Ice 'probable cause' of Heathrow crash-landing

Plane safety requirements did not cover the particular ice problem which probably caused a Boeing 777 to crash-land at Heathrow Airport two years ago as the risk was "unrecognised at that time", an official accident report said today.

The crash of the British Airways 777 on January 17 2008 came after the plane lost power due to a restricted fuel flow to both engines, a final report from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) said.

The AAIB concluded it was probable that the engine fuel flow restriction was caused by a build-up of ice within the fuel system on the flight on which 136 passengers were travelling.

The report said it was also probable that ice had formed within the fuel system from water that occurred naturally in the fuel and when fuel temperatures were at a "sticky range" when ice crystals were most likely to adhere to their surroundings.

The AAIB said: "Certification requirements, with which the aircraft and engine fuel system had to comply, did not take account of this phenomenon as the risk was unrecognised at that time."

The report added that research in the 1950s had identified the problem of ice formation in fuel systems from dissolved or entrained (trapped) water but did not identify the scenario of accumulated ice release and subsequent restriction to fuel flow.

The AAIB concluded that the engine component called the fuel oil heat exchanger on the crashed Boeing was susceptible to restriction where presented with soft ice in a high concentration and with a fuel temperature that was below minus 10C (14F).

The AAIB added there were no published guidelines or tests on the susceptibility of a fuel system to ice.

Having lost power, the BA plane, arriving from Beijing, came down within the airfield boundary at Heathrow but 330 metres short of the paved runway, sliding 372 metres before coming to rest.

The left main landing gear (MLG) collapsed and the right MLG separated from the plane. All the passengers were safely evacuated, with one passenger breaking a leg. All told, 34 passengers and 12 cabin crew suffered minor injuries, mainly to the back and neck.

The report said that the cabin crew, led by Captain Peter Burkill, had become aware of a possible engine thrust problem just 43 seconds from touchdown.

Losing speed, the crew tried to increase engine thrust but there was no response from the engines. With a touchdown short of the runway inevitable, a Mayday call put out three second before touchdown.

There was insufficient time for the flight crew to brief the cabin crew or issue a command for passengers to brace themselves, the report said.

There was no fire but there was a significant fuel leak, while there was also an oxygen leak caused by damage to the passenger oxygen bottles from part of the MLG.

The AAIB said some passengers attempted to retrieve personal items during the evacuation.

On November 28 2008 a Delta Airlines Boeing 777 suffered a similar ice problem while flying over the USA, which prompted an investigation by America's National Transportation Safety Board, with the AAIB having an accredited representative.

In both the BA and Delta incidents the power loss - or "engine rollback" - came when the fuel temperature was minus 22C (minus 7.6F).

Nine safety recommendations were made following the earlier AAIB reports into the BA incident. Boeing and aero engine company Rolls-Royce took steps to prevent the ice phenomenon from re-occurring.

Today, the AAIB made nine further safety recommendations, including some which address plane "crashworthiness" - the ability of an aircraft to withstand an accident.

A British Airways spokesman said: "We welcome this final report. The crew of BA38 did a fantastic job in extremely difficult circumstances. They displayed the highest levels of professionalism and all crew members were awarded the company's highest accolade, the BA safety medal.

"We have given our full support and cooperation throughout the AAIB investigation and recognise that it has been conducted in a thorough and professional manner."

BA added that although there were no specific safety recommendations for the airline, it had worked with the relevant authorities and manufacturers "to ensure that the highest safety levels are maintained".

BA went on: "As with other operators of Boeing 777s powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 800 engines, and in accordance with the safety recommendations to the aviation authorities and manufacturers, we have put in place a number of additional operational procedures and checks since the AAIB investigation began in January 2008 to prevent a recurrence.

"We installed the redesigned fuel oil heat exchangers (FOHEs) on all of our Boeing 777s powered by Trent 800 engines by October 2009. At that stage we lifted the remaining operational procedure that had been put in place as a precaution pending the completion of the redesigned FOHEs.

"Our customers can continue to fly with British Airways safe in the knowledge that our aircraft are operated and maintained to the very highest standards. The safety of our customers and staff is always our over-riding priority and we would never do anything to compromise it."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower