Avianca Flight 52
|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, Colombia. On Thursday January 25, 1990, a Boeing 707-321B registered as HK-2016 operating this flight, crashed into the village of Cove Neck, Long Island, New York after running out of fuel. 8 of the 9 crew members and 65 of the 149 passengers on board were killed.
The flight crew consisted of 51-year-old Captain Laureano Caviedes, 28-year-old First Officer Mauricio Klotz and 44-year-old Flight Engineer Matias Moyano. The captain was highly experienced with a total of 16,787 flight hours. The first officer had 1,837 flight hours and the flight engineer had 10,134 hours.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2009)|
On January 25, 1990, Avianca Flight 52 was much delayed in approaching its destination due to congestion and bad weather. It had been in a holding pattern off the coast near New York for over one hour due to fog and wind interfering with smooth arrivals and departures into John F. Kennedy International Airport. During this hold, the aircraft was exhausting its reserve fuel supply, which would have allowed it to divert to its alternate, Boston, in case of an emergency or other critical situation.
When first put on hold, the crew of Flight 52 thought that they would be landing soon, after a few aircraft also on hold in front of them had landed. The bad weather, wind shear and other factors caused the pilots of these aircraft to abort their landings, and the hold time increased.
73 minutes after entering the hold, New York air traffic control (ATC) asked the crew how long they could continue to hold, to which the first officer replied, "[A]bout five minutes." The first officer then stated that their alternate was Boston, but since they had been holding for so long they would not be able to make it there anymore. Even though Flight 52 had fuel issues, ATC passed the flight to the local controllers and while he did inform the new controller that the plane could only do five more minutes in hold, he also advised that if the local controller could not take the airplane he would request they take the alternate. The NY ATC controller later stated that he did not hear the co-pilot say he could not make the alternate. Unaware there was any urgency to landing this airplane, the local controller accepted the hand off and placed the plane at the end of the landing queue. The delay of the handover may have increased the pilots' stress and fear response, which may have led to less than optimal piloting. Contributing to the stress was fatigue, Avianca 52 had a faulty autopilot requiring the pilots to manually fly the aircraft for the entire flight. The new controller then cleared the aircraft for an approach to runway 22L and informed the flight of wind shear at 1,500 feet (460 m).
As Flight 52 flew the ILS approach, they encountered wind shear at an altitude of less than 500 feet (150 m). As a result, the plane descended below the planned glideslope and almost crashed into the ground short of the runway. The pilots were forced to abandon the landing, even though they knew the plane did not have enough fuel to turn around for another attempt. The crew alerted the controller that they were low on fuel, and in a subsequent transmission stated, "We're running out of fuel, sir." The controller then asked the crew to climb, to which the first officer replied, "No, sir, we're running out of fuel."
Moments later, with the airplane still very close to the ground, the number four engine flamed out, shortly followed by the other three. With the aircraft's main source of electrical power—generators driven off its engines—now gone, automatic load shedding would have caused many nonessential electrical systems to lose power. The cabin thus would have been plunged into darkness. With no engine thrust, the plane lost height. It plunged into the small village of Cove Neck on northern Long Island in Oyster Bay, 15 miles (24 km) from the airport.
The aircraft struck the ground and slid down a hill in the town, splitting into two pieces as it reached the bottom. The impact snapped off the cockpit, which landed over 100 feet (30 m) away in the side of an unoccupied house. 85 people survived the crash with injuries, while 73 passengers and crew died.
The recovery efforts for Flight 52 proved to be difficult since the aircraft had crashed into the hilly, sparsely populated North Shore, making it difficult for emergency crews to reach. This was compounded by the narrow, winding roads that lead into the hamlet. Rescue squads from all over Long Island responded to the crash. The weather conditions and the darkness of night made the search crews' task even more challenging. The first ambulances to arrive performed triage, selecting the most critically injured passengers for transport to area hospitals. But so many other ambulances had arrived that a traffic jam developed, and some rigs were unable to leave the site immediately. Ambulatory passengers walked to other ambulances and arrived at hospitals sooner than critically injured ones.
Passengers and 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 8 males and 8 females, flew on this segment.
Of the surviving passengers, 80 suffered serious injuries and 4 sustained minor injuries. Of the passengers indicated by the NTSB map to have been assigned to first class (Rows 4 and 5), one survived. The NTSB stated that as the airline did not assign all of the filled seats and that some passengers relocated to other seats after boarding, the NTSB could not determine the injuries in relation to precise seating arrangements.
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 claimed language differences between English and Spanish, can 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 alert 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 different countries should always have proactive flight following by flight dispatchers, as required in the U.S. by Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 121.
Many passengers were upset when the FAA stated that it had no responsibility in covering the crash.
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 2 more flying hours to spare. On Feb 3, 2012, a Boeing 747 was cleared to land immediately at London Heathrow Airport after not being able to read the fuel gauges properly. It later emerged that the flight had only taken off 10 minutes earlier and had enough fuel to fly to Singapore. It landed safely.
The story of the disaster was featured on the second season of Canadian National Geographic Channel show Air Emergency. 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 their Why Planes Crash series.
In popular culture
- NTSB Accident Report
- Cushman, John H. Jr. (February 5, 1990). "Avianca Flight 52: The Delays That Ended in Disaster". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
- "Missing over New York." Mayday.
- Langenscheidt's Standard Spanish Dictionary gives 'prioridad' as the straightforward Spanish equivalent of 'priority'. This arguably indicates that, given the similar usage of these words in both English and Spanish, the claim of a resulting misunderstanding would need to rest mainly in supposed procedural, rather than supposed linguistic, differences between air traffic control and the flight crew.
- Weiner, Eric (August 4, 1990). "Fuel Emergency For Avianca Jet Said Premature". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-08-16.
- Air disaster.com pictures of the crash site
- For Some, No Escape From L.I. Jet Crash
- Cockpit Voice Recorder Transcript