UPS Pilots Got 2 Warnings

Automated system told them descent too low seconds before crash

By John Johnson,  Newser Staff

Posted Aug 17, 2013 5:51 AM CDT

(Newser) – The pilots killed in this week's crash of a UPS plane in Birmingham got two automated warnings that they were coming in too low, says the NTSB. But they didn't have much time to process them—the first came 7 seconds before impact, reports the Wall Street Journal. Three seconds after the first "sink rate" alarm sounded in the cockpit, one of the two pilots said the runway was in sight, but the plane soon clipped power wires and slammed into a hill. A veteran pilot was at the controls: Cerea Beal had 8,600 flying hours with UPS—3,000 alone in A300 cargo planes, the type that went down—and before that served as a Maine helicopter pilot. But it's unclear whether he had ever landed at this particular runway before at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.

Authorities say it's tricky because it's not equipped with the electronics for a full instrument landing and thus requires a visual approach. The crash occurred in the pre-dawn dark, while it was raining. "When I heard they were using Runway 18, it caught my attention because of that hill," a commercial pilot tells AP. "It's sad, but it didn't surprise me." A longer runway at the airport with a more modern landing system had been closed for maintenance. The co-pilot was previously identified as 37-year-old Shanda Fanning.

The National Transportation Safety Board and FBI scour the accident scene, north of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport.   (AP Photo/al.com, Frank Couch)
This photo provided shows Shanda Fanning, of Lynchburg, Tenn., and Dudley Fort, sitting in Fort's airplane. Fanning was the co-pilot in the UPS crash.   (AP Photo/Hank Williamson Jr.)
An investigator inspects the scene.   (AP Photo/AL.com, Mark Almond)
Investigators search through the debris.   (AP Photo/Butch Dill)
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