Plane & Pilot
Monday, November 1, 2004

Learning From A Heavy-Iron Accident

Lessons gleaned from the big birds can teach us how to become safer pilots

According to the CVR, about 5:24:23, the captain stated, “Runway 9. PAPI on the left side. I don’t know, you want to try for nine?”
The first officer responded, “We’re pointed in the right direction. I don’t know. Like you said, it’s a long taxi back.”

The captain said, “Yeah, that would be all right.”

Consistent with FedEx policy, the flight engineer then asked the captain and first officer if they wanted to perform the approach checklist. At 5:28:26, the first officer asked, “We ever decide if we’re going nine or two-seven?”

The captain responded, “Yeah, we can do nine if you want to.”

The first officer said, “Okay, runway 9 visual. Runway 9 PAPI on the left side. Approach check.”

At 5:29:53, the captain asked the first officer if he wanted to tell the
controller that they had TLH in sight. The first officer responded, “Yeah. I don’t see the runway yet, but I’ve got the beacon.”

The captain told the controller that they had the airport in sight at 5:30:00. The controller cleared the pilots for the visual approach into TLH and asked if they were aware that runway 18/36 was closed. The captain responded, “No sir, but we’re going to use runway 9.” Notification of the closure had been included in the paperwork the flight crew received before departure.

At 5:30:32, the CVR recorded sounds that were similar to a microphone being keyed five times within 1.3 seconds. Seven seconds later, the captain issued an advisory call to any traffic at Tallahassee. The first officer indicated that he thought he saw the runway at 5:30:56, later adding, “I hope I’m looking in the right spot here.”

The captain responded, “See that group of bright lights kind of to the south down there and the beacon in the middle of it? Right over there. You’re on about a 10-mile left base or so.”

The first officer then indicated that he had been “looking at the wrong flashing light.” A FedEx captain who regularly flies the MEM to TLH route told investigators that a power plant located a few miles north of TLH has a slow white strobe light that’s frequently mistaken for the airport’s rotating beacon. He also said that the green light of the TLH rotating beacon is “very hard to distinguish as green. It’s very faint.”

The CVR indicated that at 5:35:42, the captain gave a radio call on the common traffic advisory frequency advising TLH traffic that flight 1478 was turning onto final for runway 9. The flight engineer then began the before-landing checklist.


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