Pilot error clue in Colombia air crash

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The Independent Online
Bogota (Reuter) - The pilot of a US airliner which crashed in Colombia last week gunned the engines and lifted its nose in an attempt to avoid ploughing into a mountain, but failed to release brakes that had been applied in a pre-landing procedure, Colombia's Civil Aviation Authority said yesterday.

It also said 167 people were believed to have been aboard the American Airlines flight from Miami to Cali, and not 164 as previously reported. Only four people survived.

The statement was based on information from the flight recorder, which shows that alarms went off in the Boeing 757 moments before it crashed into San Jose mountain on 20 December, four minutes before it was scheduled to land.

Three alarms signalled the plane was dangerously close to a land mass nine seconds before the crash; two seconds later the pilot gunned the engines and pulled its nose up but failed to release "speed brakes" applied earlier in preparation for the landing.

The statement did not say whether the pilot would have averted the crash if the brakes had been released, or if that would have given him enough power to skim over the top of the mountain, where the aircraft crashed and broke up. Neither did it say why the plane was 12 miles off course in a dangerous mountain corridor. The statement notes, however, that the aircraft, on automatic pilot, banked left and flew east towards the mountain, where it went down for about 90 seconds before the disaster. This prompted the crew to change the automatic pilot's direction selector and initiate a corrective south-westerly course.