UTAGE Flight 141
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|Date||25 December 2003|
|Summary||Failure to take off due to aircraft overload as a result of pilot error|
|Site||Cotonou Airport, Cotonou, Benin |
|Aircraft type||Boeing 727-223|
|Operator||Union des Transports Aériens de Guinée (UTAGE)|
|Flight origin||Conakry International Airport, Conakry, Guinea|
|1st stopover||Cotonou Airport, Cotonou, Benin|
|2nd stopover||Kufra Airport, Kufra, Libya|
|Last stopover||Rafic Hariri Int'l Airport, Beirut, Lebanon|
|Destination||Dubai International Airport, Dubai, United Arab Emirates|
|Survivors||22 (initially 35)|
UTAGE Flight 141 was a chartered international passenger flight operated by Guinean regional airline Union des Transports Aériens de Guinée, flying from Cotonou Airport in Benin's capital Cotonou to Kufra Airport in Kufra, Libya. On 25 December (Christmas Day) 2003 the aircraft crashed in the Bight of Benin, killing 141 people, most of them Lebanese. Shortly after the crash, 35 survivors were found by a search and rescue team. Some of them were pronounced dead upon reaching the hospital.
The final report, which was published by France's Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile, concluded that the crash occurred due to airplane overload, as the plane's actual weight exceeded its maximum weight capacity, thus decreasing its performance, especially when taking off. Flight 141 did take off, but because it took too long for it to achieve altitude, the plane hit a localizer building and plunged to the ocean. The report also blamed the airport's lack of facilities.
This was the 100th aviation accident involving the Boeing 727. Currently, it is held as the deadliest plane crash in Benin's aviation history and the 11th deadliest accident involving the Boeing 727.
Aircraft and crew
All three flight crew members had previously flown for Libyan Arab Airlines and had their first flight with the airline on the exact same date: 8 December 2003
The captain was an unnamed 49-year-old male who had his first flight with the airline on 8 Deceber 2003. He had 11,000 flight hours, including 8,000 hours on the Boeing 727. The first officer was also an unnamed 49-year-old male who's flight information was not stated in the report. The flight engineer was an unnamed 45-year-old male who had 14,000 flight hours, all of which were on the Boeing 727.:10–12
As the plane was being boarded, the situation became very chaotic as many passengers boarded at the last minute and we’re not sitting down. Eventually order was restored in the cabin and the flight was cleared for takeoff.
The aircraft started its takeoff roll with the first officer as the pilot flying and the captain as the pilot monitoring. After reaching V1 speed, the pilots attempted to rotate the plane to get it airborne by pulling back on the control column, but the plane did not respond. After applying more force the plane finally lifted off the runway but it then hit a localizer building at the end of the runway and lost altitude before hitting the ground and breaking up.
Emergency crews responded quickly but were hampered by poor coordination and a large crowd of onlookers surrounding the accident site.
As the accident happened on Christmas Day, many of the passengers were workers who were flying back home to Lebanon to enjoy the holidays with their families. Over a hundred of the passengers were Lebanese, while the rest of them were from Togo, Guinea, Libya, Sierra Leone, Palestine, Syria, Nigeria, and Iran. Among the passengers were 15 Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers returning from their duties in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
Exact passenger numbers are impossible to determine, as it is thought that there were more passengers aboard than were listed on the manifest.:7
The accident was investigated by the Republic of Benin with the BEA of France providing support.
Examination of the wreckage revealed no evidence of mechanical failure with the planes flight controls or engines.
Investigators discovered that the pilots were provided with inadequate information on the planes weight and balance and that they were unaware of the planes actual weight. Investigators determined that the plane was likely very overweight and that it’s center of gravity was dangerously far forward. This likely affected the planes ability to get airborne. The high runway temperatures on the day of the accident also affected the aircraft performance.
Investigators tried to determine why the pilots would have attempted to takeoff in such circumstances. It was discovered that the airline provided very limited support to the crew and that many of the available company manuals and documents were either inaccurate or poorly designed. Investigators also found that many company management personnel lacked adequate knowledge, organization, and competence to operate these types of flights. It was also found that there was a growing need for air routes throughout the region as well. Investigators concluded that the lack of a safety culture within the company and the pressures to get the plane to the destination on time, put the flight crew in a stressful situation without the resources to make the correct decision.
The investigation further concluded that the safety oversight by aviation authorities in Africa was inadequate and failed to properly correct the safety deficiencies among the airline.
The investigation also found that the impact with the localizer building contributed to the severity accident and also noted flaws with the emergency response.
As a result of the accident, the investigation recommended better safety oversight of airlines by the aviation authorities in Africa. It also recommended improvements to the airlines weight and balance procedures and its management.
- "Final report Accident on 25 December 2003 at Cotonou Cadjèhoun aerodrome (Benin) to the Boeing 727-223 registered 3X-GDO operated by UTA (Union des Transports Africains)". www.bea.aero. Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 9 June 2009.
- Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 727-223 3X-GDO Cotonou Airport (COO)". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
- Ranter, Harro. "Aviation Safety Network > ASN Aviation Safety Database > Geographical regions > Benin air safety profile". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
- Ranter, Harro. "Aviation Safety Network > ASN Aviation Safety Database > Aircraft type index > Boeing 727". aviation-safety.net. Retrieved 17 October 2019.
- "Survivors of Benin crash arrive home". ABC.
- "Benin air crash dead flown home". BBC.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network (Summary of the French accident investigation)
- Cockpit Voice Recorder transcript and accident summary
- Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'Aviation Civile
- "Accident d'un Boeing 727 à Cotonou le 25 décembre 2003." (in French) (Archive)
- Summary of the English translation of investigation (Archive)
- Original French report (in French) (HTML) (Archive)