A UNITED PARCEL SERVICE Inc (UPS) pilot who said he felt tired was descending too steeply when his plane struck a hillside in Alabama and crashed before dawn last year, according to documents released by US investigators.
Captain Cerea Beal told a fellow UPS pilot within a day of the August 14 flight that “the schedules are killing him and he could not keep this up,” according to records released today at a hearing by the US National Transportation Safety Board.
Pic: AP Photo/Hal Yeager
The NTSB is holding a one-day hearing today into the accident, in which Beal and his co-pilot were killed, about six weeks after cargo airlines were exempted from new US rules to limit the number of hours passenger-airline pilots can fly, particularly late at night.
UPS’s pilots union, the Independent Pilots Association, has lobbied Congress and sued the Federal Aviation Administration to extend the pilot rest rule to include cargo airlines.
Documents and testimony at today’s hearing showed the pilots made several errors as they attempted to touch down at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport’s Runway 18, which is 1,524 metres shorter than the alternate landing strip and lacked an instrument-landing system that guides aircraft on a constant descent.
The longer runway, which was closed for maintenance, reopened a few minutes after the crash.
The documents also raise questions about whether pilots did all they could have done to get proper rest before the fatal flight.
Pic: AP Photo/Butch Dill
Beal, 58, of Matthews, North Carolina, and First Officer Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tennessee, died, according to a release by UPS.
While Fanning went off duty at 6.15am the day before the accident and didn’t report to work until shortly before 9 pm, she could have been asleep no more than 5 1/2 hours, according to an NTSB analysis of her schedule. Hotel and witness records showed she left her room for most of the day, according to the NTSB.
Beal had been off duty for seven days before reporting to work on August 12, according to the records. He had called in sick on August 9 at the same time he was attending a family reunion, according to the records.
UPS concluded after the accident that the pilots’ schedules would have met the new FAA restrictions for pilot rest, even though it wasn’t legally bound to apply them, according to NTSB records.
The company, in a statement distributed at the hearing, cautioned against concluding that the pilots’ work schedules contributed to fatigue. Pilots are responsible for getting adequate rest while off duty, UPS said.
The Airbus SAS A300-600F hit a hillside cloaked in darkness less than 1.6 kilometers from the runway, breaking apart and bursting into flames at 4.47 am local time.
While the pilots weren’t supposed to descend below 500 feet until they saw the runway, they continued down through a layer of clouds, Dan Bower, the NTSB’s chief investigator on the case, said in a presentation today.
The pilots failed to properly set their flight computer for the approach, according to NTSB records. Beal later changed the autopilot setting without announcing it, as was required under UPS rules, Bower said. He also was descending too rapidly, Bower said.
Pic: AP Photo/Butch Dill
The plane was descending at 1,500 feet per minute, according to the records.
They were in violation of several criteria for landing under UPS rules and should have aborted the landing and climbed away from the ground, Captain Peter Laurentz, the company’s director of training and standards, testified at the hearing.
The pilots didn’t know they were in danger, according to a transcript of their comments in the cockpit released by the NTSB.
One second after striking trees, Beal said: “Oh, did I hit?”
“Oh, oh god,” he said three seconds later. The recording captured the sound of hitting the hill a half-second after that final comment.
Flight 1354 was en route to Birmingham from Louisville, Kentucky, the air hub for UPS, the world’s largest package- delivery company. A cockpit alert announced the plane was sinking too quickly seven seconds before it clipped a power line and trees, according to NTSB data.
Beal and Fanning began work at about 9pm in Rockford, Illinois, the day before the accident. They were completing their third flight when they crashed.
While they were on the ground in Louisville, they discussed the FAA’s decision not to include cargo pilots in the new pilot rest requirements, according to the cockpit recording transcript.
The NTSB won’t determine a cause for the accident until later this year.