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Tue, Aug 26, 2008

Investigators Look At Flap Settings In Spanair Accident

Findings Dispute Initial Reports Of Engine Fire

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 08.26.08 1800 EDT: The head of the Spanish commission tasked with investigating last week's takeoff crash of a Spanair MD-82 described Tuesday the sequence of events leading up to the accident near Madrid's Barajas International Airport.

His comments describe an aircraft struggling to fly behind the power curve.

"The marks on the ground tell us that the plane hit the ground tail first and as a result the tail cone, the end part of the plane, broke off," said Francisco Soto, secretary of Spain's Civil Aviation Commission for Investigating Civil Aviation Accidents and Incidents.

Beatriz Reyes Ojeda is one of 18 people to have survived the accident... escaping with only a gash on her left leg. She told reporters Tuesday she, too, thought the plane was moving too slowly down the runway.

"I guess I did realize that when the plane was going to take off, perhaps it was not going so fast," said Reyes Ojeda upon her release from the hospital.

The airliner veered sharply on takeoff, its right wing dipping abruptly. "And I said to myself, something is going on here," Reyes Ojeda said. "I grabbed the seat. I noticed a bump. My stomach was rising and falling."

After the initial impact -- possibly indicative of the nose-high attitude seen in a departure stall -- the airliner then skidded, and bounced along the ground for nearly a mile.

Original Report

1000 EDT: In the aftermath of last week's devastating takeoff crash in Madrid, investigators immediately focused on witness reports of a fire coming from the left engine nacelle of the Spanair MD-82... but it now appears those reports may have been inaccurate.

According to the Wall Street Journal, officials are taking a closer look at the flap settings at the time of takeoff, after determining both turbofans were making power as the jet sped down the runway at Madrid Barajas International Airport on August 20.

People close to the investigation told the WSJ that based on components recovered in the wreckage, along with airport video footage that shows the plane taking off, there's little evidence to support earlier claims the airliner's engine was aflame before the aircraft departed the runway at MAD.

As ANN reported, 153 people were killed in the accident, out of 172 people onboard.

Authorities warn it's still too early to lay blame on any one factor. Data from the airliner's cockpit voice and flight data recorders is still being analyzed, and investigators' jobs are made more difficult by the severe fire damage to the wreckage.

Given what's known of the accident situation, however -- a heavily-laden jet that failed to climb out of ground effect, on what should have been a routine takeoff from a 10,000-foot runway -- investigators say if there wasn't a power problem, one of the few remaining possibilities is an issue with the configuration of the plane's flaps and wing slats.

They add it's possible the plane's flight crew was distracted during their preflight, and neglected to set takeoff flaps... or, they may have received a faulty indication in the cockpit.

Another possibility -- and one supported by reports the plane swerved off the runway -- is that the flaps deployed asymmetrically, resulting in each wing producing different levels of lift. Improper flap settings would have also been especially problematic if, in fact, the airliner did suffer an engine problem on takeoff.

Again, investigators stress it's too soon to say for certain if there was a flap problem on Spanair Flight 5022. In fact, at this stage they are fairly certain of only one thing.

An earlier defect with one of the plane's outside temperature sensors, that led the flight crew to abort their first takeoff attempt and return to the gate for repairs, doesn't appear to have been a direct factor in the subsequent crash.

FMI: www.spanair.com, www.ntsb.gov, www.boeing.com

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