Pilot not told of storm before crash

September 21, 1994|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Sun Staff Correspondent

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The captain of the USAir DC-9 that crashed here July 2 testified yesterday that he would have cut short his landing had air traffic controllers passed along reports of the lightning and heavy rainfall that preceded a deadly wind shift that slammed the airliner to the ground, killing 37 of the 60 people aboard.

"If I had known there was a thunderstorm on the field, I would have discontinued my approach," said Capt. Michael Greenlee, 38, who was acting as co-pilot while his first officer flew the aircraft.

Earlier testimony in the hearings showed that lightning reports from other planes in the area were broadcast on a frequency that USAir Flight 1016 was not tuned to, and the reports were not relayed to the aircraft.

In addition, air controller Fred Masi testified Monday that while he told the approaching aircraft of rain in the area, he did not specify that it was Level 3 precipitation, a National Weather Service designation indicating heavy rain.

Investigators focused on missed communication between the controllers and the aircraft, possible lapses in the crew's judgment, flying techniques, the crew's awareness of its position and adherence to proper flight procedures.

Also scrutinized was the training of USAir pilots to deal with a wind-shear microburst, a rapid vertical wind shift that can push an aircraft into the ground.

The captain and First Officer James Philip Hayes recalled their flight as a smooth ride until the final moments of their approach into Charlotte/Douglas International Airport. As they approached Charlotte, they noted a small storm cell to the south of the airport, and Captain Greenlee briefly observed to his first officer that there was a "chance of shear."

Later, as the aircraft descended toward the runway, the control tower warned of wind shear conditions in another part of the airport, but the cockpit voice recorder did not indicate that the pilots seriously considered aborting the landing at either time.

The testimony showed that the captain did take some steps to find out more about the weather, including asking pilots who had just landed how their approaches had gone and receiving favorable reports. However, he conceded he had not pressed the control tower for more information.

As the plane was descending to 3,000 feet, the controller told Flight 1016 to prepare for an instrument-guided landing because there was some rain over the runway, the captain recounted.

About 20 seconds before impact, Flight 1016 ran into rain so heavy, Captain Greenlee testified, that the plane's wipers were useless. He ordered Mr. Hayes to abandon the approach. Investigators said the flight data recorder showed that the plane was only about 240 feet above ground when the landing was abandoned. The pilots testified that they believed they were closer to 500 feet. The microburst struck just at that point.

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