Spanair Crash Investigation


In this post we will try to follow up with news about the investigation on the Spanair crash on August 20, 2008. In case anybody reads anything not mentioned here, please tell us about it in a comment.

25 August:
Spanish investigators are backing away from blaming an engine fire for last week’s Spanair MD-82 crash following emergence of a video of the failed takeoff that shows no signs of fire until after the aircraft, which elevated only a few meters off the ground, crashed back down on the runway.

Read more on ATW online.

26 August:
Focus now is turning towards problems with engine thrust and whether if flaps on the wings were operating properly. El Pais reported that an airport video of the failed takeoff and crash being studied by investigators reveals that the plane lifted off about 500 m farther down the runway than where it should have, indicating that it did not have adequate thrust when it reached the spot normally designated for takeoff. After lifting off, it almost immediately banked to the right and then crashed back down onto the runway. Investigators reportedly are trying to determine if there was a problem with the flaps that prevented a level ascent, but the lengthier speed increase on the runway would mean it didn’t have enough engine power.

27 August:

Spanish authorities have recovered the engines and will disassemble them “screw by screw” to try to determine whether a thrust problem contributed to the accident. Francisco Soto, secretary of the Commission for Investigating Civil Aviation Accidents and Incidents, revealed that officials have determined that the aircraft hit the Madrid Barajas runway “tail first” after a brief ascent and then bounced at least twice more as it travelled about 1,200 m from the initial point of impact. Soto acknowledged that a number of the 18 survivors testified that the aircraft appeared to be moving slowly down the runway prior to takeoff. He said the recovered but damaged flight data and cockpit voice recorders were sent to the UK for examination, citing British authorities’ expertise on working “with damaged black boxes.” He added, “We are now trying to improve the conditions of the pilots’ recordings.” A preliminary report on the investigation will be produced within a month, he said. (based on ATW News)

29 August:

Spanish Public Works Minister Magdalena Alvarez revealed on 29 August that Spanair considered transferring passengers aboard the MD-82 to another aircraft after its first takeoff was aborted before ultimately deciding to clear it for a second takeoff. According to the testimony the airline “informed [Madrid Barajas officials] of the possibility of replacing the aircraft” after the MD-82 returned to the gate owing to a malfunctioning air intake probe. Spanair mechanics disabled the system, which they deemed unnecessary for safe operations, and cleared the aircraft for takeoff. Spanair said on Friday that it is “normal” to consider switching planes when an aircraft returns to the gate “for any reason.” A survivor told reporters that busses pulled up next to the aircraft after it returned to the gate and that passengers believed they would be taken to another aircraft…

Meanwhile, the accident investigation continued to focus on the MD-82’s two Pratt & Whitney JT8D-219s’ thrust reversers. El Pais, citing sources at the airline, reported last week that Spanair disabled the right engine’s thrust reverser three days before the accident. The newspaper reported that the carrier said an MD-82 can operate safely temporarily with a disabled thrust reverser and that its actions adhered with the aircraft’s safety manual and EU regulations. El Pais and other Spanish media also have reported that the left engine’s thrust reverser was found deployed when it was recovered from the crash site. There has been no official confirmation of either the right reverser’s disablement or the left reverser’s deployment.

2 September:

It has been confirmed by authorities that the pilot of the plane has indeed requested two buses to transfer the passengers to another plane. Spanair defended the move as normal procedure, as the request was transmitted before the technical team could take a look at the actual fault following the first, aborted takeoff attempt. Then the airline’s technicians classified it as it can be fixed in 15 mins, thus there was no need to change aircraft. The plane sat on the tarmac for 33 mins while being fixed, and then was cleared to take off again.

5 September:

Recovered flight data recorder (black-box) revealed that the flaps were not extended, according to The Wall Street Journal, which cited sources close the accident investigation. Investigators are examining why an automatic audible warning in the cockpit did not sound (if it didn’t sound) and are considering whether an electrical problem caused the alert to malfunction, according to the WSJ, which said preliminary FDR data indicated that both engines were operating normally and that there was no engine fire.

17 September:

Flap failure was found during investigation. According to the first results of investigation, flap failure might have caused the crash. Also they found the air temperature gauge was off – that was the reason why the first take-off attempt was aborted. This itself would not result in any accident, but it might have been connected with the cickpit alarm horn that did not work.
Read full article here.

19 September

A video of the crash was presented by Spanish media company El Pais. Read the details and watch the video here.

13 October

Investigators concluded that the aircraft’s flaps were not extended as it attempted to take off and that no warning was sounded in the cockpit. According to the MD-82’s flight data recorder, “the value registered [on] deflection of flaps was 0 degrees,” the report said. “The investigation continues and is centered on obtaining additional evidence that will [establish] the aircraft’s configuration at the time of the accident.

The report added that the cockpit voice recorder “did not register any sound” from a warning system that should have alerted the pilots that the flaps were not extended.

The commission stated that the aircraft reached an altitude of 40 ft. before crashing back down tail first into the Madrid Barajas runway and catching fire, killing 154 of 172 aboard.

18 August, 2009

Spain’s Civil Aviation Accident Investigation Commission released another report on the August 2008 crash, confirming that the pilots did not know the aircraft’s flaps and slats were not extended as it attempted to take off from Madrid. “The aircraft had the standard procedures and checklists in force. . .which included the selection and confirmation of the correct configuration for takeoff,” the report said, according to Reuters. “The pilots used these procedures as a reference, but for some reason–whether an interruption from the aircraft’s first return to the terminal due to a mechanical problem, pressure due to time delays or faults in the cabin crew’s work methods–these were not strictly followed.” The Commission did not announce any final conclusions but did enumerate several recommendations it plans to submit to flight safety organizations such as the ICAO, EASA and US FAA. (based on ATW News)

By Szafi and balint01

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2 Responses to “Spanair Crash Investigation”


  1. 1 balint01 August 25, 2008 at 6:23 pm

    Off-topic in terms of investigation, but a heart-moving article:
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/europe/article4589290.ece

  2. 2 Yosef February 15, 2012 at 2:39 am

    Again, I mention that on a flight to Madrid on Spanair, the plane arrived in the early morning, oneof the first flights to arrive from the USA. I could see that we had passed the approach end of the runway and we were still in the air. EVENTUALLY we touched down more than 1/2 way down the runway I estimate and even though the flaps and brakes were applied to slow the aircraft, when we reached the last available turn out onto a taxiway, the plane had not slowed sufficiently to prevent many passengers-myself included from holding onto whatever we could to keep our balance. Just one more eye witness report from failure to fly safely or land safely.


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