Lufthansa Flight 540
The plane involved shortly after delivery to Lufthansa.
|Date||20 November 1974|
|Summary||Design flaw, flight crew error|
|Site||Jomo Kenyatta Int'l Airport
|Aircraft type||Boeing 747-130|
|Flight origin||Frankfurt Airport
Frankfurt, West Germany
|Stopover||Jomo Kenyatta Int'l Airport|
|Destination||Jan Smuts Int'l Airport
Johannesburg, South Africa
Lufthansa Flight 540 was a scheduled commercial flight for Lufthansa operated with a Boeing 747-130, carrying 157 people (140 passengers and 17 crew members). The flight was operating the final segment of its Frankfurt–Nairobi–Johannesburg route. On 20 November 1974 it crashed and caught fire shortly past the runway on takeoff. This was the first fatal accident and third hull loss of a Boeing 747. This was also the third fatal accident involving a wide-body aircraft, after Eastern Air Lines Flight 401 and Turkish Airlines Flight 981.
As the aircraft was making its takeoff from runway 24 at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, the pilots felt a buffeting vibration. The captain continued the ascent and retracted the landing gear. However, as this was being done, the aircraft started to descend and the stall warning system light came on. The aircraft continued to descend and approximately 3,700 feet (1,100 m) from the end of the runway, the 747 grazed bushes and grass. It then struck an elevated access road and broke up. The left wing exploded and fire spread to the fuselage. Of the 157 people aboard, 59 perished (55 passengers and 4 crew members).
The cause of the crash was determined to be a stall caused by the leading edge flaps having been left in retracted position. Without leading edge flaps deployed, the aircraft's stalling angle of attack was much lower, especially at a hot and high airport like Nairobi's with its airport elevation of 5,327 feet (1,624 m). The thinner air at higher altitudes generates less lift and further degrades the aircraft's ability to handle high angles of attack, as well as reducing the thrust provided by the 747's four turbofan engines.
The elevation and temperature at the airport were within the capability of the 747, but only with leading and trailing edge flaps extended. With the leading edge flaps retracted, the aircraft lacked sufficient lift and thrust to continue climbing once out of the ground effect found near the surface. The flight engineer was found to have failed to open the engine bleed air valves as required on the pre-flight checklist. This prevented bleed air from flowing to the 747's pneumatic system and since the leading edge flaps on the 747 are pneumatically driven, kept it from deploying the leading edge flaps for takeoff.
The flight crew was blamed for not performing a satisfactory pre-take-off checklist, but the accident report also faulted the lack of adequate warning systems which could have alerted the crew to the problem. Two previous occurrences of this error had been reported, but in those cases the pilots had been able to recover the aircraft in time. After this third deadly incident, Boeing added systems to warn pilots if such conditions existed prior to takeoff.
As of today, Lufthansa still flies from Frankfurt to Johannesburg, but no longer stops at Nairobi. Also, Lufthansa omitted the "D-ABYB" registration on their new 747-8 aircraft out of respect of the victims of the crash.
Moorhouse, Earl : Wake Up, It's a Crash! The story of the first ever 747-Jet disaster. A survivor's account. London Corgi 1982 ISBN 0-552-11932-6
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Photos of the crashed airliner from AirDisaster.com
- Pre-crash photos of the airliner at airliners.net