On 15 April 2002, Air China flight 129 (CA129) departed Beijing, China, on a regular routine flight to Busan, Korea. The aircraft was a Boeing 767-200ER with the registration of B2522, under the operator of Air China International. CA129 took off at 0837 local time, and soon after crashed into a hill near Busan at 1121 local time, while conducting a circling approach. Out of the 166 people on board, only 37 survived the crash, which includes the captain and two flight attendants. With a crew led by a Captain with a total flying hours of approximately 7,000 hours, of which approximately 6,000 hours were on the B767 type, and accompanied by a first officer and a second officer, what could have caused the crash?
A circling manouevre requires an aircraft to fly down to decision altitude (DA) for a precision approach, and minimum descent altitude (MDA) for non-precision approach, and if visual with the runway, turn left or right as instructed by the Air Traffic Controller, for a landing on the runway in use. In this case, CA129 was cleared for an approach on runway 36 to circle for runway 18.
Investigation carried out by the Korean Aviation Accident Investigation Board (KAIB) reviewed the following:
1. Flight crew were not aware of the circling minima for the aircraft type and did not include the missed approach in their approach brief.
2. Flight crew lost situational awareness and failed to keep within the area for a circling approach.
3. The aircraft was flown at a faster than the maximum speed on the downwind leg.
4. On losing sight with the runway, the flight crew did not execute a missed approach.
5. The Captain did not acknowledge the first officers advice to conduct a missed approach.
The accident shows a series of events eventually leading to the fatality of CA129. From the approach briefing, the crew failed to include the missed approach procedure, of which is an item required by Air China’s operating procedures. After which the incorrect minima for circling was used. On the downwind leg, the aircraft was flown faster than its maximum speed and was not corrected. The crew lost sight of the runway and did not initiate a missed approach.
There was poor crew resource management between flight crew. The flight crew did not follow company procedures therefore being complacent. The flight crew lost situational awareness failing to keep within circling area. Poor interaction or a steep cockpit authority gradient between flight crew may have prevented the pilots from questioning the captain. In addition, during the last seconds before the crash, the first officer did advise the captain to initiate a missed approach, but did not conduct it himself, as an example of steep cockpit authority gradient. The flight crew also demonstrated poor decision-making, failing to initiate a missed approach, when visual reference with the runway was lost.
KAIB (March 4, 2005). Aircraft accident report. http://www.google.co.nz/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=air%20china%20flight%20129&source=web&cd=12&ved=0CHsQFjAL&url=http%3A%2F%2Flegacy.icao.int%2Ffsix%2Fsr%2Freports%2F02000710_final_report.pdf&ei=KQMpUKevIYWUiAegv4GgDg&usg=AFQjCNFAccY3uiz8zuh1PuZN00OtDyzoDg&cad=rja
Aviation safety network (n.d.). ASN Aircraft accident Boeing 767-2J6ER B-2552 Pusan-Kimhae Airport (PUS). http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20020415-0
FSofficialTV (Feb 12, 2009). Simulation of Flight 129 Air China crashed near Gimhae. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gerQFWDxeYA&feature=player_embedded