“Wow, pulled back the wrong side throttle.”
These are the words of the captain of TransAsia Airways Flight GE235, eight seconds before the plane clipped a bridge and plunged into a Taiwanese river mere minutes after takeoff, killing 43 people on board.
The latest report by Taiwan’s Aviation Safety Council into the February crash confirms that the captain of the ATR 72-600 turboprop aircraft mistakenly switched off the plane’s working engine after the other lost power.
The plane is designed to be able to be flown on one engine.
The report also showed that the captain had failed simulator training less than a year earlier, partly because he had demonstrated a lack of knowledge of how to respond to engine flameout at takeoff.
The aircraft, which was less than a year old, flew perilously between buildings and clipped a bridge and a taxi before crashing into the shallow Keelung River in Taiwan’s capital, Taipei.
Fifteen of the 58 people on board the flight, all mainland Chinese or from Taiwan, survived.
The plane’s entire cockpit crew was killed in the crash, authorities said.
The findings come in the Aviation Safety Council’s Factual Data Collection Group Report, a presentation of facts found in investigating the crash.
The report draws no conclusions and makes no recommendations, and a final report is to follow in April 2016.
The report showed that less than a minute after takeoff, once the plane had climbed 1,200 feet, a master warning sounded, and a display showed that there had been an engine flameout, or power failure, in engine 2.
The captain responded by pulling back on the throttle — but on the other, working engine, shutting it off about 46 seconds after the other engine failed, causing the aircraft to stall.
The mistake was not noticed until about two minutes later, when the pilot managed to restore some power to engine 1, but it was too late to avoid the crash.
Criticisms of pilot
According to records provided to the investigators by TransAsia, the captain had previously served in the Taiwan Air Force as a pilot.
He worked for another airline briefly after leaving the Air Force, before joining TransAsia in August 2010.
He served as a first officer in the ATR 72-500 fleet, before completing upgrade training and being promoted to captain in August 2014. In November that year, he completed further training to transfer to the ATR 72-600 fleet as captain.
TransAsia training records show that during his upgrade training in April 2014, he failed a simulator check, performing unsatisfactorily on the abnormal engine start section, among others.
Among the areas of concern was that he demonstrated insufficient knowledge of dealing with engine flameout at takeoff, the instructor noted.
The pilot was given another session and qualified as captain after passing the simulator check.
During subsequent line training in July and August 2014, however, instructors made the following comments critical of his performance.
They noted he was “prone to be hesitated (sic) when facing situation that requires making decisions,” and “prone to be nervous and may make oral errors during the engine start procedure.”
Moreover, the pilot had shown “insufficient knowledge leading to hesitations in ‘both EEC (electronic engine controls) failure’ and ‘engine failure after V1’ situation.”
V1 is the speed beyond which takeoff can no longer be safely aborted.
However the captain, who had clocked 4,914 hours of flight time, passed all his training.
TransAsia issued a statement Thursday saying it had been “making a concerted effort” to enhance aviation safety, while attempting to assist the investigation.
Since the crash in February, the Taiwanese carrier had recruited aviation safety professionals, including Jon Beatty, CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, to join its aviation committee to provide advice, the statement said.
The airline had brought manufacturers of its aircraft to Taiwan to examine its planes, and had had all captains of its ATR craft sit “appropriateness” exams, which they had passed, it said.
TransAsia had also improved its training facilities, founding a training center and purchasing simulation planes, and had made other improvements including forming an aviation safety committee and boosting pay for staff, the airline said.
In July 2014, 48 people were killed when a TransAsia ATR 72-500 crashed when approaching to land in bad weather on Penghu Island, Taiwan.