Did Flight 1420 Pilots Ad-Lib the Landing?

  • Share
  • Read Later
It was a bad time to be winging it. NTSB investigators haven't yet determined exactly why American Airlines Flight 1420 skidded off that wet runway in Little Rock last Tuesday night, but it seems the pilots are back atop the list of suspects. Sources close to the investigation told USA Today that chief pilot Richard Buschmann and copilot Michael Origel seem to have skipped all or part of their landing "checklist" that airlines use to make sure their pilots follow proper procedure, especially during takeoff and landing. (Buschmann was killed in the accident; Origel survived.) Did the pilots chuck the book when they got a look at the hairy conditions on the ground? Or was it a different sort of foul-up -- the Associated Press has reported that the checklist observed in the cockpit that night displayed data for takeoff instead of landing.

American doesn't take many chances when it comes to procedure -- the airline programs its lists directly into the console, calling for pilots to flip a switch after each task is completed. Copilot Origel has told investigators that he recalled reading the checklist while Buschmann flew the jet, but investigators still haven't been satisfied about why certain steps -- first and foremost the deployment of the wing spoilers -- apparently weren't performed. A mechanical postmortem may help them decide; the wrecked plane got the Flight 800 treatment on Tuesday and was moved to a hangar for autopsy. The plane's spoiler system will be removed and sent to NTSB labs for testing that, in a few weeks, could definitively decide between pilot and mechanical error. USA Today's sources may be trying to save us the wait.