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Pilots, Controllers Blamed in Burbank Crash

Airlines: Jet that slid onto street approached too fast at too steep an angle, the NTSB says.

June 27, 2002|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Errors by the pilots and air traffic controllers caused the crash-landing of a Southwest Airlines jet at Burbank Airport two years ago, federal officials said Wednesday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the twin-engine Boeing 737 was going too fast and descending at too steep an angle as it touched down on the runway about 6:15 p.m. on March 5, 2000.

The 108,000-pound plane skidded out of control, slid off the end of the runway, smashed through a blast-fence barrier and came to rest on a busy street. Two of the 137 passengers were seriously injured and the captain and 41 passengers suffered minor injuries.

NTSB investigators said controllers directed the plane onto an approach path that was too high as the jetliner approached the San Fernando Valley airport after a routine flight from Las Vegas.

"The pilots should have aborted the landing, done a go-around," said an NTSB source who asked not to be named. "They tried to put the plane down anyway."

Investigators said the plane swooped down onto the runway at a six-degree angle, about twice as steep as usual. The jetliner touched down at 200 mph, about 50 mph faster than normal.

"That was way too fast, and that meant trouble," Barry Schiff, a retired Trans World Airlines pilot and air crash consultant said.

As the jetliner touched down on Runway 8, the pilots activated the engine thrust reverser, slowing the plane. But the NTSB said the pilots failed to apply the wheel brakes with full force, and as a result, the jetliner burst through the barrier at the end of the 6,032-foot runway.

"Had the accident flight crew applied maximum manual brakes immediately upon touchdown, the airplane would likely have stopped before impacting the blast fence," the final NTSB report said.

The plane's captain, Howard Peterson, a veteran with 11,000 hours of flight time, exclaimed, "My fault! My fault!" as the jetliner skidded through the fence, according to a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder recovered from Flight 1455.

When the plane finally stopped, just short of a gas station at Hollywood Way and Burton Avenue, Peterson told his co-pilot, Jerry Erwin, "Well, there goes my career."

Peterson and Erwin were fired a few weeks later. Erwin won reinstatement after his union filed a grievance. Peterson had his firing overturned and was allowed to retire.

Last October, in an effort to limit its costs in more than two dozen lawsuits filed in connection with the accident, Southwest said it was willing to concede that pilot negligence was to blame.

The NTSB report said efforts to evacuate the plane were slowed by an escape slide that inflated inside the plane and blocked an exit. The board asked the Federal Aviation Administration to order slide latches fixed on many Boeing 737s to prevent unintentional inflations.

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