A-320 crash in Warsaw

From:         adam@kurdel.harvard.edu (Adam Dobrzycki)
Date:         19 Oct 93 11:52:08 PDT
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The crash of Lufthansa A-320 at Okecie airport in Warsaw, 14 Sep. 93

First, two important statements:
1. NONE of the information presented below comes from "official"
2. Polish industry is not involved in Airbus consortium. There are no
   Airbuses registered in Poland or used by any Polish carrier.

Okecie airport has two runways. There is a third one, but is not used
any more. The plane landed on the shorter one, which is at least 2800
meters (~9200 feet) long (at least, because the latest information
about it I have is from a 1980 publication, and it could have been
extended since then).

The plane happened to land during (or shortly after) a short, but very
heavy rain. There were random gusts of wind. Some planes landed safely
before the fatal A-320 though, and other landed later, after short
(~30 min.) break caused by the crash.

The plane was flown by the co-pilot (who was one of the two

The plane touched down very far into the runway, for unknown reason
(gust of wind? pilot error?). The plane ended up with ~700 meters of
space to brake.

Now we're entering the most speculative part of the whole story.
Apparently, under normal circumstances A-320 switches the reverse
thrust on automatically by itself, when, among other things, the
rotation rate of wheels reaches some value. It appears that the wheels
were skidding, and the guess is that the pilot simply trusted the
plane too much and waited too long for the reverse thrust to switch
on, instead of either immediately taking off or overriding the automat
and switching the reverse thrust on manually.

(I stress that I don't know whether this is true -- I just repeat what
I've heard.)

The runway is limited with a busy Warsaw-Cracow railroad track. At the
end of the runway there is an embankment (to protect the railroad?).
The pilot tried to escape from hitting the embankment, turning right
at the end of the runway, but hit it anyway, and the plane caught

Now another speculation: apparently, the plane left Frankfurt carrying
fuel for the whole FRA-WAW-FRA trip, which contributed badly to
spreading of the fire.

Two people died (the co-pilot and one passenger). Most of other people
on board were injured, but as far as I know, there were no really
serious injuries.

The airport emergency services responded very quickly. The traffic
controller at the tower activated the alarm when he noticed how far
into the runway the plane landed, even BEFORE the plane hit the

It appears that all the following may have contributed to the crash:
- Airplane design error. NB, is there anybody more knowledgeable than
  me who could verify whether this whole stuff with automatic
  switching on of the reverse thrust is true?
- Pilot error: landing too far into the runway; trusting the automat
  too much; not aborting the landing procedure in bad weather.
- Very bad weather. People keep repeating that this rain was
  incredibly heavy. A gust of wind may be responsible for pushing the
  plane too far into the runway.

One bizarre thing is that the flight recorder was sent to France
(hardly an impartial country!), supposedly because it has to be read
with the use of a special equipment...