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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been in Birmingham investigating the exact cause of the UPS Flight 1354 crash since Wednesday afternoon.
On Friday, preliminary findings from the flight data recorders were revealed at a press conference at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.
Just 16 seconds before the crash, an alarm went off in the cockpit signaling a drop in altitude that was different than the pre-programmed parameters for a normal descent.
“There was an audible warning enunciating “sink rate, sink rate” and that was 16 seconds prior to the end of the recording,” NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt said on Friday.
Only seven seconds later, the first sounds of impact were captured by the cockpit voice recorder. However, four seconds earlier, one crew member was heard saying the runway was in sight.
The aircraft never made it to the runway.
Two air traffic controllers were on duty at the time, though one controller was on break. The controller who was not on break reported seeing the aircraft’s landing lights disappear before seeing a bright orange flash and then an a red glow before immediately activating the crash phone.
Both pilots – Capt. Cerea Beal Jr. and First Officer Shanda Fanning – were longtime employees with UPS and were highly experienced flying the Airbus A300-600F aircraft. However, Beal and Fanning were at the end of an overnight cargo haul that started almost eight hours before the crash.
“They were scheduled to depart at 9:30 in the evening. They would then fly from Rockford to Peoria and then to Louisville and then continue on to the accident flight to Birmingham,” Sumwalt explained.
Commercial pilot Capt. Brooke Yeilding, who is certified to fly the Airbus A300, says the sink rate alarm can deploy when an aircraft has to drop elevation quickly to make a sudden shift in course, such as an unplanned switch in runways.
Yeilding says had it been daytime, it may not have been a big deal for an experienced pilot, but at night it could be different. During night flights, pilots rely on lights to guide them in, and a slight malfunction could be disastrous.
“This particular runway was calibrated at a higher angle to clear that terrain,” Yeilding said. “So if this particular system was calibrated lower and they followed it, they would not have had the terrain clearance.”
Ultimately, the NTSB is still in its early stages. The information gleaned from the flight data recorders is valuable and should provide important details as to what transpired and caused the crash.
Copyright 2013 WIAT-TV CBS 42