Air Canada Flight 624 crash investigators recover cockpit recorders
Air safety expert Jock Williams says aircraft design and instruments will be analyzed by TSB
Investigators are collecting more evidence from the wreckage of Air Canada Flight 624, including new close up photos that show severe damage to the aircraft and the recovery of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder.
The media footage appears to show a piece of antenna array lodged in the front of the plane where the nose of the aircraft was torn off during the crash early Sunday at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. Other damage includes a mangled wing, a smashed and detached engine and a missing wing at the tail of the plane.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada investigators have been on scene since Sunday, and are examining the site with help from police drones.
Late Monday afternoon, the TSB tweeted out a photo of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder recovered from the aircraft.
Mike Cunningham, the regional manager for air investigations with the TSB, said the aerial photography will help them see the whole picture.
"In the past we've done that with fixed-wing aircraft, but now that we have this access to the RCMP's drone capabilities, it's a really great way for us to get the aerial coverage and the accident site that we need," he said Monday. "It is a big help."
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On Monday, the investigators — from across Canada and as far away as France — began searching the debris field where the Airbus A320 from Toronto crash landed during snowy weather at Halifax Stanfield International Airport with 138 people aboard. Twenty-three people were taken to hospital. None suffered critical injuries.
Airbus, the company that made the plane, is sending staff as part of the investigation, to help figure out what went wrong.
Crews are searching the debris field for evidence. The cockpit recorder and the voice data recorder have been recovered and sent to Ottawa for analysis. The results are expected in a day or two.
Cunningham said crews started by removing some medical supplies from the wreckage.
"We'll begin working with representatives from Airbus that have arrived here in Halifax from France to begin discussions about how the aircraft can be dismantled and then eventually removed from the site," he said.
He said it could take two to three days to clear the plane off the tarmac.
"The position where the aircraft touched down so far back from the end of the runway, I mean, that terrain out there is not prepared as a landing surface. The actual antenna array that they hit is kind of raised up from the ground a bit, so things could have been worse," he said.
Most passengers spent about an hour stuck at the crash site as airport staff scrambled to find a safe way to get them out of the heavy snowfall and inside.
Investigators are also talking to passengers and crew, and examining the aircraft's maintenance records.
Cunningham said early indications showed weather conditions were "well within the legal landing limits" at the time of the crash landing.
"You can get sudden and unexpected wind gusts, but we'll be looking at all of that," he said.
Possible causes of crash
It would be "singularly inappropriate" to immediately blame the pilots, safety expert Jock Williams cautioned.
The safety board says such investigations are complicated, and it will take time to get to the bottom of what led to the crash.
Williams, a former military pilot and retired Transport Canada flight safety officer, says the pilots could be at fault, but investigators will also probe:
- Aircraft design.
- Possible instruments problems.
- Any other outside factors that could be to blame.
"Obviously the weather was marginal," Williams told CBC News.
"But they didn't go down there thinking that they were going to land short, break the gear off, hit the ground. They went down thinking, 'We'll take a look and if everything is good, we'll land.' And I'm sure that's what they intended to do.
"Something went amiss. And when we find out what went amiss, we'll be able to prevent it or try to prevent it, and further accidents."
The TSB said Sunday evening that AC624 touched down more than 300 metres short of the runway, and smashed through an antenna array and power line before finally skidding to a stop.
Excellent safety record
Air Canada says the two pilots guiding the plane have been with the airline for 15 years and have extensive experience with Airbus A320s.
Air Canada also has a good safety rating, according to AirlineRatings.com, which gives it seven out of seven stars. Another safety website, Jacdec, last year ranked Air Canada the fourth-best airline in the world for safety.
The last major crash at the Halifax airport was in 2004, when a cargo plane crashed during takeoff, killing all seven aboard.
After an investigation that took nearly two years, the TSB concluded fatigue and lack of training contributed to the crash of MK Airlines Limited Flight 1602.
Investigators said it was impossible to know exactly what happened because the flight voice recorder was destroyed in the fire. They did determine, however, that the crew had been awake for 20 hours by the time the plane attempted takeoff.