NTSB says flight recorders were successful - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

NTSB says flight recorders were successful, pilots say terrain may have been a factor

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -


The best news in the announcement Friday is that the flight recorders- or black boxes- did their job. Investigators now have clear audio and data to work with to try and figure out what happened on Flight 1354 killing two pilots.

"I personally breathed a huge sigh of relief once I learned we had good data," Robert Sumwalt, National Transportation Safety Board said.

It's the most critical piece of figuring what went wrong on Flight 1354... 

NTSB board member Robert Sumwalt told us they are very pleased with the recordings- they were able to capture the entire accident.  

'We will have a lot of data to pull all of this together to help us determine the cause of this accident," he said.

The flight path took them from Rockford, Illinois, to Peoria, then to Louisville and Birmingham. The audio indicates the crew communicated their approach to air traffic controllers. They were cleared to land, 16 seconds before the plane went down- the "sink rate" alert came on. That means if you're going down faster than you're supposed to be, a warning goes off. Then 9 seconds before the crash, investigators say you can hear sounds consistent with the impact. 
Two controllers were on duty at the time of the crash. One of them watched it all unfold...

"He reported he no longer saw the landing lights, followed by a bright orange flash, according to the controller, that was followed by a red glow, and he immediately activated the crash phone," Sumwalt said.

One local pilot told us he believes this crash sounds similar to the Bruno Family plane crash in 1991 in Georgia. The report states the crew was not aware of their location due to mountainous terrain. It - like the UPS crash - states a "ground proximity warning" would have sounded several seconds before impact, allowing pilots time to avoid a crash.

Another local pilot told us today by phone, that Birmingham is a difficult place to land. He explained that the airport sits in somewhat of a bowl - surrounded by hills.

"To the south you have the TV towers, to the North, you have rising terrain and to the East also," a local pilot told us. "So if you're approaching like the aircraft was from the North, descending South, you have the hills South of the runway there, and so that's something you are going to be concerned about." 

NTSB officers are stressing they are still in a data collection phase.  At this point, crews in DC will be going over the tape and writing a transcript of the pilot's voices this weekend. Sumwalt also told us both pilots were very experienced on the airbus 300 and logged thousands of hours in flying time. He says after all the information collected during the past two days, he feels the NTSB is right where it should be. 

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