June 20, 2006

Southwest crew weighed landing risks in Chicago

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The crew of a Southwest Airlines jet
that ran off a snowy runway in Chicago last December spent much
of the flight trying to decide if they could land safely and
considered trying other cities, cockpit recordings showed on

Flight 1248 from Baltimore to Midway airport skidded off
the tarmac, crashed through two fences and struck a car before
coming to rest on a city street. A 6-year-old Indiana boy
riding in the car was killed.

No one on the plane was hurt.

Veteran Capt. Bruce Sutherland and first officer Steven
Oliver decided to bring the Boeing 737 down on December 8
despite snow, conflicting reports on runway conditions, and
their initial indecision about using the aircraft's automatic
braking system, which could mean a more abrupt stop.

"No procedure if that sucker fails and we just go through
the fence," Oliver said in cockpit transcripts released by the
National Transportation Safety Board. "We never talk about any
of that stuff, ya know."

Sutherland felt he was not familiar enough with the
enhanced braking system to use it in bad weather and the two
spent a long time reviewing calculations to see if they could
land safely in Chicago.

While holding over Chicago, an order they did not welcome,
Sutherland and Oliver considered diverting to St. Louis or

When they were cleared for Midway, Oliver joked to
Sutherland: "We're all counting on you."

The plane touched down normally and the automatic brakes
were activated, the safety board said. But the crew quickly
realized the plane was in trouble and added manual pressure to
the brakes.

"Jumping on the brakes are ya?" said Oliver.

"Hang on," Sutherland said as the plane skidded.

"Hang on," Oliver said just before impact with the fence.

Accident investigators said the automatic brakes worked but
the skidding diminished their effectiveness.

The safety board has been looking at when the pilots
activated the engine thrust reversers, which help slow a plane
once it's down. They were turned on 18 seconds after touchdown;
Four or five seconds is common.

Privately, one investigator said on Tuesday the safety
board was skeptical of the crew's decision to land in Chicago.
Investigators have been critical of industry approved landing
calculations like the ones used by the Southwest crew.