TSB hopes to interview 747 crew in Halifax runway overrun

Investigators say it's too soon to know what roles weather and human decision-making played in a 747 cargo aircraft skidding 210 metres off the end of a Halifax runway early Wednesday morning, stopping not far from a public two-lane road.

Officials say cargo plane was trying to land at Halifax Stanfield International Airport in strong crosswind

The Sky Lease Cargo plane went off the end of a Halifax Stanfield International Airport runway early Wednesday morning. (Robert Short/CBC)

Transportation investigators say it's too soon to know what roles weather and human decision-making played in a 747 cargo aircraft skidding 210 metres off the end of a Halifax runway early Wednesday morning, stopping not far from a public two-lane road.

The Sky Lease Cargo aircraft was arriving at Halifax Stanfield International Airport from Chicago when it overran the runway. It was to be loaded with live lobster in Halifax before heading to China, with a stop along the way in Alaska.

The plane was substantially damaged as it attempted to land shortly after 5 a.m. in wet and windy weather, the Transportation Safety Board said Thursday. Two engines separated, there was a small post-impact fire in one of the engines and the landing gear collapsed.

Austin Adams, a senior operations investigator with the TSB, told a news conference that his team was hoping to interview the crew of four later today. Until that happens, he would not speculate about the factors involved in the incident.

"We're still gathering that information at this point," he said. "We want to see some decision-making and what they were thinking."

Isabelle Langevin and Austin Adams of the Transportation Safety Board speak to reporters Thursday. (CBC)

The plane was attempting to land on Runway 14, the shorter of the airport's two runways. Ideally, a plane would land into the wind, said Adams. Conditions Wednesday saw strong westerly winds of about 33 kilometres per hour, which Adams described as a crosswind with a tailwind component.

Investigators say it was the pilot's request to use Runway 14. They cautioned against making assumptions about why or what role that might have played, noting all aircraft have certain limitations. Investigators will review what the certification was for the Sky Lease Cargo aircraft for landing with tailwind.

Reports Wednesday said the crew was taken to hospital with minor injuries, but Adams would not provide an update, citing privacy regulations.

Along with interviewing the crew, investigators will also review flight recorder data, weather information, speak to witnesses, analyze runway conditions, review history of the crew and speak with the operator and aircraft manufacturer.

This cargo jet was to be loaded with live lobster and head for China, but it went off the runway upon landing. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)
The plane stopped less than 50 metres from a fence separating the airfield from a public road. (Robert Short/CBC)

Another thing investigators are examining is the available runway-safety area at the airport, a prepared surface beyond the end of a runway.

Isabelle Langevin, a senior investigator with TSB, said the airport in Halifax has a safety area of about 140 metres, which falls just short of the Transport Canada recommendation of 150 metres. The international recommendation is 300 metres, she said.

"Right now what the Transportation Safety Board would like is for the airports to do their own risk assessment … to define, with the type of operation that they support, what area they should have," said Langevin.

"[For] bigger airplanes, 300 metres would improve safety significantly. So we would like for Transport Canada to work with the operators to work towards meeting the [international recommendation.]"

More space allows for an aircraft to stop while minimizing damage, she said.

Airport spokesperson Theresa Rath Spicer said the runway safety area for the runway in question is slated to be extended next year.

Fuel leak

The plane will remain at the scene until the Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation, Rath Spicer said, and the runway will not be operational until an engineering assessment of it is completed.

The plane is believed to have leaked fuel onto the ground, but Rath Spicer said it isn't yet known how fuel escaped.

"We actually smelled a very strong smell of jet fuel yesterday and saw evidence of a leak, but hadn't been able to pinpoint exactly where that's coming from based on how the aircraft is resting," Rath Spicer said.

She said the leak is believed to be contained within the site, and affected soil will be removed once it is safe to do so.