Avianca Flight 52
Wreckage of the aircraft on the hillside in Cove Neck
|Date||January 25, 1990|
|Site||Cove Neck, New York, United States
|Aircraft type||Boeing 707-321B|
|Registration||HK-2016 (formerly N423PA)|
|Flight origin||El Dorado International Airport|
|Stopover||José María Córdova Int'l Airport|
|Destination||John F. Kennedy Int'l Airport|
Avianca Flight 52 was a regularly scheduled flight from Bogotá to New York, via Medellín. On Thursday, January 25, 1990, a Boeing 707-321B registered as HK-2016 operating this flight, ran out of fuel on approach to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), resulting in the aircraft crashing into the small village of Cove Neck, New York, on the north shore of Long Island. Eight of the nine crew members and 65 of the 149 passengers on board were killed. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined that the crash was caused by the flight crew failing to properly declare a fuel emergency, resulting in air traffic control underestimating the seriousness of the situation.
The flight had been placed in a three holding patterns as the flight progressed to New York. Due to poor communication between the air crew and the air traffic controllers, as well as an inadequate management of the fuel load by the pilots, the flight became critically low on fuel. This dire situation was not recognized as an emergency by the controllers. The flight attempted to make a landing at JFK, but bad weather, coupled with poor communication, forced the aircraft to abort and attempt a go-around. The flight ran out of fuel before it was able to make a second landing attempt. The airplane crashed approximately 20 miles (32 km) from JFK. The exact reasons for the crash remain controversial, with disagreement between air traffic controllers, investigators, passengers, and Avianca as to who was ultimately responsible.
The Avianca Flight 52 aircraft was a Boeing 707-321B (registration number HK 2016). The aircraft was manufactured in June 1967 and was purchased by Avianca from Pan Am in 1977. By the time of the crash, the aircraft had over 61,000 flight hours. The 707 was equiped with four JT3D-3B engines modified with a "hushkit" to reduce noise pollution. Avianca personnel reported that they factored in a five-percent fuel overburn into the performance calculations due to the "hushkit" along with an additional five-percent overburn due to the age of the aircraft. The flight was manned by a crew of nine, including six flight attendants and three flight crewmen. The flight crew was captained by 51-year-old Laureano Caviedes with 28-year-old copilot Mauricio Klotz and 45-year-old flight engineer Matias Moyano.[a] At the time of the crash, Captain Caviedes had been employed with Avianca for over 27 years and had logged over 16,000 hours of flight time, including over 1,500 in the B-707.[b] Caviedes had 478 hours of night flying experience in the B-707 and had no record of any prior accidents. Copilot Klotz had been employed with Avianca for three years and had 1,837 hours of flight time. Klotz had transitioned to the B-707 the previous October and had logged 64 flight hours in the airframe, including 13 at night. Flight engineer Moyano had been employed with Avianca for over 23 years and had over 10,000 hours of flight time, including over 3,000 hours in the B-707 and over 1,000 hours of night flying in the same airframe.
Avianca Flight 52 departed El Dorado International Airport at 13:10, five minutes ahead of schedule, on 25 January 1990. The flight landed at José María Córdova International Airport near Medellín at 14:04 and prepared to fly the leg to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK). At Medellín, the aircraft landed with 67,200 lbs of fuel. The flight plan filed for the journey to JFK called for 55,520 lbs of fuel required for the trip to JFK, 4,510 lbs for reserve fuel, 7,600 lbs for alternate fuel, 4,800 lbs for holding fuel, and 1,500 lbs of taxi fuel totaling 73,930 lbs minimum of block fuel.[c] The dispatcher at Medellín ordered a total fuel load of 78,000 lbs, including 4,070 lbs of "top off" fuel to raise the aircraft weight to the maximum allowable for the planned departure runway. At Medellín, the captain and dispatcher decided to use another runway and requested an additional 2,000 lbs of fuel.[d]
The flight departed Medellín at 15:08, bound for JFK. The flight first entered U.S. airspace of Miami Air Route Traffic Control Center at 17:28, flying at 35,000 ft, and proceeded northward, climbing to 37,000 ft.[e] The flight was cleared to fly Atlantic route 7 to the DIXON navigational aid[f] and jet airway 174 to Norfolk, Virginia. Flight 52 entered its first holding pattern over Norfolk at 19:04 and remained circling until 19:23. From there, Flight 52 continued on to the BOTON intersection near Atlantic City, New Jersey where it was placed in a second holding pattern from 19:43 to 20:12.[g] The flight proceeded to the CAMRN intersection where it entered its third holding pattern from 20:18 to 20:47.[h] Flight 52 entered the CAMRN holding pattern at 14,000 ft, having been cleared to descend prior to arrival at the intersection, and the flight descended further to 11,000 ft while in the CAMRN holding pattern. At 20:44:09, while still holding at CAMRN, the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZNY) advised Flight 52 that there was an "indefinite hold" and to continue holding at CAMRN. At 20:44:43, the ZNY controller told the flight to "expect further clearance" at 21:05.[i] The flight had previously been given two delay estimates that had passed.
At that point, First Officer Klotz radioed the controller, saying, "ah well I think we need priority we’re passing [unintelligible]." The controller inquired as to how long the flight could hold as well as what their alternate airport was. Klotz replied at 20:46:03 that they could hold for five more minutes. The controller once again inquired as to their alternate airport and Klotz replied at 20:46:24, "It was Boston but we can't do it now we, we, don't, we run out of fuel now." A handoff controller listening in on the conversation called the New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (NY TRACON) at 20:46:24 and advised the TRACON controller that Avianca Flight 52 could only hold for five more minutes. The handoff controller asked whether NY TRACON could take the flight or whether to send Avianca to its alternate airport. The NY TRACON controller replied, "Slow him to one eight zero knots and I'll take him."[j] The handoff controller later testified that he had not heard Flight 52 say that they could no longer reach their alternate airport. At 20:46:47, the NY ARTCC radar controller cleared the flight to proceed to JFK at 11,000 ft and to slow to 180 knots. Flight 52 departed the CAMRN holding pattern at 20:47.
At 20:47:27, the NY TRACON feeder controller told the flight crew to "expect an ILS two two left"[k] altimeter two niner six niner proceed direct Deer Park"[l] At 20:54:40, the feeder controller directed Flight 52 to make a 360-degree turn. At 20:56:16, the controller gave the flight a wind shear advisory of an "increase of ten knots at fifteen hundred feet and then an increase of ten knots at five hundred feet." The flight acknowledged the advisory. At 21:00, JFK was experiencing light drizzle and fog with 1/4-mile visibility, an indefinite ceiling with 200 ft obscured, and a wind of 21 knots (24 mph) at 190°.
At 21:03:07, Flight 52 contacted the NY TRACON final controller who cleared them to descend progressively to 2,000 ft. At 21:03:46, the flight crew discussed the go-around procedures. At 21:09:29, flight engineer Moyano stated that the controllers "already know that we are in [a] bad condition." The captain said, "No they are descending us," and the second officer added, "They are giving us priority." At 21:11:07, the NY TRACON final vector controller informed the flight that they were fifteen miles from the outer marker and instructed them to maintain an altitude of 2,000 ft "until established on the localizer." The flight crew began preparing for an instrument landing approach, extending flaps and discussing the appropriate airspeed. The final controller instructed the flight crew to contact the JFK tower controllers and signed off. Klotz acknowledged the transmission.
At 21:15:19, Klotz contacted the tower controllers and informed that Flight 52 was "established two two left." One minute later, the captain asked if he should lower the landing gear, but the first officer replied, "No I think it's too early now." At 21:17:30, JFK tower asked Flight 52 to increase their airspeed by ten knots to 150 knots (170 mph). At 21:18:11, the flight was three miles from the outer marker. Twenty-one seconds later, the first officer remarked "glideslope alive." At 21:19:09, the captain requested the landing gear be deployed. Almost a minute later, the JFK tower cleared the flight to land on runway 22L. The captain asked the first officer to confirm that the flight was cleared to land. At 21:20:28, the first officer began informing the captain that the aircraft was below the glideslope. At 21:22:07, Flight 52 descended to 1,000 ft. The aircraft began descending beyond the angle of the glideslope, then began climbing above it, followed by a steeper descent. At 21:22:57, the first officer commented, "This is the wind shear." The first officer warned the pilot about the sink rate and noted an altitude of 500 feet at 21:23:10. As he warned the pilot, the ground proximity warning system (GPWS) began eleven "whoop whoop pull up" audible warnings. At 21:23:13, the pilot called for lights, followed by questions as to where the runway was a few seconds later. The GPWS began four "glideslope" audible warnings a few seconds later, alerting the flight crew that the aircraft was below the glideslope. In response to the captain's inquiries, the first officer replied that he didn't see the runway. At 21:23:23, the flight began climbing again, having come within 250 ft of crashing two miles short of the runway. The landing gear was raised and the first officer announced that the flight was executing a missed approach.
The JFK tower controller asked the flight to climb to 2,000 ft and make a left turn. At 21:24:06, the captain asked the first officer to "tell them we are in [an] emergency." The first officer told the JFK tower controller that "we'll try once again[;] we're running out of fuel," to which the controller replied, "okay." A few seconds later, the captain again told the first officer to "advise him we are [in an] emergency" and asked if he did so. The first officer replied, "Yes sir, I already advised him." The JFK controller directed the flight to contact the NY TRACON approach controller once more at 21:24:39. The TRACON controller asked the flight to climb once more to 3,000 ft. The captain asked the first officer again to "advise him we don't have fuel." The first officer replied, "Climb and maintain three thousand and ah we're running out of fuel sir." The captain once again asked whether the first officer had advised the controller of the fuel emergency, and the first officer replied, "Yes sir. I already advise him [;] hundred and eighty on the heading [;] we are going to maintain three thousand feet and he's going to get us back."
A minute later, the controller instructed the flight to turn to the northeast and asked the flight crew if they had enough fuel to be directed fifteen miles from the airport. First Officer Klotz replied, "I guess so thank you very much." At 21:29:11, Klotz asked the controller if he "can give us a final now...?" The controller said, "affirmative sir [;] turn left heading zero four zero." At 21:30:14, the controller cleared another aircraft for landing. Klotz briefly thought the clearance was directed at Avianca and began to tell Captain Caviedes to change course before the controller corrected him. The controller then asked Avianca to climb to 3,000 ft. Klotz replied, "negative sir we just running out of fuel we okay three thousand now okay." The controller continued to direct the flight northward, away from the airport. At 21:31:01, the controller said, "Okay and you're number two for the approach[;] I just have to give you enough room so you make it without ah having to come out again."
At 21:32:38, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) recorded a temporary interruption in power. A second later, Flight Engineer Moyano exclaimed, "Flame out[;] flame out on engine number four." The CVR recorded another interruption in power one second after that, and Moyano said, "Flame out on engine number three[;] essential on number two or number one." The captain acknowledged. At 21:32:49, Klotz radioed the controller, informing him that the flight had "just ah lost two engines[,] and ... we need priority please." The controller instructed the flight to fly southwest to intercept the localizer. Klotz acknowledged this. The flight crew selected the ILS. At 21:33:04, the controller informed the flight that they were fifteen miles from the outer marker and cleared them for an ILS approach on runway 22L. Klotz acknowledged. That was the final radio transmission from Flight 52. Caviedes asked if the ILS had been selected. Klotz replied, "It is ready on two" at 21:33:23. One second later, the CVR stopped recording. At 21:34:00, the controller tried to radio the flight, asking, "You have enough fuel to make it to the airport?" There was no response. The NTSB report estimates that around this time, the flight crashed onto a hillside in Cove Neck, New York.
The aircraft descended without power, clipped several trees and posts, and crashed onto a hill with a 24° slope. The fuselage partially fragmented into three distinct pieces. The cockpit and forward cabin separated from the rest of the airframe and were hurled over the crest of the hill, coming to a stop 90 ft from the rest of the wreckage. The rest of the fuselage stopped within 25 ft after impact. The main fuselage came to rest on the upslope of the hill, facing south, with the forward end extending over the crest of the hill. The right side of the forward end of the fuselage fractured a residence's wooden deck. The tail was mostly intact and all control surfaces were connected to the pilots' controls. Both wings were severely damaged on impact and fractured into several pieces. The flaps and slats were found in their extended positions, with the flaps set at 14°. As with the tail, all wing control surfaces were found to have been connected to the pilots' controls. There was no evidence of any control surface failure prior to the crash. None of the four engines had been under power at the time of impact.
Rescue and Recovery
Residents of Cove Neck immediately called emergency services. Jeff Race, a paramedic and member of New York City's Emergency Medical Service who lived half a mile from the crash site was the first rescuer on site. He reported that most passengers were still strapped in their seats and the survivors were crying out for help. Survivors later commented that it took about half an hour for rescue teams to arrive. Initial reports to emergency services reported that a much larger Boeing 747 had crashed. Fire Chief Thomas Reardon of Oyster Bay Fire Company No. 1 was in command of passenger extrication at the crash site. He requested all the help available when he called into the Nassau County Fire Commission dispatch. Thirty-seven fire and ambulance companies as well as more than 700 Nassau County police officers arrived to help. Other companies that were not called showed up voluntarily to assist. The swell of support created major problems for extricating survivors.
The crash was only accessible to vehicles via a single residential street. With the surge of rescue personnel who converged on the area, the roads leading to the site soon became choked with traffic. Emergency vehicle drivers abandoned their vehicles counter to established policy in the course of the rescue efforts. This prevented other vehicles from being able to access the crash area. The road was so impassible, many rescue workers left their vehicles miles away and made it to the scene on foot. Fog also grounded rescue helicopters for two hours. As a result, many critically-injured survivors were not evacuated until 23:30. Eventually, four helicopters from the New York City Police Aviation Unit evacuated 21 people from the crash site. There were also major problems with communication by rescuers. Radio frequencies became overloaded and authorities on site were unable to make command decisions in some cases. The head of surgery for the Nassau County Medical Center was present at the scene but unable to direct patients to the best locations because many rescuers were radioing the center itself to get advice on where they should send the survivors. Medical professionals on site reported that some hospitals received the most up-to-date information by watching the news coverage. Despite these problems, however, only three of the passengers found alive died of their injuries.
Rescue workers set up two triage areas on the lawn of John and Katy McEnroe, the parents of John McEnroe. A morgue and command post was also set up on their property, which was 500 ft from the crash site. Firefighters and medics erected ladders next to the airframe wreckage and led passengers down on stretchers and to the triage sites. At these sites, doctors tagged the critically-injured patients for immediate evacuation. At least 30 bodies were gathered on the makeshift morgue at the McEnroe property by 03:00 the following morning. Some medical responders were turned away from the scene by police to help ease the congestion. By 03:30, all the survivors had been evacuated to hospitals. Throughout the evacuation, priests were on site, offering encouragement, assisting medical personnel, and performing last rites. At least one emergency responder was hospitalized as a result of the rescue efforts. Many local New York residents showed up at hospitals with food, blankets, or to volunteer as Spanish interpreters. The New York Blood Center reported collecting 2,000 units of blood, almost triple their goal.
Of the 158 people on board, 73 died in the crash or as a result of their injuries. Only one of the crew, a steward, survived the crash. Of the 74 surviving non-infant passengers, 72 sustained serious injuries.
The adult passengers on the Medellin-New York segment consisted of 61 males and 61 females. Sixteen children between 3 and 15 years of age, including eight males and eight females, flew on this segment. Of the surviving passengers, 80 suffered serious injuries and four sustained minor injuries. Of the passengers indicated by the NTSB map to have been assigned to first class (Rows 4 and 5), one survived.
During the course of medical treatment, two surviving male passengers were found to have condoms filled with cocaine in their intestines. They were both charged with drug offenses. 
Cause and investigation
The NTSB's report on the accident determined the cause as pilot error due to the crew never declaring a fuel emergency to air traffic control as per International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines. A contributing factor was the lack of a standardized terminology for pilots and controllers for minimum and emergency fuel states. The crew asked for a "priority" landing which, because of language differences between English and Spanish, could be interpreted as an emergency to Spanish-speaking pilots but not to English-speaking air traffic controllers. This may have caused some confusion amongst the pilots when ATC confirmed their priority status. The NTSB investigation also found that ATC services were inadequate in several areas although these were not considered causal. The Washington controller failed to inform the flight crew of additional holding and during handover the JFK controller failed to forward the remark by the flight crew regarding their fuel situation to the new controller. He had also failed to transmit the latest wind shear information, which could have alerted the crew to possible difficulties in landing. Avianca Airlines sued the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the actions of the air traffic controllers, who they felt were negligent in misunderstanding the pilots' reports. The FAA countered, stating that the crew never declared a fuel emergency until the final minutes before the crash and had never reported the amount of fuel they had left when asking for a priority landing, making it impossible for air traffic controllers to give them correct priority status.
Further from the NTSB report: "There was no flight following or interaction with the Avianca Airlines dispatcher for AVA052 following takeoff from Medellin ...Contributing to the accident was the flight crew's failure to use an airline operational control dispatch system to assist them during the international flight into a high-density airport in poor weather." This accident, along with Hapag-Lloyd Airlines Flight 3378, has been used as an example of why airlines in all countries should always have flight dispatchers proactively following flights, as required in the U.S. by Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 121.
After some deliberations, a settlement was reached in which the United States paid for around 40% of the settlements with the passengers and their families; the rest was paid by Avianca.
Following Flight 52, air traffic controllers were more conservative in determining if Avianca flights were running low on fuel and required priority landing. On June 22, 1990, a Boeing 727 was immediately cleared to land when the pilot declared a minimum fuel situation. In another instance, on August 4, 1990, controllers declared a fuel emergency for the pilot due to confusion over the remaining fuel. The jet landed with two more flying hours to spare.
The story of the disaster was featured on the second season of Canadian National Geographic Channel show Mayday. The episode was the fifth of the second season and is entitled "Deadly Delay" or "Missing Over New York" depending on the country in which it is airing. This story was also featured on the MSNBC episode Human Error of its Why Planes Crash series.
In popular culture
- The NTSB Report does not identify the crew by name but lists their birthdates and employment information. Initial news reports that identified the crew by name gave incorrect ages for all three flight crewmen. Some news sources give the flight engineer's name as 'Matias Moyano Rojas' and the pilot's name as 'Laureano Caviedes Hoyos' while others omit the final surnames.
- The NTSB Report noted that Avianca did not record the instrument time for any of the crewmen.
- 'Block fuel' is a term that describes the totality of trip burn fuel, reserve fuel, taxi fuel, and planned and unplanned contingency fuel.
- The NTSB Report notes that flight log recovered at the accident scene recorded the aircraft as carrying 80,000 lbs of fuel at Medellín. Other documents recorded a fuel gauge sum of 82,000 lbs.
- The flight was cleared to climb in the vicinity of the URSUS intersection at approximately and was already at 37,000 ft by the time the aircraft crossed the ADOOR intersection at approximately .
- DIXON is located at approximately .
- BOTON is located at approximately .
- CAMRN is located at approximately .
- "Expect further clearance" (EFC) is an air traffic control command used, in part, to communicate a clearance limit or to announce additional holding delays.
- 180 knots (210 mph)
- Avianca Flight 52 would be following instrument flight rules for landing. 'Two two left' is JFK runway 22L.
- Deer Park (DPK) is a navigational aid located approximately at .
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 21.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 22.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 14.
- NTSB Staff 1991, pp. 14-18.
- Phillips 1990.
- Weiner 1990.
- Malnic 1990.
- Milton 1990.
- NTSB Staff 1991, pp. 1-2.
- NTSB Staff 1991, pp. 22-27.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 184.
- FAA 2014.
- NTSB Staff 1991, ATC Transcript.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 6.
- NTSB Staff 1991, 1.7 Meteorological Information.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 7.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 9.
- NTSB Staff 1991, pp. 10-11.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 12.
- NTSB Staff 1991, Appendix B: CVR Transcript.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 13.
- NTSB Staff 1991, 1.12 Wreckage and Impact Information.
- Winerip 1990.
- McFadden 1990.
- Saslow 1990b.
- NTSB Staff 1991, 1.15.1 Rescue.
- Schmitt 1990a.
- Saslow 1990a.
- Schmitt 1990b.
- NTSB Staff 1991, p. 15.
- NTSB Staff 1991, 2.9 Survivability.
- Cushman, John H. Jr. (February 5, 1990). "Avianca Flight 52: The Delays That Ended in Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
- "Avianca Flight 52 survivor charged with drug possession". Kentucky New Era. Associated Press. January 30, 1990. Retrieved 2015-01-25.
- Weiner, Eric (August 4, 1990). "Fuel Emergency For Avianca Jet Said Premature". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
- NTSB Aircraft Accident Report AAR-91-04 (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. 30 April 1991. Retrieved 23 February 2015.
- Phillips, Don (27 January 1990). "Colombian Airliner May Have Run Out of Fuel". The Washington Post. p. A01.
- Weiner, Eric (28 January 1990). "THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 52; Pilots Say Fuel Gauges on 707's Often Provide Inaccurate Readings". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Malnic, Eric (22 June 1990). "Avianca Pilot Disputes Need to Use Specific Emergency Terms". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
- Order JO 7110.65V. Federal Aviation Administration. 3 April 2014. ch.4, sec. 6, subsec. 1 "Clearance to Holding Fix", line "c".
- Winerip, Michael (27 January 1990). "THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 52; No Warning From Cockpit, Survivors From Flight 52 Say". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- McFadden, Robert (27 January 1990). "THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 52; Toll at 72 in L.I. Air Crash; 89 Survive". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Saslow, Linda (7 October 1990b). "Avianca Crash Leaves Questions on Response". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Schmitt, Eric (27 January 1990a). "THE CRASH OF FLIGHT 52; Fog on a Narrow Road: Rescue Was an Ordeal". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 March 2015.
- Milton, Pat (31 January 1990). "Avianca Pilot Mourned While Investigators Leave NY". Associated Press. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Schmitt, Eric (12 February 1990b). "Faulty Communication Hindered Flight 52 Rescue, a Report Says". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Saslow, Linda (4 February 1990a). "At the Crash Scene, Disbelief, Disarray, Then Cooperation". The New York Times. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
- Air disaster.com pictures of the crash site
- For Some, No Escape From L.I. Jet Crash
- Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript