12th of March 1991

Updated: Mar 18

A McDonnell Douglas DC-8-62H was being prepared for a flight from New York (USA) to Brussels (Belgium). With the cargo being loaded, departure fuel determined and weather information noted the flight engineer completed the performance calculations for the upcoming takeoff.

The aircraft shortly after the fire was extinguished. (Source ©Joe Pries)

On completion of the calculation, the figures were passed on to the captain and copilot. After the engines were started the aircraft taxied to the runway while the necessary checklists were completed. After receiving their take-off clearance the throttles were pushed forward and the aircraft started to accelerate down the runway.

The right-hand main landing gear in front of the burned-out wreck. (Source ©Joe Pries)

The standard calls and checks were made and at Vr the captain pulled back on the yoke to rotate the aircraft. However, he found it impossible to pull back the yoke, and he became aware that the aircraft would not get airborne and initiated an aborted take-off. When it became clear that the aircraft would not come to a stop before the end of the runway the aircraft was steered to the right, thus avoiding hitting cars on the highway near the departure end of the runway. The aircraft turned off the runway and collided with an ILS antenna. As it left the paved area of the runway the landing gear collapsed and all 4 engines were ripped off the wing and a fire started. Once the aircraft came to a stop the crew evacuated the aircraft. The airport fire service responded, but was unable to prevent the aircraft from being consumed by fire.

The wreck shortly after the departure of the emergency services (Source ©Joe Pries)

An investigation into the accident was initiated by the National Transportation Safety Board to determine the cause. No fault could be found in the aircraft systems and the attention of the investigators turned to the aircraft weight & balance and take-off performance. The aircraft take-off weight was confirmed at 342.000 lbs and the centre of gravity was within limits for take-off. A review of the figures used by the crew revealed that an error was made in the take-off performance calculations. The wrong take-off weight was used. The crew used a weight of 242.000 lbs. this resulted in a wrong stabiliser trim setting for take-off and a rotation speed (Vr) that was 28 knots below the required speed for the actual weight. It was also discovered that the performance calculations were not cross-checked by the other crewmembers. Other factors related to the accident were;

  • Shortcomings in the flight crew training program

  • Scheduling of a crew for the flight with marginal experience

  • Inadequate monitoring of the operation by the company management

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