeoff and the airplane came to rest between Runways 34R and 34L. Although a post-crash fire ensued, all 110 passengers and five crewmembers evacuated the airplane immediately after it came to rest. The captain and five passengers sustained serious injuries.

At the time of the accident, strong localized winds associated with mountain wave and downsloping wind conditions resulted in pulses of strong gusts at the surface that posed a threat to operations at Denver International Airport.

“This aircraft happened to be in the direct path of a perfect storm of circumstances that resulted in an unexpected excursion in an airport with one of the most sophisticated wind sensing systems in the country,” said NTSB chairman Deborah Hersman. “It is critical that pilots receive training to operate aircraft when high wind conditions and significant gusts are present, and that sufficient airport-specific wind information be provided to ATC controllers and pilots as well."

As a result of the accident the NTSB issued 14 recommendations to the FAA
regarding mountain waves, wind dissemination to flight crews, runway selection, pilot training for crosswind takeoffs and crashworthiness.