BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Federal investigators said today they haven’t found any problems with the controls in a UPS cargo jet that crashed while landing in Alabama, killing the two pilots.
National Transportation Safety Board member Robert Sumwalt said the cockpit controls in the A300 aircraft appeared to be working before the crash, and they matched the positions of the airplane’s flaps and rudders.
Sumwalt’s comments came during a news conference today at Birmingham’s airport, where investigators are still sifting through the wreckage of the twin-engine aircraft.
Investigators previously said they did not see any problems with the plane’s engines, but that a cockpit warning went off seconds before the crash. The alarm, called a sink rate warning, indicated the plane was descending faster than normal.
Sumwalt said the plane’s data recorder showed the autopilot was engaged until the final second before the end of the recording, but he added that was not unusual.
The aircraft went down less than a mile from the end of a 7,000-foot runway that lacks the equipment for full instrument landings at Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport, located a few miles east of the city’s downtown. A 12,000-foot runway with a more complete guidance system was closed for maintenance on its lights at the time of the crash, which occurred about 4:45 a.m. CDT Wednesday.
Pilots consider the approach to the shorter runway more tricky because of the lack of full instrumentation and a large hill at the end of the runway, but the NTSB has not indicated whether the runway’s configuration might have been a factor in the accident.
The flight data recorder showed the airplane was traveling about 161 mph, the expected speed for such an approach, Sumwalt said.
UPS has identified the victims of the crash as Capt. Cerea Beal, Jr., 58, of Matthews, N.C.; and First Officer Shanda Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn. Beal was flying the aircraft at the time of the accident, the NTSB said previously, but it’s unkown so far whether either pilot had previously attempted a landing on the runway.
Investigators are trying to determine how much rest the pilots had before taking off for Birmingham.
The crew started its day Tuesday in Rockford, Ill., before making a stop in Peoria, Ill., Sumwalt said. They then flew to Louisville, Ky., which was the final stop before the ill-fated, 45-minute trip to Birmingham.
Sumwalt said investigators have determined the pilots obtained keys to rooms that UPS has set aside for crew members to sleep, and they are still trying to determine whether the rooms were used.