The 2008 Spanair crash at Madrid-Barajas International Airport

At noon on August 20th 2008, in the heat of the Spanish sun, Spanair flight JK 5022 was scheduled to leave Madrid to make it’s way to Las Palmas airport in Gran Canaria. Madrid airport is a busy airport and is acknowledged as being in the top 5 or so airports in Europe. Handling almost half a million take offs and landings a year, the passengers making their way to this flight were no doubt, and quite rightly feeling confident that everything would go to plan and that in a very short time they would find themselves on their island destination.

However, on this day, that was not to be the case. The McDonnell Douglas MD 82 aircraft had a couple of hitches before it even attempted to take to the sky. It is acknowledged that initial take off had been delayed for an hour because of a faulty heat sensor which is reported as having been “disconnected” by a mechanic before the actual take off.

When the plane later made for take off it is described as making its way along the runway and subsequently veering off course, impacting and breaking in two. When the plane broke, the fuel that had leaked from its tanks following the impact took light and immediately killed 146 passengers and crew. The death toll rose to 154 when six remaining people died on their way to hospital and then a further two died later while at hospital.

This crash is extremely bad news in its own right, but could not have come at a worse time for the failing Spanair airline. Finding itself in the same situation as many other airlines, and failing to compete with the budget airlines, Spanair saw its financial situation go from bad to worse. Its major shareholder, the SAS Group had tried to sell out for what they believed to be the market value, but had failed and despite a government-backed loan of over 10million euro, the company was unable to make headway.

The cause of the crash appears to be a heady combination of human and mechanical errors and to this day there appears to be some ambiguity about exactly what happened, as well as why and how it was allowed to happen. The Spanish government’s Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission stated after the crash that their investigations had led them to believe that between the pilot and the co-pilot a range of human errors had been allowed to happen and that this, along with mechanical issues and poor decisions on the ground had been the cause of the crash.

The major contributing factor to the crash was that the pilot and co-pilot did not make sure that the flaps and slats were correctly positioned for take off. It was normal procedure for these to be checked and cross checked and that they did not adhere to the guidelines. Moreover, the mechanical Take Off Warning System did not pick up the human error, exacerbating the issue to catastrophic levels. These, along with a reported mobile phone call that distracted the pilot as well as poor supervision and technical training of ground crew are all sited as contributing factors to the sad loss of life caused by the 2008 Spanair Crash.