"To all the pilots I ask for your comments": A pilot’s take on the AA331 crash in Jamaica

Ok folks…sometimes blogs take on a life of their own and when that happens you just play a parental role and facilitate it. A pilot calling himself Dave has responded to my last post by speculating on the causes of AA331’s crash just beyond the Norman Manley International Airport on Dec. 23rd…he suggests pilot error was most likely the cause…but read what he said for yourselves. i’ve cut and pasted his comments left on my post What Next? below:

Blogger Dave said…

AA Jamaica crash: Although I am aware that it is irresponsible to speculate on a cause before all the facts are know, I do however feel that, at least on forums like this one, it is ok to speculate based on known facts. Here is what’s known. 1) 15Kt. winds out of NNE. 2) Heavy rain at night on a non-grooved runway. 3) Pilots near the end of their 12-hour max. on-duty time. 4) Plane fully loaded with passengers and probably heavier on fuel than domestic flights. 5) Pilots had not flown much in previous weeks. 6) Plane touched down very far down runway 12. 7) Plane landed hard. Based on what’s known I think you can make the follow deductions. I believe the tail winds played a very significant role in this crash. Ground speeds would have been 20-30Kts fast than pilots are used to. This along with a nighttime wet runway would have made it easy to misjudge the point of touchdown. Glide slope would have been kept in check on approach but near the ground pilots take over and visually fly the plane. Things would look much different than they normally do especially taking night, rain and fatigue issues into consideration. A go around would have been resisted because of a desire to get the plane on the ground due to bad conditions and current preferred patterns at that airport. As a pilot who has made down wind landings I can tell you that it is very difficult to hit your spot maintaining glide slope without stalling the plane. You have to descend at a quicker rate to maintain glide slope and touch down speeds to hit your spot. This is not a comfortable normal feeling to the pilots. Things happen so much quicker down wind and pilots are not used to this type of approach. Extra weight, rain, night, and fatigue and stress of bad conditions add to the level of difficulty of this down wind landing. I would not be surprised if the black boxes show the plane did or almost did “stall” just before touch down. That would explain the heavy landing reported. Higher ground speeds and weights with reduced runway length due to mid runway touch down point along with wet non-grooved runway made this crash, at this point, inevitable. At the end of the day there will be several factors pinpointed at fault (as there always is), however the primary cause will be pilot error for the following reasons: a) not going to an alternate airport given conditions at primary b) having proceeded to primary not asking to land from the east. c) having proceeded downwind failing to abort the approach and or landing prior to touchdown d) having proceeded downwind having misjudged the point of landing and not maintaining proper glide slope, approach speeds and touchdown point. To all the pilots I ask for your comments