The National Transportation Safety Board today determined that the probable cause of the 2008 Continental Airlines flight 1404 runway excursion accident was the captain's cessation of rudder input, which was needed to maintain directional control of the airplane, about 4 seconds before the aircraft departed the runway, when the airplane encountered a strong and gusty crosswind that exceeded the captain's training and experience.
Contributing to the accident was the air traffic control system that did not require or facilitate the dissemination of key available wind information to air traffic controllers and pilots, and inadequate cross wind training in the airline industry due to deficient simulator wind gust modeling.
On December 20, 2008, Continental Airlines flight 1404 veered off the left side of runway 34R during a takeoff from Denver International Airport. As a result, the captain initiated a rejected takeoff and the airplane came to rest between runways 34R and 34L. There was a post-crash fire. All 110 passengers and 5 crewmembers evacuated the airplane immediately after it came to rest. The captain and five passengers were seriously injured.
At the time of the accident, mountain wave and downsloping wind conditions existed in the Denver area and the strong localized winds associated with these conditions resulted in pulses of strong wind gusts at the surface that posed a threat to operations at Denver International Airport.
"This aircraft happened to be in the direct path of a perfect storm of circumstances that resulted in an unexpected excursion in an airport with one of the most sophisticated wind sensing systems in the country," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "It is critical that pilots receive training to operate aircraft when high wind conditions and significant gusts are present, and that sufficient airport-specific wind information be provided to ATC controllers and pilots as well."
As a result of this accident the NTSB issued 14 recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration regarding mountain waves, wind dissemination to flightcrews, runway selection, pilot training for crosswind takeoffs, and crashworthiness.
A synopsis of the Board's report, including the probable cause, conclusions, and recommendations, is available on the NTSB's website.
The Board's full report will be available on the website in several weeks.