US Air 1549 vs Tuninter 1153: two differing ending ditchings

Analysing the recent US1549 ditching in the Hudson River (http://cencio4.wordpress.com/tag/awe1549/), I explained that the success in the difficult splash down was the result of a perfect maneuver and luck. Even if I still believe that luck is important to increase survivability in case of emergency, when talking about aviation safety, I believe that it sometimes doesn’t come alone and it is strictly tied to the crew’s airmanship. Capt. Sullenberger perfomed a difficult maneuver he had never attempted before. He was lucky, as the rest of the crew and the passengers were, but the “happy ending” could have been tragic and luck would most probably be enough if “Sully” had not made the right decisions and had not followed the correct procedure. Pilot’s experience, skill and cold blood, are paramount to increase the possibilities of achieving a succesfull crash landing. In order to emphasise this point I will remind you another crash landing, the one of the Tuninter 1153. On Aug 6, 2005, TUI 1153 flight, an ATR-72-200 with registration TS-LBB, enroute from Bari-Palese airport, Italy, to Djerba-Zarzis Airport in Djerba, Tunisia, ran out of fuel and ditched in the Tyrrenhian sea 26 chilometers to the North East of Palermo, Sicily. 16 POB (2 crew members and 14 passengers) died in the accident while 23 survived the crash. The root cause of the crash was an ATR-42 fuel gauge erroneously installed on the ATR-72. Both gauges have the same form factor but they are different as the Fuel Quantity is calculated by processing the signals coming from capacitance probes in the tanks with a specific algortithm that differs from aircraft to aircraft, depending on the shape and size of the tanks. When TUI 1153 departed from Bari, the FQI indicated 2.700 kilograms, while the actual amount of fuel was only 570 kgs. At 15.17′47″LT, 4 minutes before the first engine failed, the crew did not notice the low pressure indication. At 23.000 feet, at 15.21, the aircraft lost the first engine, to be followed by the second at 15.23. The pilot declared an emergency at 15.24 informing Rome Radar that they were diverting to Palermo Punta Raisi airport. The aircraft did not make to Palermo, glided for 14 minutes before ditching at around 15.40. Six Tuninter employee at the time of the disaster were found guilty by the court of Palermo. Among them, Captain and Fist Officer who survived the crash (the only 2 crew member to escape the aircraft of the 4 on board).
Even if the problem was with the gauge, according to the investigation the pilot made a series of mistakes that for sure contributed to the crash and did not help to solve the emergency:

before experiencing the emergency:
– he did not check that the installed FQI was correct (both him and the FO had requested a replacement the day before for a failure, replacement that was performed in Tunis) and working properly

in-flight:
– he ignored the acoustic warning 4 minutes before the first engine quit
– after losing the first and later both engines he started a steep descend instead of gliding smoothly
– there was too much confusion in the cockpit and 10 minutes after the aircraft had lost both engines, the crew had not started the appropriate check list yet
– ditching was not performed as foreseen: the aircraft has an angle of attack comprised between -0,1° and 0,8 even if AOA, according to the manual, had to be of 9°. The Vertical Speed is too high: 13 feet per second instead of the foreseen 5 fps. The approach to the surface of the water was performed with tail wind and not parallel to the waves. In particular, the uncorrect aircraft attitude was the root cause of the violent impact with the water and the subsequent quick deceleration and disintegration of the airframe.

Nobody can say if a ditching performed “as prescribed” would have changed the destiny of TUI 1153. For sure, despite the gauge mistakenly installed on the aircraft, the investigation focused to a large amount of cockpit crew’s errors, which, most probably, cost some human lives. In your opinion, did this ditching fail because of bad luck? In my opinion, it was not a matter of luck (only). Most probably the particular high-wing of the ATR72 (the same of the ATR42) did not help since the floating line was above the cabin (as the following picture of an Alitalia ATR42 shows)

but the captain had some luck (he was flying at high altitude, he could point the ATR72 towards some boats, he had plenty of time to perform the check list and appropriate procedures, he ditched in the warm water of the Tyrrhenian Sea in August) and he simply wasted it.

The following pictures were taken by the Italian Coast Guard a few minutes after the crash landing. According to the autopsies the majority of the dead passenger didn’t survive the crash, but some drowned).

About David Cenciotti 4453 Articles
David Cenciotti is a freelance journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written four books.

7 Comments

  1. Hello,

    I’m sorry to tell you that you missed the goal about TUI 1153. You presented a lot of wrong information about the ditching of the ATR-72 of Tuninter.

    I invite you to deeply review the Crash Investigation Report (Final Version) edited by ANSV, the Italian Authority of Civil Aviation. You find this report following this link:

    http://www.ansv.it/cgi-bin/eng/FINAL%20REPORT%20ATR%2072.pdf

    You should check all the information you present on you blog before making any conclusions.

    Please, feel free to contact me by email ([email protected]) for further information or discussions. Thank you in advance.

    Best regards,

    Imen, Tunisia

    • Hi Imen,
      thank you for your comment. I didn’t moderate it even if it doesn’t comply with the basic rules for comment on this blog (“3elissa”, the name provided, is not your first name; furthermore you claim to write from Tunisia while your IP address is from Vancouver, Canada) because I think critics are almost always welcomed, since I can make mistakes and I like to discuss opinions with the readers.
      In this case, I would have appreciated if you had explained what, exactly, is not right among the things I’ve written. You can’t say “you presented a lot of wrong information” without explaining what is wrong.

      Let me start from the end: on Mar. 23, 2009, seven people were convicted for their responsibility in the crash. The pilot was sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter by a judge. This means that he was found responsible for the crash.

      According to the report, the “This emergency situation was not managed correctly, as the control listed in the Both Engines Flame Out check list was not carried out”. Later: “Following the second engine failure the captain called for no procedure to be implemented. The one that should have been applied was Both Engines Flame Out”. And: “…the captain did not communicate to the controller in contact the possibilty of ditching”. “From simulations performed using the ATR calculation software regarding aircraft performance check, it has been determined from a theoretical point of view that, applying the required procedures in both engine failure conditions, especially with particular reference to the maximum efficiency speed, the aircraft would have been able to reach Palermo”. Dealing with this last point, the report specifies that it would be difficult to keep the correct speed.

      Let’s see what’s right and what’s wrong on what I wrote:

      – he ignored the acoustic warning 4 minutes before the first engine quit
      True

      – after losing the first and later both engines he started a steep descend instead of gliding smoothly
      True

      – there was too much confusion in the cockpit and 10 minutes after the aircraft had lost both engines, the crew had not started the appropriate check list yet
      True

      – ditching was not performed as foreseen: the aircraft has an angle of attack comprised between -0,1° and 0,8 even if AOA, according to the manual, had to be of 9°. The Vertical Speed is too high: 13 feet per second instead of the foreseen 5 fps. The approach to the surface of the water was performed with tail wind and not parallel to the waves. In particular, the uncorrect aircraft attitude was the root cause of the violent impact with the water and the subsequent quick deceleration and disintegration of the airframe.
      Partly (if not completely) True.

      The rest are mainly personal opinions; you can agree or disagree, you simply can’t consider them right or wrong.
      Indeed, what I think is mostly important in my article is not the single information about the accident (to have all the details it is better to read the Final Report) but the comparison between the Tuninter and the US1549 ditching in the Hudson River. Despite the single fact, it is a matter of fact (and both the Italian court and the ANSV report confirm this) that a series of pilot’s mistakes were contributing factors. The conclusions of the Final Report list “Errors committed by flight crew: non-respect of various operational procedures” among the major importance events.
      Best Regards,
      David

  2. David, she may be on vacation in Canada. She says “Tunisia” but I can be from the USA but edit from a Japanese computer, for instance.

  3. After a couple of years I am still interested in this story and would like to highlight the following points you seem to have forgotten!!

    The second engine stopped working 110 secondes after the first one. You also do not say anything about the very short time between the time the first engine failed and the impact (only 8 minutes) and the fact that the crew started directly implementing the check list after the failure of the first engine. (check the black box recording on youtube– it is subtitled). The crew did not ignore the emergency signal, but directly started the communication with the control tower to estimate the distance to the shore and try to use the last minute for an emergency landing on water. Also, do not forget that at that time the crew did not expect or knew that they had run out of gas as the system was still showing enough gas. The pilote is continuously asking his co-pilote to try to start the engine until seconds before the impact.
    The control tower did not communicate with the pilotes in English and continued communicating in Italian by repeating the distance to the shore and saying “maintan position”, despite the that the pilote communicated to the tower that both engines had failed he was planning to make an emergency on water landing on the left of a ship and asked for some back up (helicopters or something else) The control tower did not use the emergency communication frequency despite the situation and continued informing the crew about the normal run way to be used in a normal situation.
    Further the simulation you are refering to is not based of the actual real weight of the plane at the time of the accident (less the fuel), but full. You do not need to agree with my comments, but this elements need also to be presented to the public. Please, check the recording of the black box……..

    • Dear Sammy,
      I suggest you to read the official report you can find at this address: http://www.ansv.it/cgi-bin/eng/FINAL%20REPORT%20ATR%2072.pdf
      It is written in English and contains 366 pages of analysis. You’ll discover that the plane glided for 16 minutes, not 8!! Furthermore, the control tower did communicate in English (the Italian comms are not Tuninter 1153 related). The emergency communication frequency? You mean 121.5 MHz? It is not necessary to use that freq if you can use the other APP or TWR VHF freq.
      I think you based your evaluations on the youtube video with a part of the radio comms: that video with audio recordings covers just the last few minutes of the flight! Read the official report from the ANSV independent agency.
      Thanks for reading the blog,
      ciao
      David

  4. It is the first time in the aviation history that a pilote and his co-pilote are sentenced to 10 years prison. In the whole history of aviation, the heaviest sentence has been 3 years with suspension….. This is absolutely not the worse accident, which was caused by a “human error”. The landing on water with this type of weather conditions and very short possible rreaction time can be seen as a stunt based on the final number of casualties.
    In other countries this crew would have been welcomed as heroes…
    Finally, for your information the failed spare parts was physically identical for the ATR 42 and ATR72. After the accident the French/Italian producer of the ATR plan made the needed changes on the shape of this spare part to avoid any type of symilar confusion.
    Concerning the sentence, it has been severly criticized by international aviation organizations… Is this double standard??! I will keep this question open, as I prefer not to give my opinion…

  5. David,
    With this 3rd email, I would like to present the latest elements I consider as being key in giving to the public a clear and objective view of the way the Tunisian crew dealt with this situation.
    In your email you describe the descent initiated by the pilot as being a mistake and consider that the pilot should have tried to glide towards the nearest landing point. Just to clarify this point I would like remind you that when the first engine stopped, the instruments were showing 1800kg of kerosene still available in the tanks. Logically the pilot does not expect the second engine also to fail and start a rapid descent towards the nearest airport. Another important point, which re-confirms the amazing successful landing on water, is that during the descent and landing the pilot could not make use of its wings to slow or adjust its landing, as the hydraulic systems also failed. When you listen to the recording of the last 6 minutes of the black box (which is available with F and UK subtitle), you clearly hear the pilot trying to implement safety check list, repeatdly trying to clearly give his position to the control tower, asking for an alternative landing run way nearer to his position (for which the control tower kept on giving the normal run way and continued communicating in Italian to the crew), trying to improvise the safest position for the emergency landing (left from a nearby ship), asking his crew to get ready for impact, informing cabin crew about landing on water and finally describing each last second on the radio until he said “we are touching water”.
    Now, I am not an expert, but have a different opinion than the one you have expressed in your initial and second message to arous.elb7r. Everybody can have an own opinion about certain matters, but it is crucial to describe reality in the most objective way possible, and not try to affect the final conclusion indirectly by insinuating or not fully describing the facts. I also do not want start an endless round of emailing between us, as I am repeating that I am not giving my opinion, but I am presenting new elements or forgotten elements to the rest of the readers.
    Concerning the sentence, I still would like to raise my concern about the severity of such unprecedented decision in the aviation history. However, I am sure that the truth will be made and that the decision will be overruled, as the world has and is taking position in favor of the sentenced pilot and co-pilote..

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