NTSB 'relieved' to have good data from UPS plane's recorders - WBRC FOX6 News - Birmingham, AL

NTSB 'relieved' to have good data from UPS plane's recorders

NTSB investigators at the crash site Friday. Source: NTSB NTSB investigators at the crash site Friday. Source: NTSB
An investigator holding one of the "black boxes." Source: NTSB An investigator holding one of the "black boxes." Source: NTSB

An National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) official said Friday that he breathed a huge sigh of relief after investigators determined the data from UPS Flight 1354 was usable.

"We were all very relieved to know we had good data from both of the recorders," Robert Sumwalt with the NTSB said at a Friday afternoon press conference.

The cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder, commonly known as "black boxes," were recovered from the UPS plane crash site Thursday at 11 a.m. Investigators worked late through the night to open the recorders and download their data.

Sumwalt says investigators have no analysis to offer after their first look at the data. He did however break down the last two minutes of the cockpit voice recording:

-Two minutes: The aircraft was cleared to land on Runway 18.

-16 seconds: Two audible alerts generated by a computer saying, "Sink rate. Sink rate," were heard.

-13 seconds: A crew member reported that the runway was in sight.

-Nine seconds: Sounds consistent with an impact.

Despite an abundance of new details, the NTSB cautions that they are still in the investigative phase. Here's what we do know and do not yet know:

-It is not yet clear if Fanning and Beal have landed on Runway 18 before but the NTSB is looking into this factor.

-Sumwalt says there is no evidence yet of a sudden drop in altitude.

-Sumwalt says that when the onboard computer alerts to the "sink rate," it means that the rate of descent compared to the plane's altitude and other parameters is outside of a safe zone. He says they do not yet know what conditions may have caused the computer to generate this audible alert.

-Sumwalt added that there is a software program in the air traffic control tower that will sound an alert if a plane is below the minimum safe altitude for a landing. He says that this Minimum Safe Altitude Warning (MSAW) system did not sound at the time of Wednesday's crash. Investigators will also look into this system to determine if it should have alerted air traffic control.

Over the weekend, investigators will listen to the cockpit voice recording again and create a full transcript. Another team will examine the more that 400 flight data parameters on the flight data recorder. They will then validate and verify those parameters to ensure that they match with what happened the day of the crash.

Also this weekend, NTSB investigators will interview a second air traffic controller who was on duty when the plane crashed. At the time of the crash, this controller was on break, something that air traffic controllers are allowed, Sumwalt says.

A second air traffic controller was in the tower at the time of the crash and has been interviewed. Sumwalt says this person is very experienced and reported that he witnessed the crash.

The controller says that he saw what appeared to be a "bright spark flash," which he equated to what it looks like when a power line breaks. He also says he observed the landing lights of the crash and then he no longer saw the lights. That was followed by a bright orange flash and then a red glow. The controller says he immediately activated the crash phone at that point.

Investigators shared more information about the crew as well. They say Cerea Beal, Jr. was the pilot on the flight and Shanda Fanning was the co-pilot.

Beal was hired by UPS in October 1990. He held the required airline transport pilot ticket and a first class FAA medical ticket. Beal had logged 8,600 total hours of flying time, with 6,400 of those hours with UPS and over 3,200 in an Airbus A300, which is the type of craft that crashed Wednesday.

Sumwalt says that Fanning was hired by UPS in November 2006. She also held the required airline transport pilot and medical ticket. She had logged 6,500 total flying hours, 1,250 hours with UPS and 400 hours flying in an Airbus A300.

Both crew members were rated specifically for the type of aircraft that crashed Wednesday. Sumwalt says their "duty day" began Tuesday evening before the crash. They flew from Rockford, Ill. to Peoria, to Louisville, Ky. and then to Birmingham.

Crews in Birmingham will complete diagramming the wreck site this weekend. The NTSB will hold additional press conferences this weekend so check back to MyFoxal.com, the WBRC News app and social media for contuing updates.

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