ETHIOPIAN’S ATTEMPT TO ANSWER BACK SEEN AS AN ADDED FAILURE
(Posted 20th December 2013)
Following the breaking news here the other day, of an Ethiopian Airlines B767-300ER landing at the wrong airport, numerous attempts were made to whitewash the circumstances, starting with a first statement by the airline that the aircraft had landed at an alternate airport – misleading to say the least as diversion airports for wide bodied aircraft not able to land at Kilimanjaro are Nairobi (NBO) or Dar es Salaam (DAR), not the municipal field in Arusha known as ARK which is built to serve small single and twin engined aircraft and some larger turboprops like the ATR 42 or the ATR 72. Not one aviator since spoken with accepts that ARK could be sensibly described as an alternate airport to land a B767-300ER and every single one, while praising the crew for bringing the aircraft to a standstill, albeit in the grass, doubted the initial sanity of deciding to actually land in Arusha.
Dozens of what clearly appears staff from Ethiopian Airlines then tried to swamp my blog site, identifiable from a common IP address ‘IP: 126.96.36.199, mail.ethiopianairlines.com’, before someone purporting to be the Ethiopian Airlines manager in Kampala rang me, the call terminating probably due to poor signal quality before I could understand what it was all about – he never did call back by the way.
Shortly afterwards came a mail from Ethiopian’s PR department, previously wrapped in total silence when I had good things to report about the airline, and – spelling errors notwithstanding – sent me this:
Dear Prof. Wolfganga Thome,
Ethiopian Airlines would like to refute all unfounded speculations regarding the incident of Ethiopian flight ET-815 from Addis Ababa to Kilimanjaro of 18 December 2013. Such unfounded speculations are against international procedure and practice of incident investigation and communications.
Although Ethiopian Airlines should strictly follow the international procedures and will not make pre-judgmental statements before the incident is fully investigated by relevant and competent authorities, there was miscommunication between the control tower and the flying crew, which resulted in landing at Arusha airport. The aircraft had adequate fuel to fly to an approved alternate airport.
All passengers and crew were unharmed and have been taken to their intended destinations. The aircraft did not sustain any damage.
Ethiopian Airlines would like to apologize to its esteemed passengers for the inconveniences caused.
Ethiopian Airlines Public Relations Office
Apologies for the ‘inconvenience’ caused, yes, that surely does it for the passengers whose life has been at risk with this stunt of flying into ARK and not a word to the crew’s failure to get on their maps and ascertain that whatever they thought they were told to do by ATC actually was sound advice, so yes, miscommunication indeed. Definitely, if they were truly told to land at ARK that was NOT sound advice but the unfolding air accident investigation will no doubt unearth all of that, or so it is hoped.
Meanwhile have others of course made their own contributions on the matter and the following piece stood out:
OK it seems you are all set on what you believe. PLease see the following link.
It has all the latest details including the full stop and attempted turn around in the grass… The eye witness accounts are from very reliable pilot friends of mine who saw the whole thing unfold. I have been working and living in Arusha for many years and I’m getting this information first hand, Like it or not these are the facts.
Incident: Ethiopian B763 at Arusha on Dec 18th 2013, fuel emergency, landing on short runway at wrong airport and runway excursion
|By Simon Hradecky, created Wednesday, Dec 18th 2013 20:27Z, last updated Thursday, Dec 19th 2013 09:32ZAn Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 767-300, registration ET-AQW performing flight ET-815 from Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) to Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) with 213 people on board, could not land in Kilimanjaro due to a disabled light aircraft on the runway and entered a holding for about 30 minutes. The crew subsequently declared emergency due to low fuel and began the approach to Kilimanjaro’s runway 27 (length 3600 meters/11,800 feet) where the light aircraft was still on the runway near the threshold of runway 09/end of runway 27. The aircraft however touched down on Arusha’s runway 27 (length 1620 meters/5300 feet) at 13:15L (10:15Z) and came to a full stop just prior to the runway end. Subsequently the crew turned the aircraft left for backtracking, the aircraft came to a stop with all gear on soft ground. No injuries occurred, the aircraft received no visible damage.
The airline confirmed the aircraft diverted because a Cessna was disabled on the runway of Kilimanjaro, however, did not explain why the aircraft diverted to Arusha (27nm from Kilimanjaro Airport) with too short a runway rather than diverting to Dar es Salaam (Tanzania, 240nm from Kilimanjaro), Mombasa (Kenya, 154nm from Kilimanjaro) or Nairobi (Kenya, 127nm from Kilimanjaro) featuring suitable runways.
An investigation has been opened into the occurrence.
Ground witnesses report, that the crew managed to bring the aircraft to a full stop just before the end of the runway, but then attempted to maneouver the aircraft to backtrack the runway which is when they went off paved surface.
A listener on frequency reported the aircraft was sent into a holding at Kilimanjaro NDB (KB, 293kHz) southwest of Kilimanjaro Airport and south of Arusha Airport. Arusha’s runway was visible from the holding with the same orientation as Kilimanjaro’s runway (09/27 at 3600 meters length). The crew thus obviously believing to land at Kilimanjaro Airport touched down at Arusha.
Another listener on frequency reported the next day that the crew was advised the Cessna would soon be removed from the runway convincing the crew to remain in the hold. The crew finally called in declaring emergency and reporting that they no longer had sufficient fuel to reach Nairobi, Dar es Salaam or Mombasa (editorial remark: with required minimum fuel reserve remaining intact). Following the emergency the aircraft was cleared to land on Kilimanjaro’s shortened runway 27, the crew was told the Cessna was still on the runway near the threshold of runway 09, the Boeing 767 however did not show up at the airport.
Several passengers reported that after holding they were told they were now approaching Kilimanjaro airport, they would land to the west due to the Cessna still near the western end of the runway. The landing was rough as expected, only then it was discovered that they had landed at the wrong airport. After turning onto the grass they were stuck on the aircraft for about 3.5 hours until stairs arrived from Kilimanjaro Airport, in the meantime some emergency exits were opened to re-introduce some air circulation into the cabin and calm discontent amongst the passengers.
Arusha’s airport said the aircraft landed in Arusha by mistake, they were not supposed to land at Arusha and did not communicate with Arusha tower. The aircraft came to a complete stand still just before the end of the runway but then went off the runway.
Ethiopian is now left with the proverbial egg all over their face, as none of their information they have since peddled holds much water, and of course they made the paramount mistake of getting entangled with the media in an argument they simply cannot win, not even with the help of dozens of sycophants serving as mouthpieces for their masters.
The attacks, some of them of a very personal nature, remind me of similar waves of comments when I reported about the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia and the devastating consequences for Lake Turkana – in both cases not a credit to Ethiopia and in this case clearly not a credit to Ethiopian Airlines, whether they were aware of these attempts to ‘defend’ their company or not.
And in closing I say again, as I said on every turn, the crew did an astonishing piece of airmanship when landing that bird on a runway far too short without crashing it, but then again, they made a grave error of judgment of landing at ARK in the first place, unless of course, they absolutely HAD TO which would bring us back to the initial suspicions voiced and questions asked. I cannot wait to get the preliminary and then the final report on this incident to see who has to eat the humble-pie, and as a wild guess, it is not going to be me.
Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from Eastern Africa.