British Airways Crash at Heathrow Airport Caused by Unrecognized Ice Fault

by Tiffany Millar on February 10, 2010

The Air Accident Investigation Branch has released a report about what they believe caused the crash-landing of a British Airways plane upon entry to Heathrow Airport on January 17, 2008. They found that the cause was an unknown ice fault that wasn’t covered in aviation safety requirements then.

The British airline was carrying 136 passengers when it lost power before landing. A report from the incident said that there were only 43 seconds between the time the cabin crew knew about an engine problem to the time the jet touched down. Fortunately only 36 passengers and cabin crew had minor injuries of the neck and back, although one person had a broken leg.

According to the Air Accident Investigation Branch’s report, the loss of power was due to the fuel flow being restricted from both of the engines on the plane. They say that this was probably because of ice buildup in the system, and they believe it was formed from the water that naturally dissolves in fuel when the fuel temperature comes to a sticky range, which allowed ice crystals to form.

When the flight crash-landed, safety regulations didn’t think about this phenomenon, because they didn’t know about the risk. Previous research had shown that ice could develop in the fuel system of a plane, but they didn’t know it could restrict the fuel’s flow. However, the report found that a plane’s fuel oil heat exchanger is susceptible to the restriction in a case where a lot of snow is present and the temperature of the fuel is below -10°C (14°F).

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