August 25, 2008

Madrid Crash Mystery Deepens As Video Shows Engine Was Not on Fire

By Elizabeth Nash

Video footage shot by Spain's airport authority Aena reportedly shows the doomed Spanair plane showed no sign of a blazing engine as it took off from Madrid. But the aircraft lacked power as it struggled to rise above 50 metres and crashed in flames, killing 153 people but with 19 survivors.

Airport security images showed no engine explosion, press reports said. The plane ran the length of the runway, struggled into the air, then crashed, skidded, broke up and burnt.

The plane must have suffered more than one mechanical failure, Spain's civil aviation director, Manuel Bautista, said. "Engine failure alone would not be enough to cause the accident. It would have to combine with other causes to bring the plane down. I'm not even sure that the engine did fail."

Modern aircraft were designed to fly on one engine in an emergency, and pilots frequently practised doing just that, Mr Bautista said.

The fault in the air-vent heating system, which Spanair said delayed the plane's initial take-off but was fixed before the second attempt, would not have caused the accident. Jose Maria Delgado, an air maintenance technician, told El Pais yesterday: "The initial fault had nothing to do with the accident."

Pieces of the left engine could have come off, hit the right engine and probably the tail rudder, making the plan uncontrollable, too late to launch emergency measures: that was one scenario offered by sources from the government-run Civil Aviation department.

Spanair members of the pilots' union Sepla had complained in emails published in El Mundo that the airline's operations were "a disaster".

A union leader warned Spanair's then chief executive, Lars Nygaard, in April 2007: "The numbers of delayed planes, the unrealistic timetables, the lack of resources and their quality on the ground, the succession of AOGs [grounded planes] in the fleets, the scarcity of crews and the system of moving them around means the general feeling is of operational chaos that puts passengers at risk."

A month later, the union wrote again to management: "The operation continues to be a disaster and gets worse by the day." Spanair is not answering questions about its future. "We are focused on supporting the families," said Marcus Hedblom, Spanair's general manager.

A collective funeral is planned for a week on Monday after identity checks.

A newly married couple living in London were among those killed in the Madrid air disaster, it emerged yesterday.

Ronaldo Gomes Silva, 25, originally from Brazil, and Yanina Celisdibowsky were flying to see her parents, who are Spanish, in the Canary Islands when the accident happened on Wednesday, killing 153 people. Nineteen people, including three young children, survived.

The couple, who were married in Brazil last month, met in London and had lived there from 2004.

Mr Gomes Silva's sister, Rosana, said: "I saw the scenes of the accident on television, but I didn't know my brother was on that plane. It was my brother's father-in-law who contacted some friends in Sao Paulo to tell us they had both died."

(c) 2008 Independent, The; London (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.