Pilot, controller errors to blame for Southwest crash

Friday June 28, 2002

LOS ANGELES — Errors by the pilots and air traffic controllers caused a Southwest Airlines jet to skid off a runway and onto a street during a botched landing at Burbank Airport two years ago, federal officials said. 

The National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday that the twin-engine Boeing 737 arriving from Las Vegas was going too fast and descended at a steep angle when it landed on March 5, 2000. 

The plane overshot the runway, crashed through a concrete barrier and came to a stop on a busy street. Two of the 137 passengers were seriously injured and the captain and 41 passengers suffered minor injuries. 

NTSB investigators said air traffic controllers directed Flight 1455 onto a path that was too high as the jetliner approached the airport. Investigators said the jetliner was traveling about 200 mph as it landed, about 50 mph faster than normal. The plane also was at a six-degree angle, about twice as steep as usual. 

“That was way too fast, and that meant trouble,” Barry Schiff, a retired Trans World Airlines pilot and air crash consultant said. 

NTSB investigators also said the pilots did not apply the wheel brakes with full force, which led to the plane crashing through the barrier at the end of the 6,032-foot runway. 

“Had the accident flight crew applied maximum manual brakes immediately upon touchdown, the airplane would likely have stopped before impacting the blast fence,” the final NTSB report said. 

The plane’s captain, Howard Peterson, a veteran with 11,000 hours of flight time, exclaimed, “My fault! My fault!” as the jetliner skidded through the fence, according to a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder. 

Peterson then told his co-pilot, Jerry Erwin, “Well, there goes my career.” 

Both pilots were fired a few weeks later. Erwin won reinstatement after his union filed a grievance. Peterson had his release overturned and was allowed to retire. 

More than two dozen lawsuits were filed against Southwest in connection with the accident. The nation’s seventh-largest air carrier said it was willing to concede that pilot negligence was to blame.