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Emirates A345 Tail Strike Captain breaks his silence

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Emirates A345 Tail Strike Captain breaks his silence

Old 15th Jul 2009, 22:57
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Emirates A345 Tail Strike Captain breaks his silence

Posted on the Flypast forum by Steve Rowell, apologies if previously posted, but it makes sad reading and I feel for the guy.


Emirates A345 tail strike Captain breaks his silence!!!
The pilot at the controls of an Emirates jet that almost crashed at Melbourne Airport has revealed how he saved 275 lives.

Breaking a four-month silence, the pilot told how he managed to wrench the fully-loaded plane into the air just seconds before it almost crashed.

"I still don't know how we got it off the ground," the pilot said.

"I thought we were going to die, it was that close.

"It was the worst thing in 20 years (of flying). It was the worst thing I've felt, but thank God we got it safely around."

The pilot, a 42-year-old European man, spoke to the Sunday Herald Sun on the condition his identity not be revealed.

Realising the plane had not reached a high enough speed to get airborne, and with the end of the runway rapidly approaching, the pilot and co-pilot were desperately checking controls in the cockpit, trying to find out what had gone wrong.

At the last second, the pilot engaged a rapid acceleration known as TOGA (take-off go-around) and lifted the plane off the ground.

With 257 passengers and 18 crew aboard, the Airbus A340-500 struck its tail three times, wiped out lights and a navigation antennae at the end of the runway - some of the equipment struck was just 70cm high - and sustained $100 million damage as it barely cleared the airport boundary fence.

After limping into the air, the pilot took the jet out over Port Phillip Bay to dump its load of highly flammable aviation fuel, then returned to Melbourne Airport 30 minutes later.

Passengers had seen smoke and dust swirl into the cabin and felt the impact as the tail struck the ground, but the pilot did not tell them how bad the situation was, fearing it would cause them to panic.

The pilot said that when he left the plane after safely returning to Melbourne Airport he saw a number of the passengers disembarking, unaware of how close to death they had come.

"There were a lot of passengers left the airplane smiling," he said.

He said the landing afterwards was a "textbook landing".

"From take-off until we landed I am extremely proud of what we did from push-off to landing.

"The cabin crew were outstanding. We did extremely well under the circumstances. We kept it very, very simple."

He said he did not know to this day exactly how he manoeuvred the Airbus into the air.

"I . . . sort of reacted on instinct," he said.

"I had a feeling that (something) wasn't working, but I couldn't find out what was wrong.

"I knew I couldn't stop.

"At that point I knew we just had to go.

"And we got it off the ground, miraculously."

The accident was later described as the closest Australia had come to a major aviation catastrophe.

Tail strikes are extremely dangerous and can result in a plane breaking in two.

A report by air safety investigators found the co-pilot was at the controls when the pilot, a captain, called on him to "rotate", or lift the plane's nose.

When the plane failed to lift, the pilot again called for him to rotate the plane, which saw the plane's nose lift and its tail strike the ground.

The pilot then took over, commanding and selecting TOGA, which provides the maximum thrust the plane's engines will deliver.

Once the plane was in the air, the crew realised the take-off weight programmed into the plane's computer was 100 tonnes lighter than the actual weight of the plane.

The typing error meant the wrong take-off speed and thrust settings had been calculated.

Emirates has said there were four layers of checks that should have picked up the error, and the failure to do so was "perplexing".

The pilot did not type in the numbers, but was responsible for checking them.

The pilot said he almost collapsed after bringing the plane safely back to land.

"One of my friends almost admitted me to hospital I was so stressed," he said.

"If you have a near-death experience your body reacts in a particular way."

In multiple interviews conducted with the Sunday Herald Sun over a period of weeks, the pilot who has left Dubai with his family and returned to his home country in Europe also revealed:

HE had slept for only 3 1/2 hours in the 24 hours before the flight taking off on March 20.

THE brush with death upset him so badly he had not slept for four days after the accident.

HE and his co-pilot were ordered to resign. They were handed pre-prepared letters of resignation when they returned to Emirates headquarters.

HE was still so horrified by the accident that he could not bear to think about it.

HE needed to find a job, but did not know if he would fly again.

HE was reluctant to reveal exactly what happened in the cockpit in case his recollection was different from what Australian Transport Safety Bureau investigators would find.

The veteran pilot, who has 22 years' experience with the military and commercial airlines, said he knew Melbourne Airport quite well.

In his 4 1/2 years of flying for Emirates he had flown in and out of Melbourne many times.

"Maybe four, five times in the past six months," he said.

"Melbourne was one of the places I knew well.

"Maybe (I flew there) once every other month.

"It was quite emotional to have to say goodbye."

Since the accident, several Emirates pilots have spoken to the Sunday Herald Sun, saying fatigue was a major problem with the airline, which is one of the world's largest long-haul carriers.

The ATSB has also been told of fatigue problems, though its preliminary report into the tail strike revealed fatigue was probably not a factor.

The pilot said it was hard for him to know if he was fatigued or not, but that he had very little sleep when the near-fatal error was made.

"I had the flown the maximum in the last 30 days. One hundred hours in 28 days, it's an Emirates rule," he said.

"I'd flown 99 hours. You can fly 100 hours in a month. There a big difference in long-haul, nights, it's a mix of everything."

He said he had told ATSB investigators he had little sleep in the day before to the 10.30pm flight on Friday, March 20.

"This long-haul flying is really, really fatiguing. Really demanding on your body," he said.

"When I did that take-off in Melbourne I had slept 3 1/2 hours in 24 hours.

"You feel sort of normal, abnormal."

He said he had been in Melbourne for 24 hours before his flight.

"That (the Melbourne-Dubai flight) is the most tiring trip I have done in my career.

"You're always out of whack."

The pilot said he and other pilots tried hard not to make any mistakes, but occasionally errors happened.

"It's never on purpose," he said.

"No fingers point in our direction. It happens because of a range of things coming together at the time.

"Until now, I had a perfect record.

"I was just a pilot."

He said he had told the ATSB everything about the period leading up to the accident, and he praised the Australian investigators for their thoroughness and sensitivity.

"I told them everything about what happens. Eating, exercise, I was dead honest. It's always like that when you fly," he said.

"I was really scared of going to jail when I got back to Dubai."

He said there had been four pilots in the cockpit - he and the co-pilot, who had been at the controls as the plane taxied along the runway, and two augmenting pilots who were on board because of the length of the 14 1/2 hour flight to Dubai.

Source:The Herald Sun
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 00:20
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I don't even know where to start with this piece of trash journalism.
All I'll say is firstly the pilot didn't heroically save everyone's life, he endangered them in the first place. As for reacting on instincts? Well, with the end of the runway approaching, even a 50 hour PPL would firewall the throttle and keep pulling back until something happened.
Jesus..........
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 00:35
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None of us be perfect.

Appears they did a great job after problem found, ending could have been very different.

This event will prob save others.

My best wishes to all involved. cheers.....
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 01:06
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At the last second, the pilot engaged a rapid acceleration known as TOGA
I'm not a pilot, just a lowly aviation software engineer, but isn't the clue in the TO part of TOGA?

Why wait until "the last second" to engage it (even allowing for journalistic BS)? Wouldn't (shouldn't?) it be engaged at the start of the take-off roll?
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 01:09
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A report by air safety investigators found the co-pilot was at the controls when the pilot, a captain, called on him to "rotate", or lift the plane's nose.
Oh dear oh deary me No wonder there was no cross check of the take off performance. Investigators should start looking at the cause being only one pilot present on a 2 pilot aeroplane.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 01:20
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Fact of life...

Only a complete idiot would think that this cannot happen with ANYONE of us. No matter how profissional, experienced and trained we are.
We are all subject to this.
There's even more senior captains, with brilliant 30 plus years careers, that screw up everything one day. It simply HAPPENS.
No matter what we say.
We can always minimize the possibilities, by new technologies, rules etc.

No fingers pointing at this poor guy. Could be any of us.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 02:36
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kenhughes -

You might want to study up on flex thrust, which is the SOP with virtually all airlines today. Essentially it matches the engine performance to the operating conditions (a/c mass, runway length, elevation, air temperature, ...) so the engine is operated as economically as possible.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 02:54
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Well first things first - would have been nice if interviewed by someone who has SOME concept of how an airline cockpit is structured - at the moment you simply have the pilot talking to the pilot, taking over from the pilot etc, some breakdown using PIC/Captain/First Officer/Copilot/Pilot flying/Pilot monitoring.....whatever; at the moment just a dog's breakfast with NO indication of who should have been doing what, when, why etc etc.

Secondly could this be anyone of us??? Yes, could be.

So don't point fingers??? Would be happy to do that if ANYWHERE the PIC admitted he'd failed in his job description as being the final responsibility for the aircraft, passengers and crew.
At the moment it "all just happened by mystery" is the line being pushed and that's just unacceptable crap IMHO.

Some questions should have been:
Reporter: So who is finally responsible for the safety of the aircraft??
Captain: I am as the PIC

Reporter: You have extensive of experience in commercial operations??
Captai: Yes I do.

Reporter: So not only did you fail in your designated role as PIC but your extensive experience didn't make you realise that a heavy aircraft, mid summer should have demanded a much higher power setting for takeoff??
Captain: "It all just happened by mystery."

No it didn't!

As for none of the other 3 "professional" pilots on the flight deck not twigging that it "just doesn't seem or feel right" - doesn't say a lot about the Captains of the future does it??
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 03:35
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I totally agree with GALDIAN, BUT there is one big factor also to consider, that the guy had not slept for more than 3,5 hours before the flight, thats like asking for an accident to happen. And also the thing about flying maximum 100 hrs per month is a lot... EU/JAA regulations about max 90 hrs month makes a big difference but even 90 is a lot.

One has to be responsible enough to realize that when getting so few hours of sleep, mistakes happen much more easily since your max performance level is probably not more than 25-30% compared to sleeping 8-10 hours.

This captains first mistake was to even go to work that day...
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 03:45
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I am amused by the complete lack of realization of the current trend of technology within civil airplane flight decks with quote "We can always minimize the possibilities, by new technologies, rules etc."

To my way of thinking, and I've recently completed a career spanning some 14,000 hours flight experience, that the problem IS the current trend of 'new technologies' and carrying complete augmented crews, with everybody thinking these shiney new electronic airplanes are fool-proof!

I have been, and will continue to be 100% in favour of bringing back the best insurance the airline industry EVER had in the flight deck...the professional Flight Engineer!

How many times did the F/O or Captn find an error in the takeoff performance calculations from the FE, none of any significance that I can recall!

Don't misunderstand me...I realize that the manufacturers have "progressed" way past the reintroduction of the FE, I'm just here to tell you that I think it's gone way too far with electronics doing everything for you.
Seems to be electronics for electronics sake, rather than actually providing a better operating environment, because that is currently not the case!

Yeh, yeh...I know that all you pilots out there that have not had the pleasure of operating with an FE will tell us how they are old technology and are not needed any more, the "We can do it" guys.
But it's funny how most of the senior and retired pilots will admit that their experience flying with FEs was/is a much better experience than the current crop of multi-crew airplanes, in many ways.

And I'm not even going to mention the level of airplane operations and systems knowledge that is going lacking in the "modern" pilot group.

As someone once said, "I'll get my own coat on the way out!"

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Old 16th Jul 2009, 03:50
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Agree with founder - turning up probably not smartest move, also not sure how "forgiving" the Emirates empire is of grunts who cause disruptions for such spurious reasons as .......fatigue and safety.
I don't mean what they say - talk is cheap - but the actions they actually take.

Also have to wonder......what about stilnox, normison ar any other newer, hopefully improved, sleeping tablets??

I am NOT advocating for ongoing day in - day out use BUT if you work shiftwork, you have trouble sleeping, you prefer not to take/refuse to take the occasional sleeping tablet then maybe you should question your ability to perform your duties safely and without fatigue??

Maybe time to chuck it in and get a 9 to 5 job at the post office - now THAT would improve safety immediately!
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 03:53
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Who is to blame?

This is the second tailstrike accident to occur with a 100 tonne error in the take off performance, the other being a Singapore Airlines 747 in 2001 in Aukland. Similar incidents in more than just the tail strike aspect. The time zone differences were about the same, both Singapore and Emirates have similar working practices and the pilots will have been similarly fatigued.

The captain stated he only had three and a half hours sleep in the previous 24. This is typical of trying to get rest outside your normal circadian pattern and 99 hours flown in the previous 28 days is a very hard working pattern - far more than allowed under the two regulatory authorities I have worked within.

It's all good and well saying the pilots should have noticed this error earlier on the take off roll, but with the grinding chronic fatigue that comes from such a long haul lifestyle and probably combined with the acute fatigue which comes from such a long trip, the ability to notice such errors quickly is going to be markedly impaired.

It's interesting that Emirates required the pilots to resign as soon as they got back to Dubai. It's indicative of the concern the airline had that the incident may have been related to their Flight Time Limitations - which in Duabi are set by a regulatory authority which seems to be answerable to the airline and not the other way round. There has been enough written on this website in the past about Emirates duty times.

But what about the aircraft? A system which allows such a gross error to be inserted is at fault as well. The designers may think that such errors are hard to make, but this is the second in very similar circumstances. And don't forget the MK 747 Classic freighter which fatally crashed in Halifax in 2004 when the fatigued crew used the previous much lighter flight's data and went off the end of the runway. Unless they have experienced the fatigue of continued long haul operations, it is very hard for them to understand how such errors can be made and then which escape the error traps.

I used to fly 747-400s which had weight and balance computers. The system measured the pressure in the oloes and told the crew how much the aircraft weighed and where the c of g was. I was amazed that there was no system which correlated the speeds input by the crew with what the aircraft thought the speed should be be based on it's own weight measurement. It's only a simple piece of software.

So don't be too quick to blame the crew as there are many factors which led to this error. I too have seen the 100 tonne error made. In this case it was trapped early by the mechanism set up to catch such mistakes. I'm sure it has been made many more times - and been caught. The fact it occaisionally gets through system should be ringing alarm bells and probing investigation deeper than the very typical pillorying of the pilots.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 04:24
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I don't know abut the A340 but the A320 series has gross weight calculated by the FACs. I generally see a 2 to 4000 pound difference in the "paper" weights the load controllers calculate for flight.

The Captain evidently called for rotation at the perdetermined (wrong) weight. They should have gone from Flex to Toga at that point, if the jet won't fly off at the normal rotation rate.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 05:42
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Dan, thanks for bringing a little sanity to the thread. Those of you who want to dump it all in the crews lap have a little learning to do, and humility. Incidents, or near accidents, such as these have been with the profession probably since the Wright Brothers. Read the synopsis of of this 30 JUL 1971 accident to a PanAm 747-121. Even having a FE didn't help in this particular case.

The aircraft struck the Approach Light Structure (ALS) at the departure end of runway 01R while taking off from the San Francisco International Airport. Two passengers, in seats 47G and 48G, were seriously injured by parts of the Approach Light System structure which penetrated the passenger compartment. The flightcrew continued the takeoff and then flew the aircraft for 1 hour and 42 minutes while assessing the structural damage and dumping fuel before landing on runway 28L. After landing, the aircraft veered off the right side of runway 28L and came to a stop in the unpaved area approximately 5,300 feet from the approach end of the runway. The passengers and crew evacuated the aircraft using the emergency evacuation slides.
Upon activation of the slides for evacuation, four of the 10 passenger slides failed to function properly and were not useable. During the evacuation the aircraft tilted slowly back onto the rear section of the fuselage.
The aircraft had been dispatched for a departure from a closed runway and, upon changing to an open, but shorter, runway, the crew did not recompute the proper reference speeds for takeoff under the existing conditions.

PROBABLE CAUSE: "The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the pilotís use of incorrect takeoff
reference speeds. This resulted from a series of irregularities involving: (1) the collection and dissemination of airport information; (2) aircraft dispatching; and (3) crew management and discipline; which collectively rendered ineffective the air carrierís operational control system."


Full report and interesting reading for the Swiss cheese holes http://www.airdisaster.com/reports/ntsb/AAR72-17.pdf

Note the (1) to (3). Nothing much new under the sun, huh? Hope you critics never get to stub your toe.

Last edited by Brian Abraham; 16th Jul 2009 at 06:18. Reason: Add link
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 05:49
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This is the second tailstrike accident to occur with a 100 tonne error in the take off performance, the other being a Singapore Airlines 747 in 2001 in Aukland.
Uh, I believe this has happed a lot more than twice, sometimes the error is 100 tonnes, sometimes it is 100,000 lbs depending on the operation. And, it has happened in landing as well from a couple of incidents I am aware of. Of course, many of us have flown the same aircraft type in pounds and kilos, an insidious error can creep into numbers that might look good for the other measurement system.

I have a friend who kissed the tail on a widebody Boeing a few years ago with the 100K error. He was on a long runway and knew something was amiss at the attempted rotation. He lowered the nose slightly and tried again and it flew off with a flat spot on the tailskid. The usual factors that he had are almost always present in widebody longhaul flight, fatigue, jetlag and a three ring circus of distractions in the cockpit just before departure.

I've come close to making the 100K mistake myself with a rushed departure to make a slot time and a runway change after blockout. I took one last look at the numbers while on the taxiway and sure enough, the data for 100K less weight was what we had. On another day I hope I would have caught it but maybe not.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 05:58
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As for none of the other 3 "professional" pilots on the flight deck not twigging that it "just doesn't seem or feel right" - doesn't say a lot about the Captains of the future does it??
No, it most certainly does not.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 06:34
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Refer to post #280 in the original EK407 thread

I quote from my memory but I believe I said "you will never, ever see a real-time weight read-out for a commercial flight" to which I will add:

you will never, ever see a real-time weight read-out for a commercial flight.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 07:20
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As for none of the other 3 "professional" pilots on the flight deck not twigging that it "just doesn't seem or feel right" - doesn't say a lot about the Captains of the future does it??
Were the relief crew on the flight deck for take-off ?
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 07:29
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have been, and will continue to be 100% in favour of bringing back the best insurance the airline industry EVER had in the flight deck...the professional Flight Engineer!
I have a high regard for F/Engs. never flew a multi-crew aircraft without one, but ....... 50 years ago I was employed by BOAC as a young 3rd PILOT / Navigator, to navigate over the oceans and deserts, but to act as a fourth pair of eyes on every take off and landing. BALPA had concluded an agreement that there would be 3 pilots on every flight deck from that time on. I had no hands-on function whatsoever, but was purely a monitor. Since that time the 3rd pilot, and the Flt. Eng. have been removed, theoretically the non-handling pilot monitors the handling pilot, but both have many tasks of their own to perform, and it's no wonder that the monitoring occasionally breaks down. How do you equate a lifetimes' salary for an extra, non-hassled, pair of eyes against the loss of a hull and 300 + lives.

The Bean Counters have won again - and this won't be the last. The A-380 will likely carry 800 unsuspecting pax. with some airlines !

Great progress.

Best of luck.
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Old 16th Jul 2009, 08:30
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EU OPS Subpart Q

1.2. Limit on total block times
An operator shall ensure that the total block times of the flights on which an individual crew member is assigned as an
operating crew member does not exceed
(a) 900 block hours in a calendar year;
(b) 100 block hours in any 28 consecutive days.

So Emirates are not worse than Europe.

This guy reported for duty after 3 hours sleep and was next to kill 280 people by screwing up performance calc and damaged expensive equipment and now not wishing to take responsibility. 6-digit salary is not just for flying skills but for taking ultimate responsibility.
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