FedEx MD11 crashes in Narita

On Mar. 23, a FedEx MD-11F with registration N526FE crashed during landing on the runway 34L/16R in Narita International, Tokyo, at 06.50 AM LT. Unfortunately both pilots died in the catastrophic crash. The aircraft was flying as FDX80 from Guangzhou – Bayiun, China, to Memphis, USA, via Narita and Anchorage, when around 21.50 Zulu (Sunday Mar. 22) the aircraft had a couple of bounces on landing prior to roll to the left and explode fuselage upside down. At the time of the crash, the airport was under strong winds: 222130Z 32026G40KT 9999 FEW020 12/M02 Q0999 WS R34L NOSIG RMK 1CU020 A2952 P/RR.
The video of the crash was immediately released:



The footage shows the aircraft bouncing hard on the runway after a flare (maybe with a high sink rate and not enough flare), ascending to something around 50 feet, then pitching down towards the tarmac, rolling slightly to the left. On the second touchdown the left Main Landing Gear collapses. As a consequence, the left wing goes into the ground and drags while the other wing raises into the air still producing lift. The reason for the pitch down attitude immediately after the first bounce is subject to speculations: someone thinks the pilot overcorrected to get the plane back down on the runway, others hypothesized the first bounce could have caused some problem with the flight control/surfaces.
This accident, reminded me of a previous FedEx MD-11 that crashed in Newark in 1997. Here’s the abstract of the NTSB report (available in pdf format here:

Abstract: On July 31, 1997, about 0132 eastern daylight time, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11, N611FE, operated by Federal Express, Inc., (FedEx) as flight 14, crashed while landing on runway 22R at Newark International Airport, Newark, New Jersey (EWR). The regularly scheduled cargo flight originated in Singapore on July 30 with intermediate stops in Penang, Malaysia; Taipei, Taiwan; and Anchorage, Alaska. The flight from Anchorage International Airport to EWR was conducted on an instrument flight rules flight plan and operated under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121. On board were the captain and first officer, who had taken over the flight in Anchorage for the final leg to EWR, one jumpseat passenger, and two cabin passengers. All five occupants received minor injuries in the crash and during subsequent egress through a cockpit window. The airplane was destroyed by impact and a postcrash fire.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of this accident was the captain’s overcontrol of the airplane during the landing and his failure to execute a go-around from a destabilized flare. Contributing to the accident was the captain’s concern with touching down early to ensure adequate stopping distance.

Safety issues discussed in this report focus on landing techniques, bounced landing recovery, and training tools and policies that promote proactive decision-making to go around if an approach is unstabilized. Safety issues also include the use of on board computers to determine the required runway length for landing, MD-11 handling characteristics and structural integrity requirements, and hard landing inspection requirements. Tracking hazardous materials continues to be a safety issue and is also discussed in the report.

Look at the following youtube video showing another FedEx MD-11 (N587FE) landing on Feb 14 2009, on the same airport (Narita) with strong crosswinds.


I’ve already discussed about crosswinds landing risks and techniques when analysing the Lufthansa A320 LH044 wingstrike in Hamburg:

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a 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 five books and contributed to many more ones.