The National Transportation Safety Board dispatched a Go Team to investigate the crash of FedEx flight 1478, a Boeing 727-232 (N497FE). The plane crashed on approach to Tallahassee Regional Airport at approximately 5:40 a.m., July 26, 2002, following a flight from Memphis, Tennessee. The three crewmembers survived but the aircraft was destroyed by post-impact fire. The following is a summary of factual information released by the investigative team.
Air Traffic Control
Because the Tallahassee tower was not scheduled to open until 6:00 a.m., the FedEx crew was in contact with Jacksonville Center. The aircraft was attempting a visual approach to Runway 09. The last communication from the flight crew to air traffic control was a routine call that they had the airport in sight.
The aircraft first impacted trees 3,650 feet short of the runway, generally along the runway centerline. The tops of the trees were broken about 50 feet above ground level. The plane descended through trees until impacting the ground about 1,000 feet later. It slid an additional 1,100 feet - most of it in open field - and came to rest about 1,000 feet from the runway facing in the opposite direction of travel (approximately 260 degrees). The plane struck construction vehicles that were parked on the field during the night. Burn marks on the ground indicate a fire on the plane for the last 1,000 feet or so of travel. The entire wreckage path was on airport property.
The surface observation at 5:53 a.m. (about 10 minutes after the crash) was wind calm, visibility 8 miles, few clouds at 100 feet, scattered clouds at 15,000 feet and 25,000 feet, temperature and dew point 22 degrees Celsius, altimeter 30.11. The observer stated that the “clouds at 100 feet” were thin wisps near trees west of the airport, and there were no obstructions to visibility in the approach zone.
When the airport fire fighting units arrived at the wreckage scene at about 5:45, all three flight crewmembers were outside the aircraft and ambulatory. At 5:48, one of the crewmembers gave the fire fighters a list of hazardous materials that were on the plane. Fire fighting was slowed by the presence of HAZMAT, but the fire was declared under control at 7:52 a.m. and out at 9:40. Fire fighters reported that they expended about 1,000 pounds of purple K (a dry chemical agent for metal fires), 2,100 gallons of foam, and 67,900 gallons of water.
Among the cargo on board the plane were some hazardous materials consisting of 60 pounds of detonating fuse (1.128 grams of actual explosive), 900 pounds of corrosive materials (such as batteries), and an amount of radioactive medical supplies. The medical supplies were removed from the aircraft the next day and most of the other hazardous materials were destroyed in the post-crash fire.
Engines 1 and 2 were Pratt and Whitney JT8D-15s, and engine 3 was a JT8D-15A. All exhibited signs of rotational damage (indicative of operation at impact) and none exhibited signs of uncontained engine failure, in-flight fire, bird strike or pre-impact failure.
The captain was hired by FedEx on August 6, 1992. He reported approximately 14,000 flight hours, of which 860 were as Pilot in Command on 727s. The flight engineer was hired on September 3, 2001. He reported approximately 2,600 total flying hours, including 345 in the 727.
The first officer has not been interviewed due to his medical condition. Company records indicate that he was hired on October 29, 1997. His total time with FedEx is 1,982 hours (all on 727s), of which 525 were as first officer. Total flight time will be documented when available.
The Captain and the Flight Engineer were interviewed. Both state that they cannot remember much about the accident itself. The Flight Engineer reported that the initial descent was through layers of clouds, and they were anticipating possible fog due to the temperature/dew point spread, but that the airport was sighted by all three crewmen. The pilots briefed the approach to Runway 27, but the First Officer, who was the flying pilot, suggested that they use Runway 09 because it was straight in and the winds were calm. The crews' statements indicate that the base leg was normal and the PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator) was visible on final approach, gear was down, and flaps set at 30 degrees. The Flight Engineer stated that he saw no fog during the approach. The captain reported that all three crewmembers exited through his sliding window.
The flight data recorder was a Honeywell Solid State Universal Flight Data Recorder containing about 60 parameters of information. The cockpit voice recorder was a Fairchild A-100 tape recorder with approximately 32 minutes of recording capacity. Both were recovered in excellent condition.
Parties to the investigation are the Federal Aviation Administration, FedEx Corporation, Boeing Commercial Aircraft, Pratt and Whitney Engines, the Airline Pilots Association, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, and Tallahassee Regional Airport.
On-scene Close Out
The last members of the NTSB investigative team left Tallahassee on August 1. Other than some aircraft system components taken by the Board for possible future examination, the wreckage was released to the owner on that day. The remainder of the investigation will be directed from Safety Board headquarters in Washington.