When the engines of a Delta Airlines jet were inadvertently cut off shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles International Airport, sending the plane into a terrifying fall, it may not have been the first time a Boeing 767 pilot made the same mistake, a Federal official indicated Saturday.
Ted Lopatkiewicz of the National Transportation Safety Board said by telephone from Washington that both engines of a United 767 shut down after takeoff in San Francisco on March 31, 1986. The pilot restarted them and landed safely, he said.
While the United crew did not say what had caused the problem, Lopatkiewicz said, an NTSB investigator reported that the only way he could duplicate the engine shutdown was by cutting off the plane's fuel supply.
In the Los Angeles incident Tuesday, the Delta pilot, whom the airline declined to identify, told NTSB investigators that he had mistakenly cut off the jet's engines when a warning light indicated that the plane's right engine had a fuel flow problem.
He said he had intended to switch to manual control by hitting an electronic engine control button, but instead he pulled two fuel cutoff knobs on the console about two inches away.
The plane fell from 1,600 feet to about 600 feet above the Pacific before the engines were restarted, and Flight 810, with 194 passengers and a crew of eight aboard, continued to Cincinnati.
Judy Nauman, Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman in Seattle, said that based on available data the FAA is assuming that the Delta cutoff was the second time that fuel switches had been inadvertently switched off on a 767.
As a result, she said, the agency issued a directive Wednesday, giving Boeing 767 owners and operators 10 days to install fuel-switch guards. She said the order is an interim step while engineers find an engineering solution to the problem.
Inquiry to Continue
Meanwhile, NTSB officials in Washington plan to continue their investigation of the latest incident by reclaiming the digital data from the Delta 767's flight data recorder Monday.
"It will tell us the exact altitude, how far they fell, and how far into the flight it was," Lopatkiewicz said. "It will also tell us what was going on with the engines at the time. It might give us an indication why the captain got the warning light.
"All we have now is information from the flight crew. The flight data recorder will provide us with that objective information."