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Smoke affected visibility of pilots, reveals investigation

Allan Jacob / 24 September 2010

DUBAI — Thick smoke which engulfed the cockpit of the ill-fated Boeing 747-400 UPS aircraft made it hard for the pilots to sight the flight instrument display on the fateful September 3 evening.

‘‘There is also evidence to indicate that there was some level of difficulty in the communication process,’’ according to the General Civil Aviation Authority in charge of investigations.

Fire was detected on board the flight after it took off from Dubai and approached top climb. The GCAA said when the fire alarm sounded on the main deck, the pilots sought assistance from the Bahrain Air Traffic Control who offered them the option to land in Doha, Qatar. But the two pilots chose to turn around and return to Dubai.

‘‘The new records show that after the aircraft departure it approached the top of climb, at approximately 19.12 hrs.’’

Analysis of the data from the black boxes indicated there ‘‘were sequential systems in the flight deck indicating fire or smoke in the main deck and the lower aft cargo compartment.’’

The distressed aircraft overflew the Dubai runway at approximately 4,000 feet. It then did a right-hand turn and approximately five minutes later the control centre alerted the emergency services that the worst had happened at the Nad Al Sheba military base. Both pilots lost their lives in the accident.

The crash is being investigated by 20 experts from the GCAA, the US National Transportation Safety Board, the US Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and UPS. GCAA said, ‘‘The investigation is continuing and the teams are focusing on undertaking the issues involved around the cargo carried and the associated risks.’’

Last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that lithium batteries may have stoked the intense fire and dense smoke that filled the cockpit.

When contacted by Khaleej Times, UPS declined comment and termed such reports as ‘‘irresponsible’’. The cargo firm’s Public Relations Manager Mike Mangeot, said: ‘‘UPS wants to determine the cause of this accident more than anyone, but everyone must let the GCAA investigation run its course and that will take time. UPS will not engage in speculation about any aspect of the Dubai accident. Reports that rush to judgment are irresponsible.We will only discuss the facts as confirmed and released by the GCAA, as per the protocol of international aviation accident investigation.’’


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