NTSB praises pilots for handling of 2017 Michigan basketball team plane incident

Posted at 2:33 PM, Mar 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-07 14:54:27-05

(WXYZ) — The National Transportation Safety Board has completed its investigation into the 2017 incident involving the Michigan Basketball team plane at Willow Run Airport, determining that a jammed part was the cause of the problem and praising the flight crew.

According to the report, the MD-83 slid off the end of the runway during a rejected takeoff on March 8, 2017, because of an undetected mechanical malfunction.

The NTSB investigators found that a component of the elevator flight control system had jammed in the days before the accident flight was the aircraft was parked at Ypsilanti Airport during a wind storm with gusts up to 60 mph. Despite the flight control system begin designed and certified to withstand those gusts, computer simulation show that a nearby hanger generated local turbulence with a vertical component that could move the elevator up and down quickly, ultimately causing it to jam.

Seconds after the plane reached the takeoff decision airspeed of 158 mph and 5,000 feet down a 7,500-foot runway, the captain tried to raise the nose and get the plane airborne but was unsuccessful, leading him to abort the takeoff.

The airplane slowed down following the rejected takeoff but was going to fast to be stopped on the remaining runway. It left the runway at about 115 mph and traveled 950 feet across a runway safety area, struck a fence and then came to a stop after crossing a paved road.

According to the NTSB, the flight crew completed all preflight checks and found no problems, and the investigators said that "there was no way that the pilots could have detected the flight control jam until it was too late."

“This is the kind of extreme scenario that most pilots never encounter – discovering that their plane won’t fly only after they know they won’t be able to stop it on the available runway,” said NTSB Chairman Robert L. Sumwalt. “These two pilots did everything right after things started to go very wrong.”

Investigators determined that the captain's quick decision to abort the takeoff and the crew members' efforts to help "likely contributed to the survivability of an accident in which there were no serious injuries among the 110 passengers and six crew members."

The board also said that the 1,000-foot runway safety area which was added during airport upgrades helped.

“The addition of runway safety areas at many airports are a real success story in commercial aviation, as demonstrated in Ypsilanti” said Sumwalt. “RSAs across the nation have mitigated accidents, prevented injuries and saved lives.”