American Airlines Flight 965

From Academic Kids

American Airlines Flight 965 was a flight that flew from Miami International Airport in Miami, Florida to Alfonso Bonilla Aragón International Airport in Cali, Colombia. The plane on the flight crashed into a mountain in South America on December 20, 1995.

On that day, the flight used N651AA, a Boeing 757 (previously flown by Eastern Airlines which sold its South American routes to American in 1990), carrying 156 passengers and 8 crew members. At 9:40 PM, just five minutes before its scheduled arrival, the plane went down in the Andes, in the first fatal 757 incident in U.S. history, and at the time, the worst American air disaster since the downing of Pan Am Flight 103 seven years before. Only four passengers and a dog survived the crash.

Due to an attack by anti-government guerrillas in 1992, Cali's air traffic controllers had no radar to monitor the 757 as the pilots flew the approach using the area's radio instruments and airport's instrument approach system. Cali's approach uses several radio beacons to guide pilots around the mountains and canyons that surround the city. The airplane's flight management system already had these beacons programmed in, and should have, in theory, told the pilots exactly where to turn, climb, and descend, all the way from Miami to the terminal in Cali.

Since the weather was fair, Cali's controllers asked the pilots if they wanted to fly a different, more direct approach into the airport. The pilots agreed, and misinterpreting the word "direct", cleared the approach waypoints from their navigation computer. When the controller asked the pilots to check back in over Tulua, north of Cali it was no longer programmed into the computer, and so they had to pull out their maps to find it. In the meantime, they extended the aircraft's spoilers to slow it down and expedite its descent.

By the time they found Tulua's coordinates, they had already passed over it. In response to this, they attempted to program the navigation computer for the next approach waypoint, Rozo. However, Rozo was not in the computer's list of stored waypoints. By picking the first "R" from the list, the captain caused the autopilot to start flying a course to Bogota. resulting in the airplane turning east in a wide semicircle. By the time the error was detected the aircraft was in a valley running roughly north-south parallel to the one they should have been in. So when they fed the autopilot the Cali airport's coordinates they put the aircraft on a collision course with a 3,000 m mountain.

Nine seconds before the plane hit the mountain, the Ground Proximity Warning System kicked in, and began announcing an imminent terrain collision, and sounded an alarm. The captain and first officer attempted to climb clear of the mountain, but the spoilers reduced the climb rate and the aircraft hit the mountain, near its peak.

American Airlines filed a lawsuit against Jeppesen and Honeywell, who made the navigation computer and failed to include the coordinates of Tulua. Cali's old approach system and lack of radar have both been blamed. Many pilots have blamed the lack of a flight engineer in modern cockpits, which places a greater workload on the two pilots in front. Many blamed the pilots for not studying the Cali approach before attempting to land there. Boeing has been blamed for not equipping its spoilers to automatically retract when the aircraft accelerates, a standard feature on Airbus aircraft.

What happened to the flight number?

The flight route designation of the Miami, FL to Cali route is now Flight 921.

See also


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