WASHINGTON D.C.- According to a recently released final report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), a 2022 incident involving a United Airlines (UA) flight operated by Boeing 777 that came perilously close to crashing into the Pacific Ocean, approximately 748 feet away was attributed to pilot error.
The report points to the flight crew’s inability to properly control the aircraft’s vertical flight trajectory as the primary cause. This issue arose due to what appears to be a “miscommunication” between the two pilots regarding the positioning of the plane’s wing flaps.
United Pilots Nearly Crashed the Plane
The incident occurred around one minute after the Boeing 777 had taken off from Kahului Airport (OGG) in Hawaii amidst heavy rain and turbulence on December 18, as reported by the NTSB.
With 271 passengers on board, the flight continued its journey to San Francisco (SFO) without encountering further problems, as per investigators’ findings.
According to the NTSB’s report, statements from the flight crew indicated that confusion arose regarding the configuration of the 777’s flaps, which are typically extended during takeoff and gradually retracted during the climb phase.
“When the aircraft reached the acceleration altitude, the captain slightly adjusted the pitch attitude and instructed to reduce the flap setting to flaps 5. However, based on the first officer’s account, he believed he heard the captain announce flaps 15.”NTSB’s report stated
The report highlights that at an altitude of 2,100 feet (640 meters), while the captain was piloting the aircraft, he became concerned about potential damage from the still-extended flaps. Subsequently, he initiated a descent and reduced the speed until cockpit alarms were triggered.
“Both pilots remembered hearing the initial alerts from the ground proximity warning system (GPWS). Further, the first officer recalled announcing ‘pull up pull up’ in conjunction with those initial GPWS alerts,” the report from NTSB detailed.
As per the report, United Airlines has modified its training procedures and has initiated an “awareness campaign about flight path management at their training center.”
Following the incident’s disclosure earlier this year, United stated that it had collaborated with the FAA and the pilots’ union to conduct an investigation that led to additional training for the pilots.
In a statement released on Thursday, United mentioned that it is “leveraging the insights gained from this flight to enhance the training of all United pilots.”
“Our pilots voluntarily reported this incident, and United Airlines cooperated fully with the independent investigation to gather insights that could contribute to enhancing safety across the aviation industry.”United Statement
United Airlines stated that both pilots underwent additional training as a result of this incident. Further, they are still active in their roles as pilots for the airline.
Passenger Rod Williams II shared with CNN in February that initially, the aircraft appeared to be flying in a standard manner. However, he noted that there was a noticeable and worrisome increase in altitude for a few seconds.
“It felt as if we were ascending rapidly, similar to the sensation of reaching the peak of a roller coaster. It was during this moment that many passengers audibly expressed their concern. Everyone on the plane recognized that the situation was abnormal, or at the very least, not regular,”Williams recounted
Williams and his family were situated towards the rear of the plane when the Boeing 777 encountered a sudden and distressing descent shortly after departure from Kahului Airport in Hawaii.
He described the subsequent event as a “dramatic, nose-down” dive that lasted around eight to ten seconds, followed by a sharp ascent and the resumption of normal flight. Further, the encounter was deeply unsettling.
“As the plane began to plunge, numerous passengers let out cries of alarm, creating an intense atmosphere,” Williams recalled.
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