Miscommunication between pilots blamed for United plane’s near ocean surface descent

According to federal investigators, a United Airlines jet came dangerously close to the ocean’s surface, diving within 748 feet (228 meters) shortly after taking off from Hawaii in December.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report on Thursday, stating that miscommunication between the pilots was the primary cause of the incident.

The NTSB found that the crew failed to effectively manage the aircraft’s vertical path, airspeed, and nose direction following a mix-up between the captain and co-pilot.

The incident occurred after a routine takeoff in heavy rainfall at Kahului Airport on the island of Maui. The captain had requested the co-pilot, also known as the first officer, to reset the wing flaps.

However, due to a misunderstanding, the co-pilot heard “15” instead of “five,” as per the NTSB’s findings.

Upon careful observation and analysis, the pilots swiftly came to the realization that the aircraft they were operating was, in fact, inclined in a downward trajectory, simultaneously gaining speed at an alarming rate.

This alarming discovery prompted a surge of concern and urgency within the cockpit, as the gravity of the situation became increasingly apparent.

The pilots were acutely aware of the potential dangers that lay ahead, understanding the implications of such a precarious situation.

With their extensive training and experience, they comprehended the gravity of the circumstances and immediately began to strategize and execute the necessary actions to regain control and stabilize the aircraft.

The pilots’ ability to swiftly identify and respond to the impending crisis showcased their professionalism and expertise, as they embarked on a race against time to rectify the perilous descent and prevent any further escalation of the situation.

Upon careful reflection, it became abundantly clear that the captain was grappling with an intricate challenge pertaining to the control of airspeed.

As the co-pilot recounted the events to the investigators, an air of uncertainty pervaded their recollection, for the true nature of the captain’s predicament remained elusive.

The disconcerting reality unfolded before their eyes as the plane’s nose persistently descended, compelling the co-pilot to cast a penetrating gaze through the windshield, only to witness the aircraft piercing through the dense veil of cloud cover.

The gravity of the predicament became immediately apparent to him as he recounted the harrowing experience.

With a sense of urgency, he vocalized the urgency of the situation, repeatedly exclaiming, “Pull up, pull up, pull up, pull up.” The gravity of the situation was further underscored by the activation of the plane’s ground proximity warning system, which emitted a piercing alarm.

As detailed by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Boeing 777, from an altitude of over 2,200 feet (670 meters), rapidly descended over 1,400 feet (427 meters) towards the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.

The report refrained from disclosing the identities of the pilots involved in this heart-stopping incident.

Despite the immense peril they faced, the pilots managed to regain control of the aircraft, averting a catastrophic outcome.

Upon receiving the information from the chief flight attendant that “everyone was OK” and there seemed to be no visible damage to the aircraft, the captain made the deliberate decision to proceed with the journey to San Francisco.

This choice was made with careful consideration and in adherence to the standard operating procedures of the airline.

With the reassurance that all passengers and crew members were accounted for and unharmed, the captain deemed it safe to continue the flight.

The subsequent part of the trip followed a customary routine, devoid of any unexpected occurrences or disruptions.

This exemplifies the captain’s commitment to ensuring the well-being and comfort of the passengers, as well as their timely arrival at the intended destination.

On that fateful day, as the clock ticked towards the twilight hours, a total of 271 passengers and 10 dedicated crew members embarked on a journey that would forever be etched in their memories.

The seasoned captain, a venerable 55-year-old with a wealth of experience, boasted an impressive tally of nearly 20,000 hours of flying under his belt, a testament to his unwavering commitment and unwavering dedication to his craft.

Such a remarkable figure not only attested to his profound expertise but also instilled a sense of reassurance and confidence in the hearts of those fortunate enough to be aboard.

Alongside him, the co-pilot, possessing a respectable 5,300 hours of flight time, complemented the captain’s vast knowledge and skillset, forming a formidable duo that unitedly navigated the vast skies with precision and grace.

In a testament to their unwavering commitment to their profession, both the captain and co-pilot continue to ply their trade for United Airlines, an airline that prides itself on the caliber of its personnel.

In light of the recent incident involving United Airlines, the paramount importance of ensuring the safety of both crew members and customers has come to the forefront.

United spokesman, Joshua Freed, emphasized this critical aspect by stating that there is nothing more vital than the well-being of those on board.

To guarantee that such incidents do not recur, United is committed to drawing on the lessons learned from this flight and using them to inform the training of all its pilots.

The fact that the pilots voluntarily reported the event is commendable, as it demonstrates their dedication to upholding safety standards.

Additionally, United’s full cooperation with the independent investigation is a testament to their commitment to improving safety not only within their own operations but for the entire industry.

Recognizing the significance of this incident, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the regulatory body for airlines, acknowledged that the United pilots reported the incident through their voluntary safety-reporting program.

The FAA reviewed the incident thoroughly and took appropriate action to address any potential shortcomings.

This collaborative effort between United and the FAA serves as a testament to the industry’s commitment to continuous improvement and ensuring the highest level of safety for all passengers.

The incident in question initially went largely unnoticed, with minimal attention being drawn to it. However, it was not until The Air Current, a reputable aviation publication, released a report analyzing the data collected from the plane involved, that the incident began to garner significant interest.

The publication’s in-depth analysis shed light on crucial details and provided a comprehensive understanding of the events that transpired.

By delving into the data, The Air Current was able to uncover valuable insights and present a thorough examination of the incident, capturing the attention of industry professionals and the wider public alike.

This report not only served to bring attention to the incident but also sparked discussions and debates surrounding aviation safety and the measures in place to prevent similar occurrences in the future.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), responsible for investigating transportation accidents in the United States, was not made aware of the aforementioned incident until two months had elapsed, during which crucial information from the flight’s black boxes had been recorded over.

This delay in reporting and subsequent loss of valuable data significantly hindered the NTSB’s ability to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident.

Coinciding with this unfortunate event was another incident involving a Hawaiian Airlines flight departing from Phoenix, which resulted in the injury of 36 individuals, 11 of whom sustained serious injuries, due to encountering severe turbulence as the aircraft approached its destination of Honolulu.

Prior to the flight, the National Weather Service had issued an advisory warning of thunderstorms and unstable air conditions in the area.

These two incidents, occurring on the same day, highlight the importance of timely communication and adherence to weather advisories in ensuring the safety of air travel and the well-being of passengers.