08 January 2010
As the investigation into the 22 December 2009 crash of American Airlines flight 331 enters its third week, the Jamaican authorities leading the investigation have provided extensive details about the circumstances of the accident.
Weather Conditions and Alternate Airports
The aircraft landed in Kingston, Jamaica in heavy rain about two hours after taking off from Miami, Florida. The crew chose to land with a tailwind, even after air traffic controllers advised them that the runway was wet and offered the crew an option that would have allowed the aircraft to land with a headwind.
The aircraft had sufficient fuel on board to reach its alternate airport at Grand Cayman Island.
The aircraft landed slightly below its permitted landing weight and with an airspeed of 148 knots (170 mph). However, because of the 14 knot tailwind, groundspeed was 162 knots (186 mph). The landing gear made contact with the runway about 4,000 feet down the 8,900 foot runway. The flight data recorder also showed that the aircraft bounced once before settling down on the runway, which further reduced the amount of remaining runway.
Aircraft Braking and Runway Overrun
Autobrakes deployed, and the crew was able to engage reverse thrust and spoilers, and also used maximum braking, but in spite of this, the aircraft veered to the left of the runway centerline and departed the end of the runway at a ground speed of about 63 knots (72 mph). The aircraft went through a fence and crossed a road before coming to rest on a beach about 175 feet (53 meters) beyond the end of the runway, and about 40 feet (12 meters) from the sea.
Aircraft and Airport Systems Normal Before Landing
The flight data recorder did not indicate any malfunctions or other anomalies with the brakes, spoilers, or thrust reversers, and that braking was normal given the wet runway and the autobrake setting. The fuselage was broken into three major pieces, and the right engine, right main landing gear, and parts of the right wing separated from the aircraft. Other than the crash related damage, no mechanical problems have been found with any part of the aircraft, and ground based navigation and landing aids were operating normally.
Other Accident Information
While the Jamaican authorities are running the investigation, the NTSB and other US organizations and companies are providing assistance. The aircraft wreckage will be shipped to the US and may be examined again later in the investigation.
The interim report did not provide any probable causes for the accident, and the runway has not yet been tested to see how slick it may be in rainy conditions. The interim report made no mention of crew issues, including whether the crew followed all relevant procedures, and whether the captain or first officer had any medical situation or physical condition that could have affected their performance.
AirSafeNews.com will continue to follow the progress of the investigation, and will publish additional information as it becomes available.