DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A preliminary report released Tuesday into last month’s Emirates airliner crash landing in Dubai found that the pilot attempted to take off again after briefly touching down, and that the plane ultimately hit the runway as its landing gear was still retracting.
One firefighter was killed responding to the accident, which destroyed the Boeing 777-300, but all 300 people onboard Flight EK521 managed to escape down just five usable emergency slides.
The accident was the most serious in Emirates’ more than three decades of operations, and was the second major air disaster for a Dubai government-backed airline in less than five months.
The findings released Tuesday in a 28-page report by the United Arab Emirates’ General Civil Aviation Authority were broadly in line with an Associated Press analysis a day after the crash that was based on flight data, air traffic control communications and interviews with aviation experts.
Investigators found that the crew received a warning indicating wind shear — a sudden change in wind speed or direction — as the plane approached Dubai on its return from Thiruvananthapuram, India. Two other planes aborted their landings less than 10 minutes before the accident, though two others landed normally.
As the Emirates plane neared the ground, a headwind started to shift to a tailwind and then back again.
The right landing gear hit the ground first, with the left following only three seconds later, according to the report. The nose gear stayed in the air.
A warning system alerted the crew of a “long landing,” indicating that the plane had not touched down where it was supposed to, and the plane took to the air again as the crew tried to make a second landing attempt.
Six seconds into the air, the crew began to retract the landing gear.
After making it only about 85 feet off the ground, the twin-engine plane began to lose altitude. Three seconds before impact, the crew tried to push the jet engines all the way from an idle to full power.
Cockpit warnings blared “Don’t sink, don’t sink!” as the engines began to throttle up.
It was too late.
With the landing gear still retracting, the back of the plane and then the engines hit the runway at 125 knots (144 mile per hour).
A fuel-fed fire broke out as the right engine ripped off and the plane skidded on its belly before coming to a rest. About nine minutes later, a fuel tank in the centre of the plane exploded, killing firefighter Jassim al-Balooshi. The fire spread into the airplane cabin.
Crew members have been praised for getting all those onboard evacuated safely. A total of 24 people were injured in the accident, according to the report. They included a cabin crew member hospitalized for five days because of smoke inhalation.
Investigators found that only half of the plane’s 10 emergency slides were used after the crash. One of the slides came loose from the plane before it could be used and another was never opened because of smoke outside. Strong wind left two other slides unusable, while another door was opened only to be shut again because of fire.
The chief pilot and a senior cabin crew member were the last to abandon the burning plane after the fuel tank exploded. They were forced to jump onto a slide lying on the ground after failing to find evacuation ropes as thick smoke filled the cabin.
The report did not ascribe blame for the accident or attempt to determine why the plane failed to successfully go around for another landing attempt. The assistant director of the aviation authority’s Air Accident Investigation Sector said investigators are still poring over data from the flight.
“Analysis of the data extracted from the flight recorders is ongoing to determine the aircraft and systems’ technical performance and crew control inputs and performance,” Ismail al-Hosani said. “In-depth analysis will be carried out to examine the operator’s policies and procedures for such flight conditions.”
The 777 is one of the workhorses of Emirates’ fleet. The airline operates more than 120 of the twin-engine planes, more than any other carrier.
Emirates issued a statement welcoming the report, which it said it will review carefully.
“Emirates is also conducting its own rigorous internal investigation to proactively review what we know about the accident, and consider measures that may enhance our operations or procedures,” the carrier said.
The Emirates accident occurred just months after a plane operated by another Dubai government-owned airline, discount carrier FlyDubai, plunged into the ground in Rostov-on-Don, Russia. All 62 people aboard the 737-800 jetliner were killed.
Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell contributed reporting.