American Airlines Flight 1420: Wikis


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American Airlines Flight 1420
Accident summary
Date June 1, 1999
Type Runway overrun, pilot error
Site Little Rock, Arkansas
Passengers 139
Crew 6
Injuries 110
Fatalities 11
Survivors 134
Aircraft type McDonnell Douglas MD-82
Operator American Airlines
Tail number N215AA
Flight origin Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport
Destination Little Rock National Airport

American Airlines Flight 1420 was a flight from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Little Rock National Airport in USA. On June 1, 1999, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82 (registration number N215AA) overran the runway upon landing in Little Rock and crashed.


The Crash

The pilots of flight 1420 were Captain Richard Buschmann and First Officer Michael Origel.[1]

According to the NTSB accident report, they learned that the winds were changing direction and that a wind shear alert had sounded on the airport due to a thunderstorm nearby. ATC originally told them to expect Runway 22L for landing, but after the wind direction changed rapidly, Captain Buschmann requested a change to Runway 4R.

As the aircraft approached Runway 4R, a severe thunderstorm arrived over the airport. The controller's last report, prior to the landing, stated that the winds were 330 degrees at 28 knots. That exceeded the MD-82's crosswind limit, for landing in reduced visibility on a wet runway. With that information, plus two wind shear reports, the approach should have been abandoned at that point, but Captain Buschmann decided to continue his approach to Runway 4R.

During their rush to land as soon as possible, both pilots became overloaded with multiple necessary tasks. That led to errors and omissions, which proved to be the final links in the accident chain. Consequently they failed to arm the automatic ground spoiler system (hinged panels on top of the wings). The smooth airflow over the top of the wings is disrupted when the spoilers deploy automatically, as the wheels touch the runway. This negates the lifting ability of the wings, thereby making the wheel brakes more effective, by effectively transferring the weight of the aircraft from the wings to its wheels.

The pilots also failed to arm the auto braking system. Both automatic deployment of the ground spoilers and automatic engagement of the brakes are essential to ensure the plane's ability to stop within the confines of a wet runway, especially one that is being subjected to strong and gusting winds.

After landing, First Officer Origel stated, "We're down. We're sliding." The captain then said " Oh No!" Neither pilot observed that the spoilers did not deploy, so there was no attempt to activate them manually. The result was almost no braking at all, since only about 15 percent of the airplane’s weight was supported by the main landing gear. [2]

Directional control was lost when Captain Buschmann applied too much reverse thrust, in contradiction to the limits stated in the flight manual.

The aircraft skidded off the far end of the runway at high speed, slammed into a steel walkway with the landing lights for runway 22L and finally came to a stop on the banks of the Arkansas River.

"After departing the end of the runway, the airplane struck several tubes extending outward from the left edge of the instrument landing system (ILS) localizer array, located 411 feet beyond the end of the runway; passed through a chain link security fence and over a rock embankment to a flood plain, located approximately 15 feet below the runway elevation; and collided with the structure supporting the runway 22L approach lighting system." [2]

Such structures are usually frangible - i.e. designed to shear off on impact - but because the approach lights were located on the unstable river bank, they were firmly anchored and the impact destroyed the aircraft. It broke into three pieces and ignited.

Captain Buschmann was killed instantly, when the cockpit impacted a steel walkway attached to the approach lighting system for Runway 22L. Ten of the 139 passengers also died. An Argentinian child traveling alone escaped from the plane with no injuries.[2]

Captain Buschmann's last words included his statement of "it's a can of worms", as the weather deteriorated so rapidly, while he was struggling to track the proper final approach course and glide slope. [3]

Rachel Fuller, a passenger who sustained severe burns, died on June 16, following the amputation of her leg.[4]

Of the surviving flight crew, First Officer Origel received serious injuries. [2]

Of the cabin crew [2]:

  • 3 received serious injuries
  • 1 received minor injuries

Of the surviving passengers [2]:

  • 41 received serious injuries
  • 64 received minor injuries
  • 24 were uninjured

After the accident American Airlines revised its checklist so that pilots would confirm that the spoilers are armed.[3]

Seat chart for American Airlines Flight 1420 created by the NTSB, revealing the location of passengers and lack of injury, severity of injuries, and deaths

Pilot behavior regarding thunderstorms

Experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) created a study recording behavior of pilots landing at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport; the researchers check to see whether the pilots land in thunderstorms. Within a total of two thousand thunderstorm encounters, two out of three pilots landed in a thunderstorm. The study states that pilots exhibited more recklessness when they fell behind schedule, if they landed during the night, and if aircraft in front of them also landed in bad weather. Greg Feith, the lead NTSB investigator, said that he felt surprised that pilots exhibited this behavior. The MIT study illustrated the industry-wide trends that factored into the Flight 1420 crash. Feith added that the pilots may have exhibited "get there-itis" as the pilots knew that they were approaching their 14 hour duty limits.[3]

Legal issues

Renee Salmans, a survivor of the accident, felt that the letters sent to Salmans's lawyer by American Airlines's legal team "minimized" both Salmans's daughter's burns and cuts and the psychological trauma inflicted on Salmans, her son, and her daughter. Therefore Salmans wanted to force American Airlines to pay a settlement.[3]

Salmans said that she believed that the investigators were asking the "wrong" questions; Salmans wanted to ask the copilot why he "played chicken" with the passengers.[3]

During an NTSB hearing, First Officer Origel said that he asked Captain Buschmann to abort the landing. The NTSB could not find any statements matching this in the cockpit voice recorder. The copilot stood by his statements, which caused controversy.[3]

A federal jury in Little Rock Arkansas cleared Captain Richard Buschmann of responsibility for the crash. It was determined that the deaths and injuries occurred because the aircraft collided with illegal non-frangible approach light supports erected in what should have been the Runway Safety Area. It was concluded that Little Rock National Airport failed to comply with airport safety standards.[5]


The story of the disaster was featured on an episode of the Canadian National Geographic Channel show Mayday (known as Air Emergency in the US, and Air Crash Investigation in the UK) entitled "Racing the Storm" or "Fatal Landing".


A 2004 memorial ceremony was held adjacent to the airport. Jeana Varnell, one of the survivors, attended the ceremony and in a newspaper article, strongly objected to the memorializing of Captain Buschmann.[6]

See also


External links

Coordinates: 34°44.18′N 92°11.97′W / 34.73633°N 92.1995°W / 34.73633; -92.1995



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