Flash Airlines Flight 604
|Date||3 January 2004|
Unresolved (dispute between investigators)
near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-3Q8|
|Flight origin||Sharm el-Sheikh Int'l Airport
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
|Stopover||Cairo International Airport
|Destination||Charles de Gaulle Int'l Airport
Flash Airlines Flight 604 was a charter flight operated by Egyptian charter company Flash Airlines. On 3 January 2004, the Boeing 737-300 crashed into the Red Sea shortly after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, killing all 135 passengers, most of them French tourists, and all 13 crew members. The findings of the crash investigation are controversial, with accident investigators from the different countries involved not agreeing on the cause.
Flight 604's death toll is the highest of any aviation accident in Egypt. It is also the highest of any accident involving a Boeing 737-300.
History of the flight
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (June 2009)|
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-3Q8, had originally been delivered to TACA Airlines in 1992. Other operators included Color Air, Egypt-based Mediterranean Airlines, and the prior corporate identity of Flash Airlines, Heliopolis Airlines.
The flight took off at 04:42 local time (Eastern European Time) (02:42 GMT) from runway 22R at the Egyptian resort en route to Paris via Cairo. After taking off, the aircraft should have climbed and initiated a left turn to follow the air corridor to Cairo designated by the Sharm el-Sheikh VOR station. The captain appeared surprised when the autopilot was engaged, which he immediately switched off again. The copilot warned the captain that the bank angle was increasing. At a bank angle of 40 degrees to the right, the captain said "OK, come out". The ailerons were briefly returned to a neutral before being commanded to increase the bank to the right. The aircraft reached an altitude of 5,460 feet (1,660 m) with a 50 degrees bank when the copilot exclaimed "Overbank!" repeatedly when the bank angle kept increasing. The bank angle was 111 degrees right, while the pitch attitude was 43 degrees nose down at an altitude of 3,470 feet (1,060 m). The observer on the flight deck, also a pilot, but a trainee on this type of aircraft, shouted "Retard power, retard power, retard power!". Both throttles were moved to idle; the captain appeared to regain control of the airplane from the nose-down, right bank attitude. However the speed increased, causing an overspeed warning. At 04:45, the aircraft impacted the water about 9.4 statute miles (15.2 km; 8.2 nmi) south of the airport. The impact occurred while the aircraft was in a 24 degree right bank, 24 degree nose-down attitude, travelling at 416 knots (770 km/h), or 478.724 miles per hour, and pulling 3.9g (38 m/s²). All passengers and crew were killed on impact.
Charles de Gaulle Airport initially indicated the Flash Airlines flight as delayed; authorities began notifying relatives and friends of the deaths of the passengers two hours after the scheduled arrival time. Authorities took relatives and friends to a hotel, where they received a list of passengers confirmed to be on the flight. Marc Chernet, president of the victims' families association of Flight 604, described the disaster as the "biggest air disaster involving French nationals" in civil aviation.
Passengers and crew
|Passenger and crew nationalities|
Khadr Abdullah (referred to as Mohammed Khedr in a Times Online article) was the captain. He was 53 years of age and was a highly respected pilot with almost 7,500 flight hours under his belt. Amr Shaafei served as the first officer. He was 25 years old with fewer than 800 hours of flying experience. Ashraf Abdelhamid, who also held Canadian and U.S. citizenship, was training as a first officer and had experience flying corporate jets; he sat in the cockpit with the pilot and copilot.
Most of the passengers were French tourists who originated from the Paris area. A provisional passenger list dated 5 January 2004 stated that twelve entire French families had boarded the flight. Members of seventeen families appeared at Charles de Gaulle Airport to take passengers from the flight; this fact gave the airport staff indication that entire families died on Flight 604.
Initially, it was thought that terrorists might have been involved, as fear of aviation terrorism was high (with several major airlines in previous days canceling flights on short notice). The British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, was also vacationing in the Sharm el-Sheikh area. A group in Yemen said that it destroyed the aircraft as a protest against a new law in France banning headscarves in schools. Accident investigators dismissed terrorism when they discovered that the wreckage was in a tight debris field, indicating that the aircraft crashed in one piece; a bombed aircraft would disintegrate and leave a large debris field.
The wreckage sank to a depth of 1,000 m (3,300 ft), making recovery of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder difficult. However two weeks after the accident, both devices were located by a French salvage vessel and recovered by a ROV. The accident investigators examined the recorders while in Cairo. The maintenance records of the aircraft had not been duplicated; they were destroyed in the crash and no backup copies existed.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) investigated the accident, with assistance from the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA).
The NTSB and the BEA concluded that the pilot suffered spatial disorientation, and the copilot was unwilling to challenge his more experienced superior. Furthermore, according to the NTSB and BEA, both officers were insufficiently trained. The NTSB stated that the cockpit voice recorder showed that 24 seconds passed after the airliner banked before the pilot began corrective maneuvers. Egyptian authorities disagreed with this assessment, attributing the cause to mechanical issues. Shaker Kelada, the lead Egyptian investigator, said that if Hamid, who had more experience than the copilot, detected any problems with the flight, he would have raised objections. Some media reports suggest that the plane crashed due to technical problems, possibly a result of the apparently questionable safety record of the airline. This attitude was shown in a press briefing given by the BEA chief, who was berated by the first officer's mother during a press conference, and demanded that the crew be absolved of fault prior to the completion of the investigation. Two months after the crash Flash Airlines went bankrupt.
U.S. Summary Comments on Draft Final Report of Aircraft Accident Flash Airlines flight 604, Boeing 737-300, SU-ZCF January 3, 2004, Red Sea near Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Quote from page 5 of 7:
"Distraction. A few seconds before the captain called for the autopilot to be engaged, the airplane’s pitch began increasing and airspeed began decreasing. These deviations continued during and after the autopilot engagement/disengagement sequence. The captain ultimately allowed the airspeed to decrease to 35 knots below his commanded target airspeed of 220 knots and the climb pitch to reach 22°, which is 10° more than the standard climb pitch of about 12°. During this time, the captain also allowed the airplane to enter a gradually steepening right bank, which was inconsistent with the flight crew’s departure clearance to perform a climbing left turn. These pitch, airspeed and bank angle deviations indicated that the captain directed his attention away from monitoring the attitude indications during and after the autopilot disengagement process. Changes in the autoflight system’s mode status offer the best explanation for the captain’s distraction. The following changes occurred in the autoflight system’s mode status shortly before the initiation of the right roll: (1) manual engagement of the autopilot, (2) automatic transition of roll guidance from heading select to control wheel steering-roll (CWS-R), (3) manual disengagement of the autopilot, and (4) manual reengagement of heading select for roll guidance. The transition to the CWS-R mode occurred in accordance with nominal system operation because the captain was not closely following the flight director guidance at the time of the autopilot engagement. The captain might not have expected the transition, and he might not have understood why it occurred. The captain was probably referring to the mode change from command mode to CWS-R when he stated, “see what the aircraft did?,” shortly after it occurred. The available evidence indicates that the unexpected mode change and the flight crew’s subsequent focus of attention on reestablishing roll guidance for the autoflight system were the most likely reasons for the captain’s distraction from monitoring the attitude".
Problems associated with the complexity of autopilot systems were documented in the June 2008 issue of Aero Safety World. Before the completion of the investigation, Avionics writer David Evans suggested that differences in instrumentation between the MiG-21 (with which the captain had experience) and the Boeing 737 may have contributed to the crash.
The story of the disaster was featured on the fourth season of Canadian National Geographic Channel show Mayday (known as Air Emergency in the US and Air Crash Investigation in the rest of world). The episode is entitled "Vertigo".
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- "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 12 August 2008.
- "FACTUAL REPORT OF INVESTIGATION OF ACCIDENT Flash Airlines flight 604 January 3, 2004 Boeing 737-300 SU-ZCF Red Sea off Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt." (PDF). Egyptian Ministry of Civil Aviation.
- Websterm, Paul (4 January 2004). "Families of air crash victims fly to Egypt". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2009.
- "Desperate Dive". Mayday [documentary TV series].
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- Lichfield, John (5 January 2004). "Twelve entire families named among Red Sea crash victims as Swiss reveal airline safety fears". The Independent. Retrieved 14 January 2009.
- "Des familles entières ont péri dans le crash de l`avion égyptien". CAMEROUN LINK: Le portail du Cameroun (in French). 5 January 2004.
- "Flash Airlines flight 604". National Transportation Safety Board.
- "Accident on 3 January 2004 off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh". BEA.
- Final Report of the Accident Investigation: Flash Airlines flight 604. Ministry of Civil Aviation. p. 1171.
- Sparaco, P. (10 April 2006). "Safety First, Always". Aviation Week & Space Technology.
- "NTSB comments on ECAA Draft Final Report -- Summary Letter" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board.
- Rosenkrans, Wayne (June 2008). "Autoflight Audit" (PDF). AeroSafety World (Flight Safety Foundation) 3 (6): 30–35.
- Evans, David (1 July 2005). "Safety: Mode Confusion, Timidity Factors". Avionics Magazine.
|Photographs of the airliner at Airliners.net|
- Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority: Flash Accident Final Report
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile
- BBC News Online coverage
- CNN article
- Crews find Egyptian plane crash 'black box'