Botched Go-around Appears To Have Led to Emirates 777 Crash

 - September 7, 2016, 3:36 PM

The pilots of the Emirates Airline Boeing 777-300 that crash landed in Dubai on August 3 applied full thrust only three seconds before runway impact during an attempt at a go-around, according to a preliminary report issued September 6 by the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA). During the sequence of events detailed in the report, the engines did not respond until one second before impact, too late to apply enough lift to avoid the crash.

Although the report did not explicitly blame the crew for the accident, it also did not mention technical problems during any phase of the flight. 

Arriving in Dubai from Thiruvananthapuram, India, Flight EK521 carried 282 passengers and 18 crewmembers, all of whom evacuated before a subsequent explosion and fire eviscerated the fuselage. No fatalities resulted from the crash-landing, but one firefighter died while fighting the blaze.

The report summary said that during the approach, wind direction started to change from a headwind of 8 knots to “tailwind component” that gradually increased to 16 knots.

While flying at 159 knots indicated air speed (IAS) and 35 feet radio altitude (RA), the captain started to flare the aircraft. According to FDR data, the autothrottle mode moved to idle and both thrust levers moved toward the idle position. While flying at 160 knots IAS and 5 feet RA, five seconds before touchdown, the wind direction again started to change to a headwind.

The right main landing gear touched down first, approximately 1,100 meters from the Runway 12L threshold at 162 knots IAS, followed three seconds later by the left main landing gear. The nose landing gear remained in the air. Meanwhile, the aircraft’s runway awareness advisory system (RAAS) sounded the aural message “long landing, long landing.” Four seconds later the aircraft became airborne as the pilots moved the landing gear lever to the “up” position. As the landing gear unlocked and began to retract, air traffic control issued a clearance to continue straight ahead and climb to 4,000 feet and the pilots read back the clearance correctly.

The aircraft reached a maximum height of approximately 85 feet RA at 134 knots IAS, with the landing gear in transit to the retracted position. The aircraft then began to sink back onto the runway. Both crewmembers recalled seeing the IAS decreasing and the copilot called out “check speed.” Three seconds before impact with the runway, the pilot flying moved both thrust levers from the idle position to full forward. The autothrottle moved from idle to thrust mode, and about one second later, a ground proximity warning system (GPWS) aural warning of “don’t sink, don’t sink” sounded.

Both engines began to respond to the pilots’ thrust lever movement just a second before impact, when the aft fuselage struck the runway at 125 knots and at a rate of descent of 900 feet per minute. The engines then hit the runway as all three landing gears moved toward the retracted position.

As the aircraft slid along the runway, the number-two engine-pylon assembly separated from the right hand wing, from where an intense fuel-fed fire erupted. As the aircraft continued to slide down the runway, an incipient fire started under the other engine.

After the airplane came to rest, all the occupants evacuated via escape slides. The report listed injuries to 22 passengers and three crewmembers. About nine minutes after the airplane came to rest, a firefighter sustained fatal injuries as a result of the explosion of the center fuel tank.