Air Algérie Flight 6289
7T-VEZ, the aircraft involved in the accident, seen here on 29 August 1999
|Date||6 March 2003|
|Summary||Engine failure on take-off|
|Site||Tamanrasset, Tamanrasset Province, Algeria|
|Aircraft type||Boeing 737-200|
|Aircraft name||Monts du Daia|
|Flight origin||Tamanrasset Airport, Tamanrasset, Algeria|
|Destination||Noumérat – Moufdi Zakaria Airport, Ghardaia, Algeria|
Air Algérie Flight 6289, was a scheduled domestic passenger flight, operated with a Boeing 737-200 which was departing from the southern Algerian city of Tamanrasset for Ghardaia and Algiers. On 6 March 2003, the Boeing 737-200 stalled and crashed near the runway, killing all but one of the 102 people on board.
Witnesses recalled that one of its engines exploded and caught fire just seconds after take off. The landing gear was still extended when this happened. It then rose sharply and stalled. The final report concluded that the cause of the crash was due to engine failure on take-off. This was aggravated by the Captain's decision to take over control without understanding the situation and subsequent miscommunication between the Captain and the First Officer.
The accident was the deadliest plane crash to occur on Algerian soil, until being surpassed by the Algerian Air Force Il-76 crash in 2018. It was also Air Algérie's deadliest plane crash, until it was surpassed 11 years later by Air Algérie Flight 5017, a McDonnel Douglas MD-83 which crashed in Mali killing all 116 people on board.
Aircraft and timeline
The aircraft involved was a Boeing 737-2T4, registered VT-VEZ, that was manufactured in June 1982 and was delivered in December of that year to the airline. It had flown more than 70,000 hours prior to the crash. At that time of the crash, the airline had 4 737-200s active, along with the 12 other B737-600/800 planes.
On Thursday 6 March 2003, the Boeing 737 registered 7T-VEZ, operated by Air Algérie, was taking off from Tamanrasset to undertake, with a three-hour delay, scheduled flight DAH 6289 to Ghardaïa and Algiers. Six crew members (two flight crew and four cabin crew) and 97 passengers were on board. The co-pilot was pilot flying (PF). No technical exemptions or deferred maintenance items applied to the airplane; on departure from Algiers it had been subject to routine maintenance for a minor technical problem, a hydraulic pump having been changed in the circuit B landing gear bay.
The speeds decided on by the crew were V1 = 144 kn (267 km/h; 166 mph), VR = 146 kn (270 km/h; 168 mph), V2 = 150 kn (280 km/h; 170 mph). The EPR displayed was 2.18, (nominal maximum thrust on take-off).
About five seconds after the airplane left the ground, at the moment when gear retraction was requested, a sharp thumping noise was recorded on the CVR. The airplane’s heading veered to the left, followed by a track correction. The Captain announced that he was taking over the controls. A short time later, the co-pilot told the control tower “we have a small problem”. The airplane continued to climb and reached a recorded height of about 400 ft (120 m).
The speed dropped progressively from 160 kn (300 km/h; 180 mph) during lift-off, to stall speed at the end of the recording. In fact, about ten seconds before the crash, the noise of the stick shaker is heard on the CVR (which usually indicates that the airplane is 7% from its stall speed). The aural warning, which normally indicates a radar altitude below 200 ft (61 m), appeared about six seconds before the end of the recording.
The airplane, with landing gear extended, struck the ground on its right side. A severe fire broke out immediately. The airplane slid along, losing various parts, struck and knocked over the airport perimeter fence then crossed a road before coming to a halt in flames. An alert was immediately sounded by the control tower.
All but one of the 97 passengers and all of the six crew members perished, a total of 102 people. The sole survivor of the accident was 28-year-old Youcef Djillali, who was found in a coma with multiple injuries. However, he regained consciousness the next day. Doctors said that his injuries were not life-threatening.
Passengers and crew
The Captain was a 48-year-old male with 10,760 hours 10 min total flying hours, of which 1,087 hours 46 min were on type as Captain; the Captain also flew on Boeing 767s as co-pilot. In this role, he had also flown 31 hours 57 min over the previous thirty days.
The co-pilot was a 44-year-old female. She had 5,219 hours 10 min total flying hours, of which 1,292 hours 42 min were on the Boeing 737.
Investigators checked the fuel load, weight and balance of the aircraft before flight, with no anomalies.
Ground witnesses stated that just after taking off, a strange noise was heard which resembled explosion. A ground engineer gave the following statement:
"I was on the parking lot and I saw the plane take off on runway 02. Just after take-off, the aircraft swerved slightly to the left, then righted itself on the track and at that moment I noticed that the aircraft was losing speed and altitude, still with its landing gear down, until the moment of the crash, when there was a total explosion.”
A controller in the tower gave this statement:
“DAH 6389 B732 IMMAT: 7T-VEZ asked to be cleared for take off 1402GMT. At 1405 GMT, it was cleared for take off with a temperature of 23°, QNH: 1019.Cleared by ALGER CCR to initial FL280, just after the takeoff from runway 02 (1405) a kind of explosion was heard, the alarm was immediately activated, the pilot said we have a small problem. . . the plane began to fall and crashed near the threshold of runway 20; the emergency plan was immediately activated as planned. 1) Aerodrome rescue services at 1415. 2) Civil services at 1416. 3) Hospital just afterwards. Then the rest of the services mentioned in the emergency plan.”
During this phase, there was a sharp nose-up pitch attitude change, with the aircraft at low altitude, seeming to be losing speed. It then dived with a slight angle to the right and crashed. The landing gear was extended.
Investigators found a part of an aircraft's engine on the runway and started an examination of the aircraft's engines.
Examination of the engines
Investigators examined engine debris from the wreckage, transporting both of the airplane's engines and their principal accessories to Brussels for examination at a specialized SNECMA laboratory. There they were torn down, showing no evidence of uncontained failures and no indication of fire. However, the rotating parts of the cold section of both engines showed deformations, significant on the right engine, less so on the left engine. This means that at the moment of impact with the ground, the left was rotating at a lower rpm, developing less thrust. The hot section of the left engine also had damaged components, corresponding to those found on the runway.
The hot section of the right engine also had some damage, though not consistent with foreign object damage (FOD). Additionally, fuel injectors were found in good condition, flame tubes showed no sign of overheating. However, cracks on the blades were revealed as the examination continued.
The examination of the left engine and the debris found on the runway showed that the problem stemmed from the HP turbine, which was destroyed, causing a loss of power and sharp drop in engine rotation speed. The crash damage to the blades confirmed a slow rate of engine rotation at the moment of impact.
Crew resource management
Investigators noted the lack of preparedness on the part of the aircrew and the unsuitability of the rocky ground near the airfield for emergency landings. The lack of co-ordination between the pilots at the moment when tasks were transferred meant the Captain had to manage an emergency situation, which he had not had time to analyse completely. For the same reasons, he did not rely on the co-pilot, whom he simply asked on several occasions to let go (of the controls). He likely encountered some problems in taking over control, given that he repeated the terms “let go” and “take your hand off”, this continuing until the end of the recording. The co-pilot appears to have carried out the Captain’s orders by reading back in the affirmative and indicating her willingness to act (proposal to retract the gear, radio message to the tower with the hand mike) though without being sure of the role she was supposed to play. This may, for example, have resulted in her placing her hands on the control column at the time of the stall warning alarms, which would explain the repeated requests from the Captain. She was thus not fully carrying out her role as PNF and did not monitor or at least call out the speeds as they were decreasing. The co-pilot’s offer to retract the gear was probably not even noticed by the Captain, due to his sudden excess workload.
According to the airline’s procedures, the initial climb on one engine should be performed with the gear retracted, maintaining safety speed at V2 until the safety altitude. However, the landing gear was never retracted. With the conditions on the day of the accident. Calculations and simulations performed by investigators show that it would have been difficult, or even impossible, to maintain a positive rate of climb. As the altitude continued to increase the airspeed inevitably dropped below safe limits for that configuration.
The Captain took over the flight controls in a critical situation while he was out of the loop with regard to flying. This probably led him to focus on a pitch attitude that was incompatible with one failed engine. His decision to take over the controls made it impossible for him to develop and supervise a strategy to adopt for the conduct of the flight.
The left engine failure coincided with the co-pilot’s request to retract the landing gear and disrupted that action. The co-pilot mentioned retracting the gear again but, at that moment, the task-sharing had been reversed. It was up to the Captain to ask for gear retraction. In the end, the gear remained extended until the impact.
The airplane’s aerodynamic performance subsequently deteriorated rapidly, especially as a result of the non-retraction of the gear, which added to the effect of maintaining a high pitch attitude. In addition, it should be emphasized that the high altitude of the aerodrome and the high temperature on the day, as well as a take-off weight close to the maximum also contributed to limiting the airplane’s performance. During the initial climb, the high pitch attitude and the yaw induced by the failure of the left engine (which had the effect of increasing the drag at a critical moment), added to the factors previously mentioned.
The high pitch attitude and loss of speed put the airplane in a stall situation. About fourteen seconds after the noise and the “gear up” callout, the stick shaker began to operate intermittently, then continuously, until the end of the recording. The “don’t sink” aural warning told the crew that the airplane was dropping. The pitch attitude was apparently maintained until impact with the ground, as examination of the site showed. On the wreckage, the horizontal stabilizer trim was found in the position for a normal takeoff, which tends to support this hypothesis.
The final report was published with the following:
“The accident was caused by the loss of an engine during a critical phase of flight, the non-retraction of the landing gear after the engine failure, and the Captain, the PNF, taking over control of the airplane before having clearly identified the problem.”
The following factors probably contributed to the accident:
- the perfunctory flight preparation, which meant that the crew were not equipped to face the situation that occurred at a critical moment of the flight;
- the coincidence between the moment the failure occurred and the request to retract the landing gear;
- the speed of the event that left the crew little time to recover the situation;
- maintaining an inappropriate rate of climb, taking into account the failure of one engine;
- the absence of any teamwork after the engine failure, which led to a failure to detect and correct parameters related to the conduct of the flight (speed, rate of climb, configuration, etc.);
- the takeoff weight being close to the maximum with a high aerodrome altitude and high temperature;
- the rocky environment around the aerodrome, unsuitable for an emergency landing.
- List of accidents and incidents involving commercial aircraft
- LOT Flight 7
- LOT Flight 5055
- United Airlines Flight 232
- Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 737-2T4 7T-VEZ Tamanrasset Airport (TMR)". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
- CNN, By Faith Karimi and Laura Smith-Spark. "Air Algerie crash: 'Disintegrated' plane found in Mali - CNN.com". CNN. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
- "7T-VEZ". www.bea.aero. Retrieved 2017-04-09.
- Tamanrasset : 102 mortsdont 6 Français." (Archive) Le Nouvel Observateur. 11 March 2003. Retrieved on 31 December 2013.
- "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 737-2T4 7T-VEZ Tamanrasset Airport (TMR)". Aviation Safety Network. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 20 July 2013.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network
- Algerian Ministry of Transport