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Jet’s Recorder Indicates Crew Error Caused Crash Pilot Made Wrong Turn Moments Before Crashing Into Colombian Mountain, Data Indicate

Fri., Dec. 29, 1995

A preliminary report on the crash of American Airlines Flight 965 indicates the crew apparently made a wrong turn during the flight’s final approach to the Cali airport.

The crew apparently made the turn because it misinterpreted a controller’s instructions to report when the plane approached a navigational aid outside the city, said a Colombian Civil Aviation official. Seconds later, the crew debated whether to turn the plane back, and tried unsuccessfully to get back on course.

“The pilot made a mistake” in deciding to make the turn, the official said.

However, the exact cause of the Dec. 20 crash that killed 160 people likely will not be determined for months.

Flight data released Thursday ruled out terrorism and mechanical failure, and American Airlines suggested human error was a factor.

Moments after the crew tried to correct the plane’s course, alarms blared in the cockpit. The crew increased engine power and lifted the plane’s nose, according to the data released. But the speed brakes located on the wings had already been activated for the descent, and they remained in an extended position until the end of the recording.

The brakes apparently hampered the plane’s ability to gain altitude.

American Airlines issued a statement Thursday saying it was “saddened that human error on the part of our people may have contributed to the accident.

“The accident reminds us that aviation, while not inherently dangerous, is terribly unforgiving of any inattention to detail.”

The findings could strengthen the claims of victims’ families who plan to sue American Airlines.

“If you hit a known mountain, that is pretty severe negligence,” said Aaron Podhurst, a Miami lawyer representing some of the relatives. Podhurst said in a telephone interview from Miami that he plans to file lawsuits in federal court there next week.

In Washington, David Hinson, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said the FAA was reviewing American Airlines’ “operating procedures and training programs to see whether changes would build an even greater margin of safety.”

The transcript of the discussion among crew members in the cockpit during the flight’s final seconds was not released. Colombia’s civil aviation authority did not say why.


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