Airport Runway Accidents

airpoort runway accidents

Experienced Representation for Victims of Runway Accidents

Any pilot will tell you that the most critical times of a flight are during takeoff and landing. The margins for errors, in both circumstances, are slim. If anything goes wrong, the likely result is a runway accident, which can have deadly consequences.

According to a study published by Boeing Commercial Airplanes, nearly half of all aviation accidents occur during the final approach or landing (22 percent during approach and 25 percent during landing), and 14 percent occur during takeoff or initial climb (eight percent during takeoff and six percent during climb).

If you or a loved one have been harmed in an airport runway crash, it is in your best interest to speak with an experienced aviation attorney to protect your rights. The vast amount of rules and regulations governing air travel can make aviation accident cases complex and confusing, therefore, retaining a qualified aviation attorney is vital. The aviation attorneys at Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman have represented over 100 passengers in more than a dozen runway accidents and have dedicated their practice to ensuring that victims of runway accidents and all other forms of aviation accidents receive the justice and compensation they deserve. Call us today at 800-827-0087 or fill out our contact form for a free, no-obligation case consultation.

Takeoff and Landing Runway Accidents

Most of us have misconceptions about how plane crashes happen. Based on what we see in the movies and on TV, when we think of plane crashes, we typically think of the sensational —a mid-air collision or engine failure at 30,000 feet, resulting in planes plummeting from the sky.

The truth is that the majority of aviation accidents happen on the runway during takeoff or landing, not while the airplane is cruising in the air.

Three Reasons Why Airport Runway Accidents Are the Most Common of All Aviation Accidents

  • Takeoffs and landings are when planes are closest to the ground. There is often not enough time or altitude for the pilots to take corrective action.
  • Planes are traveling slower, closer to their stalling speeds, and forced to do more maneuvering during these critical times.
  • Planes are in closer proximity to one another when taking off or landing at an airport.

When a plane is close to the ground and/or in the proximity of other aircraft, there is little room for error. As we think of runway accidents, we typically think of a mechanical malfunction, maintenance issues or a number of other problems occurring during takeoff or landing that can lead to catastrophe, but oftentimes the pilots didn’t do everything they were required to do to set up a safe takeoff or landing.

What Causes Runway Accidents?

Pilot Error — Most runway accidents are the result of pilot error, which can result from tactical errors (such as poor actions, planning or decision making, often caused by lack of experience or fatigue) or operational errors (relating to training or instruction).

The 2013 Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash at San Francisco International Airport is an example of pilot error leading to a runway accident. According to the NTSB, the Asiana pilots made their approach to the airport at a dangerously low altitude and low airspeed, causing the Boeing 777 to strike the seawall at the edge of Runway 28L. The 777’s landing gear and then the tail section struck the seawall and separated from the rest of the aircraft, causing some passengers and flight attendants to be ejected from the plane as the plane was tumbling and crashing on the runway. Both engines, the vertical stabilizer and both horizontal stabilizers, separated from the aircraft as it spun and slid approximately 2,400 feet from the initial point of impact. Some passengers were violently tossed throughout the cabin and severely injured. The plane caught fire and was left a charred wreck. The rear of the plane separated and half of the roof was ripped open. At least 180 passengers suffered physical injuries. Baum Hedlund serves a leadership role among the handful of aviation attorneys managing the multidistrict litigation in the aftermath of this crash. Our firm represents 17 passengers injured in the Asiana runway crash.

Air Traffic Controller Error — Air traffic controllers are often responsible for dozens of planes taking off and landing at the same time. The job is a demanding one; difficult and complex. One small mistake can lead to a mid-air collision or runway incursion (this occurs when another plane or a vehicle is on a runway designated for a plane coming in to land, or starting its takeoff roll).

An example of air traffic controller error leading to a runway crash, is the case of USAir Flight 1493. On February 1, 1991, USAir Flight 1493 was touching down on Runway 24 at Los Angeles Interna¬tional Airport. At the same time, SkyWest Flight 5569 was positioned to takeoff from the very same runway. The USAir plane landed on top of the SkyWest plane, killing all 10 passengers and two crew onboard the SkyWest plane. Twenty passengers and two crewmembers aboard the USAir flight were killed. The NTSB ruled the probable cause of the crash as failure of the FAA’s air traffic control service to provide adequate policy direction and oversight to its air traffic control facility managers. This led to the failure of a local controller to maintain an awareness of the traffic situation, culminating in the inappropriate clearances and the subsequent collision of the USAir into a SkyWest aircraft. A contributing factor was the failure of the FAA to provide effective quality assurance of the Air Traffic Control system. We represented 14 clients in this tragic airport runway accident.

Mechanical Failure or Defective Design — Either of these causes can result in runway accidents. For example, if a landing gear does not deploy it can force pilots to perform a belly landing.

Maintenance Error — Roughly 12 percent of all aviation accident reports cite poor maintenance as a contributing factor. Between the years 1994 to 2004, maintenance issues contributed to 42 percent of fatal airline accidents in the U.S. (not including the 9/11 terrorist attacks).

Weather — Inclement weather can cause runway accidents when a plane is either unable to properly take off due to stormy weather, or unable to land appropriately, often causing the plane to overrun a runway. This was the case for American Airlines Flight 1420 in 1999. During that airport runway crash, a severe thunderstorm arrived at the airport in the moments prior to the landing of Flight 1420. At various times, air traffic controllers informed the captain of the flight of extremely high winds and, finally, a wind shear alert, but the captain decided to continue with the landing. The plane overran the runway, slamming into a walkway and landing lights before coming to a stop on the banks of the Arkansas River. The runway accident killed the flight captain, 10 passengers, and injured 110 others. Our firm represented 25 victims in this runway accident.

Runway Excursion

Commonly referred to as a runway overrun, a runway excursion is when an aircraft veers off or overruns the runway surface. Runway excursions occur while an aircraft is taking off or landing and can involve a variety of factors ranging from unstable approaches, to the condition of the runway.

According to a study conducted by the Flight Safety Foundation, roughly 96 percent of all runway accidents and 80 percent of the deaths stemming from runway accidents, are the result of runway excursions. The Flight Safety Foundation study found that runway excursions are the most common type of all runway accidents.

Our aviation attorneys have represented nearly 70 passengers in runway excursion cases.

On March 5, 2000, Southwest Fight 1455, a Boeing 737, crashed after the pilot came in “hot and high” and careened off the end of the runway, through barriers, crossed a street, hit a car and came to rest just feet from fuel pumps at a gas station on Hollywood Way in Burbank, California. Our lawyers represented 10 passengers from this runway excursion.

Two or our senior attorneys coordinated and lead the discovery efforts for all of the lawsuits filed in the aftermath of this crash. Attorney Ronald L. M. Goldman and J. Clark Aristei deposed the pilots who were flying the airplane, as well as senior Southwest Airlines personnel, including the Vice President of Safety and their Chief Pilot. The Captain of Southwest Flight 1455 continued his approach into Burbank even though his approach was well outside the required glide path, as well as approach speed and landing speed. The Southwest Airlines pilots landed notwithstanding the dangers of their approach.

Runway Incursion

The second most common type of runway accidents, according to the Flight Safety Foundation study, are runway incursions. These occur when an aircraft collides with an unauthorized vehicle, a person on the runway or another plane. Incursion runway accidents are not as common as excursion runway accidents, but they are certainly just as dangerous. In five fatal runway incursions that happened between 1995 and 2007, 129 people lost their lives. The deadliest runway incursion in history killed 583 people in the Canary Islands. Two Boeing 747s collided on March, 27, 1977 at Los Rodeos Airport (now Tenerife North Airport) on the Spanish island of Tenerife.

One of the runway accidents we handled involving an incursion, was the United Express Flight 5925 incursion with a Beechcraft King Air plane in 1996. Flight 5925 was landing on one of the airport runways while the Beechcraft King Air was taking off. The planes collided at the intersection of both runways. There were 12 people aboard Flight 5925 and two people in the Beechcraft King Air. Everyone in both planes was killed in the tragic runway crash. We represented the family of a United Express passenger who died.

In 1991, we represented 14 passengers, both injured and killed, when a confused air traffic controller at LAX instructed USAir 1493, a Boeing 737-300 to land where a Skywest regional plane, a Fairchild Metroliner, was waiting for its turn to take off. The Boeing 737 slammed into the Metroliner, crushing it.

Runway Confusion

Runway confusion is when a single plane uses the wrong runway or a taxiway during landing or takeoff. Only two fatal runway accidents in recent years have been attributed to runway confusion: Singapore Airlines Flight 006 and Comair Flight 5191.

On October 31, 2000, the pilots of Singapore Airlines Flight 006 attempted to takeoff on a closed runway, in the midst of a typhoon. The plane crashed into some construction equipment, killing 83 of the 179 people onboard. We represented four passengers injured in this runway accident.

Who Can be Held Liable for Runway Accidents?

As you can see, runway accidents can happen in many different ways, which means that many different parties can be held liable when they occur.

  • If a runway crash is caused by (or partially caused by) pilot error, crew member negligence or faulty maintenance, the airline and the person (or persons) responsible may be held accountable.
  • If a runway accident is caused by air traffic controller error, liability in the case is different. Air traffic controllers are Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees. A claim involving an error committed by a federal employee has to be filed under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA).
  • If an accident is caused by a faulty part or mechanical failure, a product liability claim can possibly be filed against the parts manufacturer or the airplane’s manufacturer.

Legal Rights for Victims of Runway Accidents

If you have been the victim of a runway accident, it is in your best interest to retain an experienced aviation attorney as quickly as possible to ensure that you receive maximum compensation. In the weeks following a runway crash, you and your family will be thrust into dealing with questions from the airline, insurance companies and perhaps even authorities, which is why you need an attorney to advocate on your behalf during this difficult time. All of the defendants in your case will likely have a strong defense team trying to limit their liability, so it is imperative that you have someone fighting for you.

The aviation law firm of Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman has litigated cases on behalf of more than 700 passengers, crew members and ground workers involved in personal injury and wrongful death claims in the U.S. and around the world. Our team has over 40 years of aviation accident litigation experience, successfully resolving cases against some of the largest airlines in the world, many of them stemming from airport runway accidents. For a free case evaluation with a Baum Hedlund aviation attorney, fill out this form or call 800-827-0087.