National Transportation Safety Board
Office of Public Affairs
Washington DC - On Tuesday, August 8, AirTran flight 913 returned to Greensboro, NC shortly after takeoff when crew members reported smoke in the cockpit. The National Transportation Safety Board sent a 5-member team of investigators to the Piedmont Triad Airport to conduct the investigation. Eight investigative groups were organized, including Operations, Aircraft Systems, Survival Factors, Fire, Maintenance Records, Air Traffic Control and Flight Recorders (Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder). Parties to the investigation include the Federal Aviation Administration, Association of Flight Attendants, Boeing (McDonnell Douglas), Leach International, and AirTran. The investigation has so far developed the following information:
The Operations and Survival Factors groups interviewed both flight and cabin crewmembers. The Survival Factors group will also be reviewing interviews with Airport Fire and Rescue personnel. According to information from the crew interviews, the Captain and First Officer smelled smoke shortly after takeoff. The crew immediately donned oxygen masks and goggles. The crew reported that the smoke became very dense and restricted their ability to see the cockpit instruments, the visual references outside the airplane, and even each other. The cabin crew also smelled smoke, then saw smoke and sparks in the area of the forward flight attendant's jumpseat. One flight attendant entered the cockpit momentarily and was instructed to prepare the cabin for an emergency landing. The flightcrew was able to identify the airport and make a successful emergency landing. The airplane was immediately stopped and an emergency evacuation was conducted on a taxiway.
The Aircraft Systems and Fire Groups worked jointly to document fire and heat damage. They have noted extensive wire and insulation heat damage and smoke damage and determined that the heat was sufficient to blister the primer on the fuselage crown skin. Initial examination of the electrical panel that sustained the heat and fire damage indicated that the fire likely originated in the electrical panel. There is no evidence of fire, smoke or heat damage below the mounted location of the relay. The group has removed 5 electrical relays from the panel and examined them at the manufacturer's facility. The examination revealed evidence of arcing in the relay for the left heat exchanger.
The Maintenance Records Group has secured records for the aircraft from the AirTran facility in Orlando, FL, and will be reviewing the records to determine evidence of electrical system anomalies. The maintenance records investigation will also include examination of several Service Bulletins issued for certain relays within the DC-9 to determine their applicability in this incident. Further, Boeing is conducting a search of its databases to identify electrical system events in the DC-9 and MD-80 series airplanes that have resulted in smoke and fire.
Copies of the air traffic control tape and a preliminary transcript have been provided to the Safety Board by the FAA. The examination of both the FDR and CVR revealed they functioned adequately and recorded event information.
NTSB Office of Public Affairs: (202) 314-6100
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency charged with determining the probable cause
of transportation accidents, promoting transportation safety, and assisting victims of transportation accidents and their families.