How a Kenya Airways Boeing 737 crashed in stormy conditions in 2007
On Saturday May 5, 2007, a Kenya Airways Boeing 737-800 registration 5Y-KYA crashed in stormy conditions after taking off from MD-Douala International Airport (DLA) in Cameroon. Kenya Airways flight number KQ 507 was a scheduled flight from Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport (ABJ) to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) with a stopover at MD-Douala International Airport (DLA) in Cameroon .
The route of flight KQ 507. Image: GC Maps
After an uneventful flight from Ivory Coast to Cameroon, Kenya Airways flight KQ 507 was one of three aircraft scheduled to take off from Douala around midnight. Royal Air Maroc and Cameroon Airlines operated the other two flights. Intense thunderstorms and heavy rain in the area had delayed the start of all three bouts. While the two pilots of the Moroccan and Cameroonian planes decided to wait a little longer, Captain Francis Mbatia Wamwea, 52, concluded that the weather had improved enough to leave.
The plane took off in the night without authorization
Although he had not received clearance to take off from the tower, Captain Wamwea left Douala at 00:06 local time. Climbing into the night without visual references to approximately 1,000 feet, the captain released the flight controls, shouting “Ok”, instructing the co-pilot to engage the autopilot. This command was not read back by the copilot, suggesting that he had not acknowledged the command.
Now flying with no one at the controls, the aircraft gradually began to bank to the right. When the angle reached 34 degrees, the bank angle warning triggered, alerting the captain to grab the controls to try to correct the bank. Now at a 50 degree angle, it continued to rise with right rudder input, taking the angle beyond 90 degrees and sending the aircraft into a diving spiral. The plane crashed in a mango swamp 20 km southeast of Douala and was found submerged in mud and water. None of the 108 passengers and six crew members survived.
The accident investigation
The Cameroonian government has set up a commission to investigate the accident with the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The first suspicions related to the possibility of a flameout of the twin engine due to weather conditions and the nose-down position of the wreckage. The theory was that this would be consistent with both engines losing power and the aircraft stalling trying to return to the airport.
When a final report on the accident was published in 2010, the investigation revealed that the following events had occurred:
- The aircraft took off without receiving clearance from air traffic control.
- The captain, pilot at the controls, corrected a bank to the right several times after takeoff.
- After 42 seconds of flight, the Captain indicated that he had activated the autopilot.
- The autopilot did not engage and the message was not acknowledged by the copilot.
- The pilots did not notice that the plane banked more and more to the right.
- When a bank angle alert sounded 40 seconds later, the captain then activated the autopilot, but his actions on the controls caused the bank angle to increase again.
- The aircraft nosed over after reaching 2,900 feet with a right bank of 115°.
- The two pilots used opposing and contradictory commands in an attempt to recover the aircraft.
The final conclusion
After considering everything, investigators determined that the crash was due to pilot error caused by spatial disorientation (a person’s inability to decide the actual position, movement, and altitude of his body in relation to the earth or his environment). With no visual references available and no instrument scanning, they decided that Captain Wamwea was confused and disoriented.
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