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Air Crash Investigation on Continental Airlines Denver Runway Mishap Gives New Details

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Continental logoA preliminary report on last month’s crash of a Continental jet at Denver airport has determined that the pilot made every effort to control the plane, but a combination of crosswinds and mechanical failure may have caused the crash.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators are not completely finished with their probe into the December 20 crash, which destroyed the plane and injured 37 people.

The plane was attempting to take off when it veered across the runway, over a small hill and into a ravine before breaking apart and bursting into flames. Wind gusts of up to 34 knots were recorded around the airport at the time the jet took off.

Despite the fact that pilot tried unsuccessfully to straighten out the plane by first using the rudder then the tiller, the investigation has so far not turned up any problems with the brakes, tires or engines. However, the nose gear and steering assembly have not been fully examined yet.

Authorities are also not sure whether the bumping and rattling noises heard by passengers and recorded on the plane’s black box were normal takeoff sounds, or whether they are indicative of a mechanical problem or severe wind gusts.

Wind sensors around the airport are likely to be a focus of the investigation, which is expected to continue for up to one year. It is not clear whether the pilot was getting wind readings from the sensors near the control tower, or those closer to the runway.

Air traffic controllers don’t normally give pilots the latter reading unless the former shows a wind shear event, but it is possible that wind conditions may have been more severe out on the runway than controllers realized.

Related links: USA Today, Houston Chronicle

By Karen Elowitt for

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