The pilots behind the controls of a US Airways flight that crashed at Philadelphia International Airport in March failed to properly prepare the aircraft for takeoff, a Federal Aviation Administration report obtained by NBC10 concluded. Officials also found the plane’s captain had prescription drugs in his system that should have disqualified him from flying.
Initial findings by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) blamed the crash on wind sheer, but the internal FAA report points to pilot error.
The incident report, provided to NBC10 Investigative Reporter Harry Hairston through a Freedom of Information request, states the flight crew of US Airways flight 1702 did not enter velocity speeds needed for departure into the Airbus A320’s flight computer.
Once the pilot throttled up for takeoff along Runway 27 Left on March 13, an alarm sounded warning that cockpit levers were not set, the report said. The co-pilot relayed part of a written message prompting the pilot to move the levers to the “Take Off Go Around” position, according to the report.
However, the pilot only put the throttle in the Flexible Take-Off position and once the jet reached a speed of 92 mph, another alarm sounded warning the crew to move the engines into an Idle position, the report said. This is used during landing.
According to the report, the captain asked his co-pilot whether she had ever heard such an alarm on takeoff before. She answered “No.”
Despite the alarms, the crew continued with takeoff.
“We’ll get that straight when we get airborne,” officials quoted the pilot as saying.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida-bound airliner, carrying 149 passengers and five crew, reached a speed of about 183 mph and 70 feet off the ground when the pilot felt “the aircraft was unsafe to fly,” the report stated.
He moved the throttle into the Idle position and the plane’s tail smashed into the runway, followed by the middle landing gear, the report said. The hard landing forced the plane’s nose into the ground, causing the landing gear to collapse and sent the jet skidding 2,000 feet across a grass field.
As it was sliding, the plane’s left engine sucked up runway lights and dirt causing it to smoke as passengers ran away to safety. Two passengers suffered minor injuries and had to be taken to the hospital.
“They should have never commenced to take off,” aviation expert Arthur Wolk said after reviewing the report with the NBC10 Investigators. “When they applied takeoff power, they got warnings the system was not properly set and the information they needed was not there.”
“That could have been a horribly fatal accident,” he added.
The report also says that the plane’s captain should not have even walked into the cockpit.
He underwent a stress test two days before the crash and was given two drugs — the sedative Midazolam and narcotic Fentanyl, the report said.
Based on how the body processes these drugs, the pilot would not be fit to fly until 60 hours after taking them. He returned 45 hours later and did not inform US Airways about his condition, officials said.
“These drugs have the ability impair one's attention and now we have an incident that relates to one's failure to attend to the business at hand which was to make sure the airplane was properly configure for taken off,” Wolk said.
A US Airways spokesperson declined to comment until the NTSB finishes its investigation.
The internal FAA report will be provided to the NTSB and a final report is expected to be released in Spring 2015.