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Daily Southtown
By Guy Tridgell
October 2, 2007

The crew piloting Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 never knew about a company policy that prohibited them from landing on slippery runways while backed by a stiff tailwind, National Transportation Safety Board investigators disclosed today.

Southwest requires flights to divert when runway conditions are poor and tailwinds exceed 5 knots.

The speed of the tailwind recorded before Flight 1248 slid from Midway Airport's Runway 31-C was 8 knots, NTSB officials said. The condition of the runway was graded at fair to poor at the time of the landing.

The pilots of Flight 1248 were attempting to land during a fierce snowstorm Dec. 8, 2005.

Within seconds after touching down, the Boeing 737 skidded from the runway and crashed through fence surrounding the Southwest Side airfield. A 6-year-old Northwest Indiana boy died when the plane smashed into his family's car at 55th Street and Central Avenue.

The crew of Flight 1248 was not the only one unaware of the airline's rules for landing on slick runways when accompanied by strong winds.

Katherine Lemos, a human performance engineer for the NTSB, testified during a hearing this morning that the crews of three other Southwest flights that night did not know of the policy.

Meeting in Washington D.C., NTSB board members spread the blame on both the airline and the flight crew.

Board member Kitty Higgins expressed sympathy for the pilots. She noted no one briefed them about what to do, even though they repeatedly showed concern about landing conditions in Chicago shortly after taking off from Baltimore.

"They were concerned about safely landing and getting people there safely," Higgins said. "But there was a lot working against them."

Another board member, Steve Chealander, said the captain and first officer should have been shown more responsibility for educating themselves on their airline's landing policies.

"I don't have to have my airline hand-holding me," he said. "We can't totally fault Southwest Airlines for not providing guidance to this crew. We can blame the airline if we like. I'm more apt to blame the flight crew."

Mark V. Rosenker, the board's chairman, said everything aspect of the landing needed to work perfectly during a storm that dropped almost 10 inches of snow at the airport.

"That, to me, slices the salami a little too thinly," Rosenker said. "These people should have made a different decision."

The hearing today is one of the final steps in the NTSB's investigation. A summary of findings and a probable cause will be released later today. A full report on the accident is expected in a few weeks.

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Chicago Tribune
By Jon Hilkevitch
June 21, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Southwest Airlines Capt. Bruce Sutherland couldn't see the touchdown markings on the snowy runway at Midway Airport on Dec. 8, and his plane was skidding toward the end of a landing strip that was, to him, a "black hole."

"Come on, baby. ... Son of a [expletive]," the captain blurted out, according to cockpit transcripts released Tuesday.

"Jump on the brakes, are ya?" First Officer Steven Oliver yelled back.

"Oh, no, a car," Sutherland shouted after Flight 1248 overran the end of the runway.

The Boeing 737-700 rolled through two fences and landed on top of a car on Central Avenue, crushing and killing Joshua Woods, 6. As National Transportation Safety Board officials opened a two-day fact-finding hearing Tuesday, they focused on a series of events and decisions that broke the aviation safety chain, standards and procedures designed to prevent a single misstep from causing disaster.

The transcripts show a crew acknowledging it was operating near the margins of safety as it prepared to land in bad weather on one of Midway's relatively short runways.

The pilots considered diverting the flight to St. Louis or Kansas City, Mo., and at several points seemed to rule out the idea of trying to land at Midway. But after each moment of reconsideration, they continued toward Chicago, apparently willing to put off the final decision.

The onboard flight computer calculated that the plane would come to a stop with only 30 feet of runway to spare, based on the assumption that the runway condition was poor, as some pilots reported earlier.

"Wow. Wooo. If it's poor it's scary," Oliver is recorded telling Sutherland about Midway's deteriorating runway conditions midway into the flight.

"I ain't doin' it," replied Sutherland, who had a 26-year career as an Air Force pilot before joining Southwest in 1995.

Sutherland and Oliver apparently mistakenly thought they had a larger buffer than 30 feet of runway. They thought that thrust-reversers would slow the aircraft more quickly than the computer indicated, officials said. But Southwest programs its 737-700 computers to account for the thrust-reversers.

In any event, the thrust-reversers were of minimum assistance on Flight 1248, NTSB investigator-in-charge Robert Benzon told the hearing.

Sutherland experienced problems lifting the reverse-thruster levers. Oliver finally deployed the devices, but the full effect of reverse thrust was not obtained until 27 seconds after the plane touched down, Benzon said. The plane skidded off the runway about seven seconds later.

The possibility of that grim outcome had occurred to the pilots much earlier in the flight, as they were discussing using an unfamiliar automatic braking system for the first time, the transcripts show.

"No procedure if that sucker fails when you touch down?" Oliver asked Sutherland as the plane approached Chicago. "We just go through the fence? We never talk about any of that stuff, ya know?"

While a strong drive to complete a mission has been identified as a contributing factor in some aviation accidents, Sutherland told investigators that he did not feel any pressure from Southwest to complete the flight to Chicago if he considered it dangerous.

As the snowstorm intensified, co-pilot Oliver made an announcement that the plane would be on the ground in about 25 minutes, telling passengers "...we're gonna get you safely on your way."

But in the seclusion of the cockpit, the two pilots repeatedly discussed the messy runway conditions at Midway. With a mixture of concern and confidence, they checked and rechecked the possibilities.

"The weather outside is frightful," Oliver said in what the transcript describes as a singsong voice--evoking the words of a Christmas carol--about an hour into the scheduled 1 1/2-hour flight, which had departed Baltimore about two hours late because of the winter storm socking the Midwest.

"The weather outside is rosy," Sutherland responded. Both men laughed.

The pilots were aware that another Southwest plane landed on the same Midway runway nine minutes before they did.

But they did not know that just a few minutes later, before Flight 1248's landing, a different Southwest flight crew didn't like what they saw at Midway and decided to fly to St. Louis.

The Flight 1248 pilots had agreed early on that they would try to land at Midway so long as the tailwind buffeting the plane did not increase to 10 knots and the runway-braking action was not rated "poor" for the entire length of the runway, according to the NTSB investigation.

The tailwind was 8 to 9 knots when the plane landed, and the runway condition was rated "fair" on the first half of the runway and "poor" on the second half, officials said.

As the plane was on its final approach, Oliver told the captain: "We're all counting on you."

Sutherland laughed again and Oliver added: "Picked the wrong day to stop sniffin' glue," an apparent allusion to the 1980 film comedy "Airplane!"

"Yea," said Sutherland.

But as they touched down, the tone of the transcripts changes drastically, the commentary replaced by a series of clipped exclamations and expletives:

"We ain't goin' man."

"We're [expletive]."

"We are [expletive]."

"All right, keep it straight."

"Hang on."

"Hang on."

Sutherland told investigators that after the plane came to a stop he shut down the jet's engines and that his top priority was evacuating the 98 passengers from the plane because flight attendants reported smelling leaking jet fuel.

In the tumult, the 59-year-old captain, who was a year away from the mandatory retirement age, recalled looking out the cockpit window and seeing a man with a bloody face holding a child in his arms.

Oliver, 34, saw the child move, which made him happy, Oliver later told investigators. But he suddenly realized there was still someone in the car.

Leroy Woods of Leroy, Ind., the man holding the child, was yelling at Sutherland to get the plane off of his other son, who was pinned inside the car.

Industry officials said that recreating and dissecting those painful moments, and all that led up to them, is crucial to ensuring it does not happen again."The legacy of this must be to learn all we can to enhance aviation safety," said Terry McVenes, an airline captain and air safety chairman at the Air Line Pilots Association.

- - -

Southwest pilot: `We can't do it.'

Excerpts from the cockpit voice-recorder transcripts of Southwest Airlines Flight 1248:

First Officer Steven Oliver: Field condition.

Captain Bruce Sutherland: Wet poor.

Oliver: Wow.

Sutherland: Can't do it.

Oliver: I mean it's [what is it] 30 feet at max braking.

Sutherland: I know.

Oliver: Know you're good but. I mean that's really tight. . . . And then you know what's funny like if if you know we got we got that 30 feet of stopping MAX.

Sutherland: Ah ha.

Oliver: No procedure if that sucker fails when you touch down? We just go through the fence? We never talk about any of that stuff, ya know? Er if it fails on on landing?

Sutherland: Yeah.

Oliver: You do I tell you to go around? What you know what if it doesn't there's no guidance on it.

Oliver: I'm my butt's gonna be squeezed so tight you never seen a butt squeezed tighter.

Sutherland: We got too much tailwind we can't do it.

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New York Times
By Matthew L. Wald
June 20, 2006

WASHINGTON, June 20 - It would be close, the crew of Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 knew, as they headed for a snowy runway at Midway airport in Chicago on Dec. 8, 2005. If the runway condition was "fair," the pilots agreed, they would land, but if the condition was reported as "poor," they would divert, probably to St. Louis.

The latest report was that the first part of the runway was in "fair" condition and the second part "poor," so they landed. The plane crashed through the blast fence at the end of the runway, then through a perimeter fence, and hit a car in a street intersection outside the airport, killing a six-year-old boy.

The decision was the wrong one, of course. But new details emerged today at the opening of a hearing by the National Transportation Safety Board, indicating that the safety problems went deeper.

For example, another Southwest crew flying exactly the same kind of plane, a Boeing 737, had decided nine minutes earlier to break off and divert, but the crew in the plane that had the accident did not learn that until much later.

And the co-pilot of Flight 1248 believed the landing would be safe because, he said, the company-issued laptop computer that the crew used to calculate their stopping distance did not include the helpful effects of the plane's thrust reversers. But the software actually did assume that the reversers would work properly.

(On older models of the Boeing 737, the computer does not, and a company executive testified today that an "inconsistency" in the company's manuals may have confused the co-pilot about the matter.)

On touching down, the crew of Flight 1248 had a delay, still unexplained, in using the thrust reversers. But it was not clear at the hearing whether the delay would have made much difference.

The plane hit the blast fence, shaped a little bit like a ski jump, at about 46 miles an hour. The laptop computer, when programmed with precisely the level of friction that the plane encountered, the tailwind, the plane's weight and other factors, showed that the runway, which is laid out diagonally across one of America's smallest major airports, was simply not long enough under the weather conditions that day.

But the Federal Aviation Administration does not have a numerically precise system for measuring runway friction and relaying that information to pilots. Canada, does, according to testimony given today, but American officials disputed its accuracy.

A witness from the Air Line Pilots Association, Captain William DeGroh, said that calculating stopping distance was far too imprecise. "It turns out to be more of an art than a science," he said.

Since the accident, the F.A.A. has proposed adding a 15 percent safety margin to calculated stopping distances, which would increase the number of diversions from Midway and some other older urban airports with shorter runways.

A transcript of the cockpit voice recorder, released today, shows that the pilot and co-pilot were concerned about the weather, but hardly anxious.

"Beautiful day," remarked the captain, Bruce R. Sutherland, evidently in irony, after a delayed take-off on a day when planes were taking turns with snow plows on the runway.

The first officer, Steven T. Oliver, remarking on how difficult the landing would be, said, "Picked the wrong day to stop sniffin' glue."

The comment is a line from the 1980 movie "Airplane," in which the air traffic controller character, faced with various crises, first says he has picked the wrong week to quit drinking, then that it was the wrong week to quit smoking, and then, to stop sniffing glue.

The two men in the cockpit also discussed using the plane's autobrake, a system that applies the brakes once the wheels are hard on the runway, and which they believed would do so faster than human reflexes would allow. Southwest had decided to make the use of the autobrake mandatory in some circumstances.

"No procedure if that sucker fails when you touch down?" said Mr. Oliver. "We just go through the fence? We never talk about any of that stuff, ya know?"

Perhaps in reaction to the stress of the trip, Mr. Oliver appears from the transcript to have been almost jovial. At one point, he sang, "The weather outside is frightful."

Later, the captain asked him to deploy the flaps to five degrees, and he responded in pidgin Spanish, "flap-o de cinco."

On the ground, though, the two men were confronted almost immediately with what had happened. Each told investigators later that at the spot where the Boeing 737 came to rest - the intersection of 55th Street and Central Avenue on the southwest side of the city - a man approached them, his face bloody, a child in his arms, cursing at them. The child was Jake Woods of Leroy, Ind.; his brother Joshua, pinned inside a car the plane had hit, was killed.

The Woods family and some of the airplane passengers have lawsuits pending against Southwest.

Commercial aviation is going through a remarkably safe period, with no major jet crashes since November 2001, but runway overruns continue to be a threat.

In May 2000, an older Southwest 737 overshot a runway in Burbank, Calif., coming to rest near a gas station outside the airport fence. The safety board concluded that the crew had flown the approach too fast and at too steep a descent angle, but that the air traffic controller had sent the plane on a course for which the only safe alternative was to abort the approach and go around for another try.

In June 1999, an American Airlines MD-80, landing in a thunderstorm, slid off the end of a runway at Little Rock, Ark., and hit a light standard, killing 9 people, including the captain.

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Andrews Aviation Litigation Reporter
April 25, 2006


Bennett v. Southwest Airlines Co.
Copyright © 2006 Thomson/West .

There is no substantial disputed issue that justifies a federal court keeping a case on the Southwest Airlines flight that skidded off a Chicago runway in December, two passengers argue in a reply brief, seeking remand.

Bennett et al. v. Southwest Airlines Co. et al., No. 1:06-cv-00317, reply brief filed (N.D. Ill., E. Div. Apr. 6, 2006).

Plaintiffs Mariko Bennett and Stanley Penn also assert that the airline, as well as co-defendants Boeing Co. and the city of Chicago, failed to prove that a federal forum may entertain their claims without disturbing the congressionally approved balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities (see Aviation LR, Vol. 24, Iss. 4).

Bennett and Penn were passengers on Southwest Flight 1248 from Baltimore to Chicago Dec. 8 and were injured when the plane skidded off a runway at Chicago's Midway International Airport.

No people on board were killed, but a 6-year-old boy died when the plane crashed into an intersection and crushed his parents' car, according to press reports.

The accident occurred as the pilot attempted to land the plane during adverse weather conditions that included snow, low ceilings and a tailwind. The Boeing 737-700 failed to stop on the runway and crashed through a blast fence and a perimeter fence before colliding with several vehicles on a city street.

In their lawsuit filed in Illinois state court, Bennett and Penn put forth claims of negligence, strict liability and conscious disregard for safety.

They specifically argue that the pilot should not have tried to land the plane in the adverse weather conditions and cite alleged defects in the plane's autobrake and reverse-thrust systems.

The parties are currently sparring over whether the suit should remain in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois or be remanded to state court.

Congress intended for federal law to exclusively govern aviation safety, the defendants say in opposing remand, and federal law implicitly preempts state law standards governing aviation safety, flight operations, emergency evacuation and flight crew procedures.

The plaintiffs' claims require resolution of substantial questions of federal law, including whether the federal aviation legislation enacted by Congress was intended to preclude a liability finding against an interstate air carrier that operated under the relevant federal standards, the defendants say.

The District Court should resolve the issue of whether the use of state law to regulate the flight operations of a carrier engaged in interstate commerce constitutes an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce, they assert. The federal court should also retain jurisdiction over Bennett's and Penn's suit to decide whether Southwest Airlines should be held to standards other than federal aviation standards, the defendants argue.

Passengers: Federal Issue Not at 'Heart' of Suit
In their reply brief supporting remand, Bennett and Penn say the federal issues in their suit are not at the heart of the case and do not necessarily depend on the resolution of any federal issue.

"Proof of a federal law violation is not, ipso facto, proof of plaintiffs' entire claim," Bennett and Penn say.

In support of their argument the plaintiffs cite recent decisions in two aviation cases: Glorvigen v. Cirrus Design Corp., 2006 WL 399419 (D. Minn. 2006), and Wandel v. American Airlines Inc., 2005 WL 2406017 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 28, 2005). In those cases the courts rejected the argument there was a federal issue embedded in a state law claim.

Allowing removal of cases over state-tort-law-governed air crashes is something Congress has refused to do for many years, according to the plaintiffs, who add that federal jurisdiction in their suit would disturb the balance of federal and state judicial responsibilities.

"This balance has been established for decades and under it Illinois and other state courts have routinely handled air crash cases since the dawn of aviation," the plaintiffs say.

The plaintiffs are represented by Ronald L. M. Goldman and J. Clark Aristei of Baum Hedlund in Los Angeles and by David E. Rapoport of Chicago.

Southwest is represented by Michael J. Merlo, Alan J. Brinkmeier, Linda J. Schneider and Donald G. Machalinksi of Merlo Kanofsky Brinkmeier & Gregg in Chicago.

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Southwest News-Herald

City Edition
By Yvette Presberry
April 20, 2006

State lawmakers are steadily moving ahead with a bill that would allow a private company to lease Midway Airport, 5700 S. Cicero Ave., from the City of Chicago.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-25th) recently introduced Senate Bill 2872 to the Illinois House of Representatives.

The bill states that a private company would have tax-exemption when operating Midway, parking facilities, and waste disposal and processing services.

With the proposal, though, came several changes from the original bill that was passed in the State Senate.

Currie added amendments to the bill that would limit the expansion of Midway's runways to the current boundaries of the airport.

SB 2872 also provides protection to airport workers by requiring the potential owner to offer employment to existing employees and follow labor agreements and wage rules.

Currie said she added the amendments in concern for residents who live around Midway Airport who are worried about a possible airport expansion taking away their homes.

Representatives of the City of Chicago and Midway have repeatedly stated that Midway is not expanding.

Ald. Michael Zalewski (23rd) said that he was pleased with that stipulation in the bill's language.

If the bill is passed in the House and signed by the governor, it will be passed to the City Council to vote on.

Currie said she believes the bill will be approved by the Illinois House by the first week of May.

"My expectation is that it will pass," Currie said. "There's a lot of money out there to invest in."

Mayor Daley has reportedly supported a plan to privatize Midway Airport to gain funds for the City of Chicago.

This idea was first introduced when the city offered a 99-year lease to the Skyway Concession Company to operate the Chicago Skyway.

The Skyway is a bridge between the Dan Ryan Expressway and the Indiana Tollway.

The City of Chicago received $1.83 billion from that deal. It is unknown what amount would be reaped if Midway Airport is privatized.

Lisa Schrader, Public Information Officer for the Chicago Office of Budget and Management, said that the city will have to conduct evaluations and look at market interests before proceeding with leasing the airport.

"This would be a long-term process," Schrader said.

Management of Midway would not operate like the city's Hired Truck program, where private companies are chosen to conduct work on behalf of Chicago.

"Midway would be more complex," Schrader said, adding that approval from the Federal Aviation Administration would be needed, as well as consent from a majority of the airlines that operate at the Southwest Side airport.

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Associated Press

April 5, 2005


CHICAGO (AP) -- The city has submitted a $40 million proposal to the Federal Aviation  Administration to build collapsible concrete beds at the ends of the runways at Midway Airport to prevent planes from overshooting their landings.

The plan comes four months after a Southwest Airlines flight skidded off a runway at Midway and into traffic, killing a 6-year-old boy in a car.
The 200- to 300-foot concrete beds would be made of lightweight bricks designed to collapse under the weight of an aircraft, safely slowing the plane. The FAA has approved similar systems at 14 airports, officials said.
The FAA said it is evaluating the city's proposal, submitted on Tuesday.
Midway is one of almost 300 commercial airports nationwide that do not have 1,000-foot safety zones at the ends of its runways. The city told federal officials in 2004 that the such zones cannot be built at Midway because the airport is hemmed in by homes and businesses.
Congress has passed a law that would force all airports to build such zones or install alternatives such as collapsible "aircraft-arrester beds" by 2015.
"We believe we can solve this safety issue within the confines of the airport using the aircraft-arrester beds," said Erin O'Donnell, managing deputy aviation commissioner at Midway. "No additional land needs to be acquired."

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USA Today

By Alan Levin
March 29, 2006

Lionel Minor guns his pickup over the snow-covered pavement at Jack Garland Airport and slams on the brakes, kicking up a plume of white flakes.

Minor isn't horsing around. The airport maintenance worker is performing a carefully orchestrated test that is the backbone of how Canada ensures it's safe to land on snowy or icy runways. By the time the truck slides to a stop, an electronic device in the cab has determined how much traction the wheels have on the slick ground.

The fatal accident in December at Chicago's Midway International Airport is focusing new attention on safety at airports during winter months, when runways can become dangerously slippery. Pilot groups and safety advocates in the USA have long called for a more precise way to measure how much traction a plane gets.

Canada, prompted by its own fatal crash in 1989, already has such a system. Tests like the one in North Bay give airports a numerical rating of a runway's slickness, known as the Canadian Runway Friction Index (CRFI). That information is passed on to pilots, who use it to calculate how much distance they need to stop after touchdown.

In a country that faces wintry weather as much as six months a year, the system is widely praised by pilots, airport operators and airlines as an improvement to safety.

"It gives the pilot a whole lot more information about whether to land or not," says Brian Boucher, technical and safety chairman for the Air Canada Pilots Association. "It's something better than what they have south of the border."

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates airports in the USA, helped fund research that Canadians used to establish their system, but the FAA has been wary of adopting it. FAA officials say there is too much room for error in the Canadian system.

As a result, pilots landing on snowy or icy runways in the USA must rely primarily on the reports of other pilots who have just touched down to determine whether it is safe. These pilot reports have been criticized for decades by pilot unions and accident investigators as subjective and prone to error.

Wintry crash
It had been snowing heavily in Chicago in the hours before Southwest Airlines Flight 1248, a Boeing 737-700, touched down at Midway on Dec. 8.

The jet failed to stop before the end of the runway, crashing through airport fences and sliding into a roadway. The jet struck a passing vehicle, killing a 6-year-old boy.

Investigators are looking into numerous possible causes for the accident, including pilot actions, airline procedures and the condition of the runway. USA TODAY reported this month that the runway was slicker than the pilots had realized.

If the investigation, which will take months to complete, concludes that a slick runway contributed to the crash, it will join a string of similar crashes in recent decades. One of those led to the creation of the Canadian system.

On March 10, 1989, 24 people died when a Fokker F-28 jet crashed in Dryden, Ontario. Investigators faulted how information about the runway was passed onto the pilots. The accident prompted a research project to find a more scientific way to test runways.

Much of the research was conducted here in North Bay, a former military base in Ontario that gets plenty of snow. The project, assisted by NASA and the FAA, resulted in the Canadian system in 1998.

On a typical snowy day in Canada, airport workers like Minor test runways at least once every eight hours, often more frequently if conditions change rapidly.

Though the process varies slightly at different airports, the routines are similar. At North Bay, Minor drives up one side of the 10,000-foot main runway, locking the brakes 10 different times. Each time he brakes, a device known as an MK 3 Electronic Decelerometer measures traction. Then he drives the other direction on the runway, performing 10 more tests.

Last week, Minor demonstrated the vehicle on a snow-covered taxiway. The vehicle produced consistent results in more than a dozen tests. The stretch of pavement had an average rating of 0.28, which is relatively slick. Most Canadian airlines do not permit landing when the rating is below 0.25. Dry runways usually rate about 0.80.

After a runway is tested, the average number is transmitted to pilots, along with a description of conditions. The runway rating allows pilots to predict how much runway they need to ensure a safe landing.

'It works quite well'
Kevin Hollands, director of operations at Canada's WestJet Airlines, says the system has occasionally caused problems when conditions worsened and runway tests did not keep up with the changes. Overall, the airline is pleased. "We find it works quite well," Hollands says.

"It's a good thing," says Bob Perkins, an airline captain and safety coordinator in Canada for the Air Line Pilots Association. "The Canadian system is probably one of the better ones in the world."

In the USA, the FAA advises airports to test runways during wintry weather, but pilots aren't allowed to use the results. The FAA's goal is to eventually give pilots more precise information tailored to specific aircraft models, spokeswoman Laura Brown says. Until then, the agency is hesitant to adopt a system like Canada's. Officials worry that the results from testing equipment cannot be guaranteed and could be misleading in certain types of aircraft.

"We don't believe that there's an index out there that correlates friction readings and aircraft performance," Brown says.

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Andrews Aviation Litigation Reporter
March 14, 2006
Runway Accident

Bennett v. Southwest Airlines Co.

Two passengers on a Southwest Airlines flight that skidded off the runway in Chicago have asked an Illinois federal court to send their case back to state court, arguing that their claims are based only on state law.

Bennett et al. v. Southwest Airlines Co. et al., No. 1:06-cv-00317, motion filed (N.D. Ill., E. Div. Feb. 9, 2006). Mariko Bennett and Stanley Penn were passengers on Southwest Flight 1248 from Baltimore to Chicago in December. During adverse weather conditions that included snow, low ceilings and a tailwind, the pilot attempted to land the plane at Chicago's Midway International Airport.

The crew failed to stop the Boeing 737-700 on the runway, and the jetliner crashed through a blast fence and perimeter fence before colliding with several vehicles on city streets. A 6-year-old boy in one of the vehicles died.

As a result of injuries they sustained in the accident, the passengers filed suit against Southwest, aircraft manufacturer Boeing Co. and the city of Chicago, which owns and operates the Midway airport, for negligence, strict liability and conscious disregard for safety.

At the heart of the suit, originally filed in the Cook County Circuit Court, are claims that the Southwest pilot should not have attempted to land given the weather and runway conditions.

The plaintiffs also say the plane was flying too fast at the time of the landing, given the short and slippery condition of the runway. They also assert that the airline failed to execute a "go-around" or request diversion to an alternate runway. Bennett and Penn further charge that the carrier attempted to make the landing to save time and money, citing the company's 20-minute turn-around policy to get its planes back in the air.

The plaintiffs also claim that Boeing should be held strictly liable for the accident because its autobrake and reverse-thrust systems were defective and failed to operate as intended.

As owner and operator of the Midway airport, Chicago negligently failed to monitor the conditions of the runway and failed to clear it of snow and ice to keep it safe for airline passengers, according to the complaint.

Southwest and the city of Chicago removed the suit to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. The airline contends the action arises under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958, which preempts state law standards governing aviation safety, flight operations, emergency evacuation and flight crew procedures.

The city agues that the plaintiffs' claims are also preempted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978. Seeking remand, Bennett and Penn say the Federal Aviation Act and Airline Deregulation Act preserve claims based on state law and therefore do not provide grounds for removal to federal court.

The plaintiffs contend that Boeing recently acknowledged in testimony before Congress that there is no federal preemption over aviation tort law.

Moreover, remand is warranted because the defendants failed to show that removal was proper, according to Bennett and Penn. The plaintiffs add that their suit does not seek to saddle Southwest or Chicago with duties under state law that exceed their duties under federal law.

"It is hard to imagine how crashing an aircraft through an airport perimeter fence into cars and people outside of the airport could possibly be considered operating that aircraft 'pursuant to the relevant federal standards,"' the plaintiffs say. The plaintiffs are represented by Ronald L.M. Goldman and J. Clark Aristei of Baum Hedlund in Los Angeles, CA, and by David E. Rapoport of Chicago, IL.

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Colorado Springs/Pueblo
March, 2006

Tape shows concern about runway conditions prior to accident

Recorded conversations between the airport and pilots show concern about runway conditions before a fatal accident last December.

A Southwest Airlines jet slid off a Midway Airport runway, crushing a vehicle and killing a six-year-old.

In the recording obtained by WFLD FOX Chicago News, air traffic controllers can be heard telling the Southwest Airlines pilots before they land that braking action on the runway is "fair to poor."

A short time later, there's a garbled sound and a flight controller says excitedly, "What was that?"

The Southwest flight 1248 pilot then says twice in a steady voice that the plane went off the runway and he requests assistance.

The plane went off the runway and into a street, crushing a vehicle and killing a six-year-old boy inside.

The accident remains under investigation.

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USA Today

By Alan Levin
March 2, 2006

As the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) searches for a cause in the fatal crash at Chicago's Midway International Airport last December, it will perform extensive computer analysis to determine precisely how slick the runway was.That information, which will be critical to understanding what happened the night the jet slid off a snow-covered runway, won't be released for months. (Related analysis: Chicago Runway too Slick at Crash )

But it is possible to calculate the approximate runway slickness using a basic physics formula.

Slickness — or, more precisely, the runway's "coefficient of friction" — can be determined from the distance the jet traveled as pilots tried to brake, and the jet's speed when the brakes were applied.

The basic formula for friction, which is taught in high school physics, is:

Velocity squared / 2 X Gravity X stopping distance

According to the NTSB, Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 touched down at a speed of 132 knots, or about 152 mph. (The airspeed was slightly slower, but because the jet landed in a tailwind it was moving faster over the ground.)

The pilots had set the automatic brake system to apply maximum stopping power, the safety board has said. Auto brakes activate as soon as a jet touches down.

The jet skidded for about 5,000 feet, slamming through an airport fence and coming to rest in a nearby roadway. The NTSB calculated that it would have traveled an additional 300 feet if it had not hit the fence and other obstructions. That meant that the jet would have traveled 5,300 feet before stopping.

Using the landing speed and the stopping distance of 5,300 feet, the formula yields a friction coefficient of 0.15.

By comparison, a jet with new tires landing on a well maintained, dry runway would have a friction coefficient of 0.80 or higher. Once the friction goes below 0.40, the Federal Aviation Administration advises airports to begin advising pilots of potentially hazardous conditions. Any measure below 0.25 is generally considered "poor" runway braking conditions.

The calculations were verified by two academic experts: Mark Drela, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Vijay Gupta, a UCLA aerospace and mechanical engineering professor.

Drela and Gupta cautioned that the calculation is an average, so conditions could vary across the runway and as the jet rolled through unplowed snow beyond the runway.

To ensure that minor changes in speed or stopping distance would not cause major changes in the results, USA TODAY experimented with a variety of possible combinations of speed and stopping distance.

The formula also does not take into account several other factors. The plane's thrust reversers — which redirect engine exhause forward to help slow down — were operating for part of the time that the jet rolled down the runway. Air passing over the fuselage created drag that would slow the jet down regardless of how slick the runway was.

Factors such as these make it possible that the runway was even more slippery than USA TODAY calculated, the two academics said.

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USA Today

By Alan Levin
March 2, 2006

The runway at Chicago's Midway International Airport was much slicker than pilots were led to believe on the snowy December night that a Southwest Airlines jet skidded through a fence and killed a 6-year-old boy, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

Runway 31C was so slippery that it would have been difficult for people to walk on, providing minimal traction for the jet's tires as pilots tried to slow down from a speed of about 150 mph, the analysis of investigative records found.

The accident on Dec. 8 raises national safety implications because it shows that the system of testing slick runways has potentially fatal flaws. Without accurate information about runway conditions, pilots can stumble into danger without warning.

Officials at Midway have said conditions on the runway were "good" when Flight 1248 skidded into a roadway and struck a car, killing Joshua Woods.

Other pilots who landed shortly before the accident reported that conditions on the runway ranged from "good" to "poor" in spots.

But the USA TODAY analysis, based on a physics formula using information released by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), shows the conditions were "poor" at best. The computation uses the plane's speed and the distance it traveled on the ground. (Related: Runway Calculations: Pure Physics )

The official investigation has reached similar conclusions about how slick the runways were, said two aviation sources familiar with those results.

The physics formula used in the newspaper's analysis was validated by two prominent researchers: Vijay Gupta, a professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering at UCLA, and Mark Drela, an aeronautics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"Holy cow, that's a scary ride," said Patrick Veillette, a corporate pilot with a doctorate who has written extensively on aviation-safety issues. "That had to have been a horrible feeling, touching down and having essentially no braking effectiveness at all."

The Federal Aviation Administration says it wants a better way for checking slick runways, but argues it has not found a system that is reliable for all aircraft.

On Dec. 8, the pilots on Flight 1248 from Baltimore to Chicago touched down at 7:14 p.m. in heavy snow.

They assumed the runway was in "fair" condition, based on reports from other pilots radioed to them by air traffic controllers. For reasons that have not been explained, the Boeing 737-700's thrust reversers - which help jets slow down - did not begin operating for 18 seconds. NTSB's investigation is months away from determining a cause for the accident.

Midway used two federally approved machines to measure conditions that night, airport spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said. She declined to offer additional details or to comment on USA TODAY's analysis because of the investigation.

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Dallas/Ft. Worth Channel 8
By Dan Ronan
February 8, 2006

The 737 that slid off an icy runway Dec. 8 in Chicago hitting a car and killing a young boy was the first fatal crash involving Southwest Airlines.

The plane was attempting to land in a blizzard.

However, News 8 questioned what the pilots faced when they, along with airline dispatchers, made the decision to land.

To find out, News 8 recently rented a 737 simulator and attempted to recreate the weather, runway and landing conditions that night.

Experts said there were many factors working against the crew that night.

Chicago's Midway Airport is one of the smallest airports in the country, and on Dec. 8 the short runway was the only one open and it was snowing heavily. The pilot was also landing with a strong tailwind.

However, despite the bad conditions, some experts said many passengers just want the pilot to land the plane.

"There's tremendous pressure from the passengers to land," said Danny Kelly, a retired Dallas airline captain and accident investigator. "They want to get where they're going."

Kelly and News 8 flew a slightly older 737 simulator at Western Michigan University's school of aviation.

Using National Transportation Safety Board information about the weather, speed, plane's weight and runway conditions, the flight approach was simulated several times.

Like the Southwest pilots, during the simulation the auto brakes were also used, which will be a key area to the NTSB investigation.

The breaks are similar to ABS brakes on cars. But at the time of the accident, it was Southwest policy not to use them.

"I think this captain did the best he could do under the circumstances," Kelly said.

Runway 31 center at Midway Airport is 5700 feet. During the stimulation, an attempted landing was made on the same spot as Flight 1248.

They had about 4400 feet of runway left and thrust reversers, which help to decelerate the plane, were not activated for 17 critical seconds apparently because of a problem with a sensor.

"If these reversers had been in full operation at six to seven seconds, which is the normal period of time, rather than 17 seconds, would it have made a difference?" asked John Nance, an ABC News aviation consultant. "It's an open question."

Kelly tried six times to land the plane under the simulated conditions the pilots faced that night, and like Flight 1248 each time the simulator skidded off the runway through the fence and onto the road.

In fact, the Southwest pilots actually were able to stop the plane a few hundred feet before the simulation flights.

Southwest and the NTSB said the pilots were within legal limits to land.

Kelly said he believes the cause of this action will ultimately come down to several factors. Factors include rapidly deteriorating weather, a slick runway, the failure of the thrust reversers and Midway's short runways and location in a densely packed Chicago neighborhood.

"In an airport like this that backs up against a street with traffic, building, houses and gas stations, if you go off and you go through the fence you're gonna hurt somebody," Kelly said.

Nance agreed.

"You can't be off apparently and we didn't know it was this critical in a runway situation like these folks had at Midway," he said.

The National Transportation Safety Board's final report is not expected for several months.

The parents of the young six year old boy who died, Joshua Woods, and several passengers have filed lawsuits against Southwest and the City of Chicago, which operates the airport.

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USA Today
By Alan Levin
February 8, 2006

The fatal crash of a Southwest Airlines jet that skidded into a Chicago street is raising new questions about how airlines decide when it's safe to land at some of the nation's smaller runways, according to accident investigators and industry documents. (Related: Chicago's congested skies spur debate)

The investigation into the Dec. 8 crash of Flight 1248 at Midway International Airport has revealed a lack of federal requirements for calculations critical to landing planes in wintry weather. Boeing sent a memo last week to airlines urging them to review the way they calculate a jet's stopping distance on slick runways.

USA TODAY obtained a copy of the memo, as well as Boeing's Operations Manual for the 737-700, the type of plane that crashed at Midway. It shows that landing at Midway on Dec. 8 was barely possible if everything went perfectly. With moderate snow on the runway and a tailwind, Boeing says it would take about 5,800 feet to stop. The runway is 5,826 feet long.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) plans to examine the formulas airlines use to calculate how far it takes a jet to stop, say two people familiar with the agency's investigation. They asked not to be named because they aren't allowed to discuss ongoing investigations.

The NTSB has issued one urgent recommendation related to runway stopping calculations since the accident. The latest questions are broader because they could apply to far more flights.

Flight 1248 slid off the runway and crashed through a fence, killing a 6-year-old boy in a car. Before landing, the pilots calculated they could stop their jet within 500 feet of the end of the runway, the NTSB said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates aviation and must sign off on each airline's operations, has also begun an evaluation of landing standards, said spokeswoman Laura Brown.

Not all airlines would have allowed a landing at Midway on the night of the Chicago crash. Continental Airlines' pilot manuals for its fleet of 737-700s show that Midway's runway was hundreds of feet too short for a landing in the conditions that existed Dec. 8.

That two large airlines could reach such different conclusions about whether to land "is certainly a question that is significant," said Kevin Darcy, a safety consultant who formerly headed Boeing's accident investigation division. "Why would there be that much difference between operators?"

Both Continental and Southwest airlines declined to comment on their landing guidelines.

Bernard Loeb, former head of the NTSB's aviation division, said safety margins during landings are key calculations and that consistent methods are needed.

Landing accidents have traditionally accounted for a small percentage of airline fatalities, but several of the most prominent crashes in North America in recent years involved planes that skidded off runways.

Slowing a jet speeding at more than 100 mph requires complex equipment and skillful piloting, especially when snow, slush or ice cover a runway. Many factors - such as a plane's weight and the wind direction - can dramatically change how far it takes to stop.

Federal law requires that airlines determine before takeoff whether it is safe to land at the destination airport. The law requires that a large safety margin be added in case anything goes wrong.

But once pilots are airborne, there is no federal requirement to recalculate whether it is safe to land. Airlines provide stopping distances to pilots for a variety of circumstances, but the figures are advisory, and there is no required margin of safety.

European aviation regulations have tighter standards on landing calculations than the United States. They require that carriers add a 15% safety margin when computing the landing distance in flight.

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National Transportation Safety Board News

January 27, 2005


(Safety Recommendation A-06-16)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The National Transportation Safety Board today urged the Federal Aviation Administration to prohibit airlines from using credit for the use of thrust reversers when calculating stopping distances on contaminated runways.

The urgent safety recommendation is the result of information learned by the NTSB during its investigation into a fatal runway overrun in Chicago last month.

"We believe this recommendation needs the immediate attention of the FAA since we will be experiencing winter weather conditions in many areas of our nation for several more months to come," NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker said.

On December 8, 2005, Southwest Airlines flight 1248, a Boeing 737-7H4, landed on runway 31C at Chicago Midway Airport during a snow storm. The aircraft failed to stop on the runway, rolling through a blast fence and perimeter fence and coming to rest on a roadway after striking two vehicles. A 6-year-old boy in one of the automobiles was killed.

While approaching Chicago on a flight from Baltimore, the pilots used an on-board laptop performance computer (OPC) to calculate expected landing performance. Information entered into the computer included expected landing runway, wind speed and direction, airplane gross weight at touchdown, and reported runway braking action. The OPC then calculated the stopping margin. Depending on whether WET-FAIR or WET-POOR conditions were input, the computer calculated remaining runway after stopping at either 560 feet or 30 feet.

Both calculations were based on taking a stopping credit assuming engine thrust reverser deployment at touchdown. Flight data recorder information revealed that the thrust reversers were not deployed until 18 seconds after touchdown, at which point there was only about 1,000 feet of usable runway remaining.

The FAA does not allow the use of the reverse thrust credit when determining dispatch landing distances; in fact, historically decreases in stopping distances due to thrust reverser deployment were used to offset other variables that could significantly degrade stopping performance. However, the FAA does permit thrust reverser credit for calculating en-route operational landing distances for some transport category aircraft, like the 737-700 series, but not for others, like the 737-300.

If the thrust reverser credit had not been allowed in calculating the stopping distance for flight 1248, the OPC would have indicated that a safe landing on runway 31C was not possible. "As a result," the Board said in its recommendation letter, "a single event, the delayed deployment of the thrust reversers, can lead to an unsafe condition, as it did in this accident."

Although the recommendation would prohibit the thrust reverser credit on all runways, its practical effect would be felt on planned landings only on contaminated runways, which is when the credit is included in stopping distance calculations.

Therefore, the Board is recommending that the FAA:

Immediately prohibit all 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 operators from
using the reverse thrust credit in landing performance calculations. (A-06-16) (Urgent)

A copy of the recommendation letter may be found at the following link on the Board's website: http://www.ntsb.gov/recs/letters/2006/a06_16.pdf
NTSB Media Contact: Keith Holloway, (202) 314-6100

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Associated Press

By Dave Carpenter
January 3, 2006

Chicago - Southwest Airlines officials say they're committed to expansion that could soon make Midway International Airport the carrier's busiest, plans unchanged by the airline's first fatal accident there in December.

Two years of adding gates and flights already have made Midway the fastest-growing airport for Southwest, providing a strengthened base to compete with bigger rivals flying out of O'Hare International Airport across town.

Midway has surpassed Baltimore-Washington and tied Phoenix this year as Southwest's No. 2 airport with 196 daily departures. According to a recent Citigroup report, it is expected to overtake Las Vegas to become the Dallas-based carrier's largest airport by 2007.

Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said only that Midway "has the potential" to be its No. 1 airport by '07, declining to discuss specific plans for competitive reasons. But nearly two weeks after one of its jets skidded off a runway after landing in a snowstorm, killing a 6-year-old boy riding in a car, she said the airline remains unwavering in its commitment to Midway.

The Dec. 8 accident "does not change that Chicago Midway remains a focus city for us in terms of expansion opportunities and adding more flights," Rutherford said.

Southwest now controls 29 of the 43 gates at Midway, up from 19 a year ago as a result of deals made with ATA Holdings Corp., the bankrupt parent of fast-shrinking ATA Airlines.

Midway's shorter-than-average runways and lack of buffers at the ends of landing strips have been under scrutiny since the accident.

Rutherford said the airline remains confident in the safety of its Midway operations.

"Southwest has been operating for 20 years at Midway, and we have a daily dedication to safety for both customers and employees. We have a 34-year track record that proves that," she said.

The one-square-mile airport, 8 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, was built in 1923 and is hemmed in by dense neighborhoods. It had gone since 1972 without a fatal accident.

Southwest's customers appear to have taken the rare accident in stride. The airline analyzed bookings after the accident and concluded there was no significant effect, Rutherford said.

In terms of business, Midway's location makes Southwest's continuing expansion a sound strategy.

"Midway is a gold mine for Southwest," said Jim Brown, an independent aviation consultant. "This is seen by a lot of frequent fliers and business travelers as a low-fare alternative to O'Hare."

O'Hare, just 15 miles to the northwest, is the world's second-busiest airport behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in both total passengers and total flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. But it is twice the distance from downtown Chicago.

Numerous analysts and aviation experts said they would be surprised if the accident causes Southwest to slow its Midway expansion, barring an unexpected finding from the National Transportation Safety Board investigation.

"As unfortunate as the accident is, it doesn't materially change Southwest's operating plans," said Marisa Thompson of Morningstar Inc. "I don't think they would have expanded to Midway if they didn't think the runways were adequate."

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Associated Press

December 22, 2005

Officials say Southwest Airlines has a waiver to land at Midway International Airport when visibility is below standard safety regulations.

Visibility is one focus of the National Transportation Safety Board's investigation into the Dec. 8 accident in which a Southwest plane skidded off a Midway runway and into a city street, killing a 6-year-old boy in a car and injuring 10 others, federal and airline officials said.

"Everything will come out as we investigate the rules and waivers for flying into Midway," NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said Wednesday.

Southwest's waiver from the Federal Aviation Administration allows planes to land when visibility is below the standard three-quarters of a mile. Officials said it is relatively common for airlines to seek certain regulation waivers in order to take advantage of advanced cockpit technology.

Under Southwest's waiver, the pilots of the flight involved in the overrun accident operated legally as long as visibility was at least a half-mile when they started their approach to the airport, FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said.

Pilots also must be specially trained and certified before being allowed to land at Midway with only half-mile visibility.

Southwest officials declined to discuss the waiver or training, citing the ongoing NTSB investigation.

"That has been considered germane to the investigation, and so I am not going to be at liberty to discuss details," Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said. "I can tell you that in general, (the low-visibility) approach is not at all unusual. In fact we have them at almost every airport we serve, as do other carriers."

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Bloomberg News

December 21, 2005

Dallas-based Southwest Airlines Co. and Boeing Co. were sued by two passengers on a jet that skidded off a runway at Chicago's Midway Airport on Dec. 8, killing a child in a car on a city street. Mariko Bennett and Stanley Penn filed the lawsuit in state court in Chicago, said their lawyer, Ronald Goldman. Bennett suffered internal injuries, and Penn sustained an injured back, Goldman said. Southwest Flight 1248 skidded off a runway at night during a snowstorm, crashed through an airport fence and killed a 6- year-old boy in a car on an adjacent street. Goldman said Boeing was sued because the plane's braking system may have been defective, Goldman said. The city of Chicago was also named as a defendant because the runway wasn't properly cleared and possibly should have been closed, Goldman said. He said the case is the first lawsuit filed involving the accident.

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NBC 5 Chicago

December 20, 2005

Two Claim Injuries From Jet Sliding Off Runway

Two passengers on a Southwest Airlines plane filed a lawsuit Tuesday claiming they were injured when the plane went through a barrier at Midway International Airport earlier this month in an accident that also killed a 6-year-old boy inside a car.

Mariko L.A. Bennett and Stanley L. Penn filed the lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Southwest Airlines, the Boeing Company, and the City of Chicago.

Southwest Flight No. 1248 from Baltimore was attempting to land during a snowstorm shortly after 7 p.m., Dec. 8, when it smashed through a noise-dampening barrier and rolled onto Central Avenue near 55th Street, where it hit a vehicle in traffic and a parked car.

One of the passengers in the moving auto, Joshua Woods, 6, of 14211 Elkhart Place in Leroy, Ind., was pronounced dead at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 8.

A total of 98 passengers and five crewmembers were on the plane, according to Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Angela Vargo.

Twelve people were taken to hospitals, including three from the plane, Fire Department Commissioner Cortez Trotter said.

The lawsuit Tuesday claimed that both Bennett and Penn were passengers on the plane and were injured in the accident. The lawsuit accused Southwest of negligence on claims that the pilot "began an unsafe approach given the prevailing weather, visibility and runway conditions," operated in violation of Federal Aviation regulations, and did not provide proper physical care to accident victims after the crash.

Southwest was also accused of "conscious disregard for safety." The suit claimed the accident seemed to have resulted from Southwest "attempting to make up for lost time by flying the aircraft in a dangerous manner," and claimed that Southwest had been "pressuring the pilots by scheduling only a 20-minute 'turn-around' at Midway before Flight 1248 was scheduled to depart for Las Vegas."

The plane was two hours late when it arrived at Midway, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also claimed Boeing was liable in that the autobrake and reverse thrust systems designed to stop the plane on the ground might have been defective on the 737-700 jet.

The City of Chicago was accused of failing to clear snow, ice, water and slush from the runways, failing to close runway 31-Center where the aircraft landed because conditions were dangerous, and failing to provide a sufficient emergency response.

Unspecified damages were sought against each defendant.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Dec. 9 that it would take at least one year for a final determination on the "probable cause" of the accident.

The NTSB would look at airport operations, systems, and structures, as well as human and aircraft performance, air-traffic control, and power plants at the Midway, officials said. The NTSB also brought in a highway expert because the airliner ended up on a street.

Erin O'Donnell, deputy commissioner for the Aviation Department at Midway, said 7.7 inches of snow had fallen at Midway at the time of the accident. At the time, airport officials had closed down all but one runway for arriving and departing flights to concentrate their snow clearing efforts, she said.

O'Donnell said according to "all of our indications -- the braking action reports, our friction test reports -- braking action was good prior to this incident as well as after this incident, when we sent the friction tester down the runway to get braking action (readings) immediately after the incident happened."

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Linda Rutherford was not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman at the Chicago headquarters of Boeing referred questionts to the Commercial Airplanes Group media relations department, where no one could immediately provide comment. City Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle was not immediately available.

The lawsuit was filed by attorneys Ronald L.M. Goldman of the firm Baum Hedlund and David E. Rapoport of the Rapoport Law Offices. A court date was not available Tuesday.

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Chicago Tribune
online edition
By David Kidwell and John McCormick
Contributions by Jon Hilkevitch, Ray Gibson, Gary Washburn, Carlos Sadovi and Dan Mihalopoulos
December 16, 2005

City quietly buys 400 parcels around Southwest Side airport
While Chicago officials have long dismissed expanding Midway Airport, the city has quietly gobbled up surrounding land--including parcels that could be used for a protection zone at the end of the runway overshot last week by a Southwest Airlines jet.

In just the latest acquisition effort around the landlocked airport, the city in 2004 passed an ordinance allowing the purchase of land "for use as Runway 31C/13C Runway Protection Zone and airport development."

The Southwest jet skidded off that runway during a snowstorm Dec. 8, striking a car on Central Avenue, killing 6-year-old Joshua Woods and injuring 10 people.

The city's ultimate plans for the land remain unclear. The ordinance shows that the city has set its sights on land at the end of the runway. But officials said Thursday they have no plans to build a protection zone there.

"We have always said we cannot undertake a massive land acquisition program to build a protection zone, and we have no plans to do so," said Erin O'Donnell, a deputy Chicago aviation commissioner who manages Midway.

Since 1990, the city has been involved in 93 transactions to acquire land around Midway. The 2004 ordinance authorizes another four purchases that have not been completed. Including purchases dating to 1948, the city has spent $52 million on nearly 400 parcels around Midway.

Many of the purchases were for other purposes, such as terminal and parking expansion, and "object-free zones" that keep the airport's perimeter clear for planes.

Federal regulators have urged the city since 2000 to improve the safety of Midway's runways, some of the shortest in the nation for a major airport. But the city has not submitted to the Federal Aviation Administration an acceptable plan for how it will prevent planes from overshooting runways.

O'Donnell said even if the city were in favor of a plan to build buffer zones, it owns nowhere near enough land for the project. She said it would also require moving major roads and railroad tracks.

The Woods' attorney said he was not aware the city owned so much land near the crash site.

"This tragedy would have been avoided. It's outrageous," said Ronald Stearney Sr.

Discussion of Midway expansion has always been politically thorny. On Thursday, Mayor Richard Daley dodged questions about the city's failure to buy enough land to make the runways longer and potentially safer.

Asked specifically if he would be open to Midway expansion, Daley said the accident investigation must first be completed.

"You can't speculate," he said. "Sure everybody would like to expand anything, but you just can't do it. I mean we have taken over 10 years to get the runway built at O'Hare Field and we are just starting now."

It is difficult to tell that the city owns the land.

A search of public records turns up only a few properties with the City of Chicago listed as the owner. In more than 300 transactions, the Cook County recorder of deeds search lists "no record found."

That's because in 2001, at the city's request, the county consolidated 382 city-owned parcels, eliminating their individual property identification numbers. O'Donnell said the purpose was not to make the records less accessible to the public, but to make it easier for her staff to track all the tax bills and leases. She said she would check with county property officials to ensure that records of the transactions are more readily accessible.

"The intent is that everything that we do is transparent. ... Our intent is not to provide misleading information," O'Donnell said. "We have nothing to hide."

The airport's most recent acquisition took place in April, when it spent $220,000 for nearly a half-acre of commercial property and a two-story building at 5935 S. Archer Ave., only a few hundred yards from the site of last week's fatal crash.

Its former owner, Gene Richards, said the city gave him an ultimatum: Sell or be condemned.

"They offered us a price that wasn't that good," said Richards, 74, who was interested in selling anyway. "But we sold and they demolished it."

O'Donnell said Richards' assertions of an ultimatum are "mistaken."

She said the acquisition program is voluntary, and she provided a letter from Richards' wife offering the property for sale to the city.

O'Donnell said the Richards parcel was purchased to expand an adjacent employee parking lot.

O'Donnell said that despite the 2004 ordinance, the property was never intended for runway expansion. She said the wording was used in the ordinance because the property was within the protection zone.

"We are encouraged by the FAA to control as much property within the Runway Protection Zone as possible," said airport spokeswoman Wendy Abrams. "The land was acquired in accordance with FAA regulations and programs."

The city's land acquisition on the airport's northwest side extends to Archer Avenue, where auto body repair shop owner Ron Norris said he has no choice but to sell.

"You can't stop it," said Ron Norris, whose family has owned Norris Auto Body since 1981.

Norris said he received a letter from the city about 18 months ago and has been told his property will be turned into additional employee parking. He said the city initially offered him $430,000, but after an appraisal was made, the offer was raised to $610,000.

Aaron Gellman, a professor at Northwestern University's Transportation Center, said he sees no need for the city to buy land for runway buffers for an airport with a stellar safety record.

But Gellman said he suspects prices will be driven up for the city after the accident and publicity about the FAA urging that buffer zones be established. "The fact that the FAA has indicated that they prefer that, may be enough to drive the prices up," he said.

Stearney, attorney for the family of the boy killed last week, was outraged by the city's claim that it is buying land for employee parking instead of to improve safety.

"It's even worse, it's more of a black eye on them," he said. "It's not for safety, but we are going to have a garage for the employees."

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Daily Southtown

By Guy Tridgell
December 16, 2005

A Southwest Airlines jet touched down too late for a safe landing before skidding off a snowy Midway Airport airfield and killing a little boy waiting in traffic, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.

Why the pilot landed on the runway 800 feet from where the plane needed to land, along with the loss of valuable seconds of stopping time because the plane's reverse thrusters were not deployed, loom as the biggest unanswered questions surrounding the Dec. 8 accident.

"There are a lot of 'whys' we are trying to get to the bottom of," NTSB spokesman Keith Hollway said.

Preliminary NTSB data shows Flight 1248 from Baltimore hit Runway 31-C at 7:14 p.m. with 4,500 feet of landing surface remaining. The NTSB determined the wintry conditions that evening demanded about 5,300 feet for the plane to stop, assuming all landing equipment was working properly.

The southeast-to-northwest runway stretches 6,522 feet.

The actual stopping distance of the plane was 5,000 feet, but only after it plowed through an airfield fence and another barrier fence before resting at 55th Street and Central Avenue.

Joshua Woods, 6, of Leroy, Ind., was killed when his family's car was crushed by the Boeing 737-700.

Attorneys for the boy's parents blasted Southwest Airlines and Midway Airport officials for permitting the landing in the midst of storm that dumped 10 inches of snow. They noted weather conditions a mere 23 minutes after the accident were below the minimum standards for keeping the airport open.

"There was no stopping that airplane," said Woods family attorney Ron Stearney Jr. "The airport should have been closed."

The pilot and the first officer were concerned about the weather, the NTSB acknowledged. They listened to weather updates at least four times before approaching Chicago.

But both men and a flight dispatcher agreed to follow through with the landing. Information submitted into a laptop computer program in the cockpit backed up the decision.

A tailwind of 11 knots was blowing into the back of the plane. Flying into the wind on another runway would have reduced the stopping distance by 1,000 feet, the NTSB said, but that option was ruled out because it still would have offered insufficient landing space.

Before touching down, the pilot set the plane's automatic brakes. The brakes worked, but the reverse thrusters, devices that act to drag the plane to a stop, failed to deploy.

Noticing the plane was not decelerating normally, the captain applied manual brakes, calling on the maximum braking power available, the NTSB said. The first officer also moved his seat farther forward to exert as much pressure on the manual brakes as possible.

While barreling down the runway, the first officer noticed the reverse thrusters were not working. He deployed them without problem. They kicked in 18 seconds after touchdown, 14 seconds before the plane hit a fence, the NTSB said.

Citing the NTSB findings, Stearney calculated the reverse thrusters started working on the final 100 feet of runway.

The NTSB refused to speculate on the reasons why the thrusters were not working for several seconds.

"It will be interesting to see what the reasons are for that delay," Stearney said. "It almost reads like they were rolling down the runway before doing something. It is almost like the first officer was waiting for the captain to do something."

Joseph Schwieterman, a DePaul University transportation expert and a former United Airlines executive, said the failure to use thrusters likely ruined any chance of a safe landing in the snow on a notoriously tight airfield of a square mile.

"Midway Airport provides little margin for error," Schwieterman said. "For many landings, the reverse thrusters are the only way to safely stop the aircraft."

He said the pilot should have considered landing at another airport.

"He should have reversed direction and shot back into the sky," Schwieterman said. "Pilots need to make split-second decisions."

Southwest Airlines spokeswoman Beth Harbin said the company's policy is to land planes solely with reverse thrusters and manual brakes. But she declined to discuss the reasons for the policy or why the additional autobraking system was needed the night of the accident.

A Department of Aviation spokeswoman did not return messages seeking comment.

The Federal Aviation Administration recommends a safety buffer of 1,000 feet at the end of runways to guard against runaway landings. The space at Midway is less than 200 feet.

Mayor Richard Daley told reporters Thursday he will not consider leveling homes and business to make room for the larger buffers.

Schwieterman said that stance is a mistake.

"The situation at least demands an open discussion about modifications to the airport perimeter," Schwieterman said.

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USA Today

By Alan Levin and Dan Reed
Posted 12/15/2005 9:57 PM    


The Southwest Airlines jet that skidded off a Chicago runway last week sped for thousands of feet during a critical 18 seconds when thrust reversers did not operate, investigators said Thursday.

Thrust reversers, devices used to slow down a plane, didn't kick in until the jet was near the end of the snow-slicked runway at Midway International Airport, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

The reversers functioned for only 11 seconds before the jet ran off the runway and then crashed through a fence and killed a 6-year-old boy.

A speeding jet that cannot slow down creates an especially difficult problem at Midway, one of a group of airports around the country that are hemmed in by roads and neighborhoods, leaving no room for error.

Flight 1248 from Baltimore crashed at 7:15 p.m. on Dec. 8. The collision killed Joshua Woods as he rode in a car with his family.

The NTSB said in a statement that the delayed use of thrust reversers combined with a 9 mph tail wind essentially doomed any chance of a successful landing. The Boeing 737-700 touched down about 4,500 feet before the end of the runway, but it needed 5,300 feet to stop under those conditions, the NTSB calculated.

The NTSB statement suggests that investigators will be closely examining the computerized calculations performed by the crew before landing. The analysis will determine whether crewmembers accurately estimated how much runway the jet needed to stop. Such calculations can be critical in tight airports and in bad weather.

Investigators will also examine the pilots' performance and the thrust reversers. So far there is no evidence of a malfunction in the reversers, the brakes or any other mechanical system.

Tail wind increased speed
The safety board initially said the pilots told them they had been unable to activate the reversers for a few seconds. Thrust reversers redirect engine exhaust forward, assisting the brakes in slowing down.

The NTSB has not determined why the pilots could not switch on the reversers.

The pilots told investigators that the flight was normal. They said they checked Midway's weather four times as they approached the airport. A tail wind was reported, but it was not so severe that it prevented them from landing.

However, a tail wind increases a jet's speed over the ground and makes stopping more difficult. The NTSB calculated that even with the problem with the reversers, the jet would have stopped safely in 4,300 feet had it landed into the wind.

Midway is one of "perhaps 20-25 airports around the nation" that are hemmed in by roads, neighborhoods, bays and rivers, says Richard Marchi, senior vice president for technical and environmental affairs at the Airports Council International-North America.

Most of those airports are limited by their relatively short runways, originally to built accommodate the more modest needs of planes before the jet age. Many are stuck with the layouts inherited from the 1920s and '30s, unable to build the 2-mile-long runways favored at newer airports. They also do not have room for the 1,000-foot safety zones at each runway end that have been required since 1988.

Chicago city officials have consistently dismissed suggestions that the city relocate some of the roads and streets that surround the 1-mile-square Midway property

"It's not a matter of money, at Midway or anywhere else," Marchi said. "Chicago is spending huge amounts of money to expand O'Hare (Airport). And it would do the same at Midway if it was politically viable to do so. But it's just not."

Space constraints
Several airports with space constraints have installed special beds of material that stop jets before the end of the runway. But Marchi says there may not be enough room for them at Midway. The beds, known as an Engineered Material Arresting System, were first installed at New York's Kennedy Airport nearly a decade ago and have kept three planes, including a Boeing 747 freighter, from going off into a nearby bay. More recently, EMAS has been installed at Little Rock, where in 1999 an American Airlines jet landing in heavy rain went off the end of the runway.

Airline and airports consultant Michael Boyd, head of the Boyd Group in Evergreen, Colo., says "putting EMAS at the end of runways is a great idea, where possible, but no panacea."

The runways are already so short at Midway that adding EMAS could prevent airlines such as Southwest from flying there in certain conditions.

The NTSB has issued recommendations urging that EMAS be installed at airports without required safety zones.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration asked Midway officials how they would improve runway safety, but they haven't responded, FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said.

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Chicago Tribune
By Jon Hilkevitch
December 15, 2005

Chicago and Southwest Airlines for years have "carelessly ignored" the risks of short runways and insufficient overrun areas at Midway Airport, an expert on transportation disasters said Wednesday in a report on last week's fatal accident.

The crash was avoidable, and the outcome would have been much worse if fuel tanks on the plane ruptured and caught fire, said Gunnar Kuepper, chief of operations at Emergency & Disaster Management Inc., a Los Angeles-based company that advises government agencies and private businesses on emergency-planning strategy.

"This was not a surprising risk for anyone in the aviation industry," Kuepper said. "Surely it was a surprise for the people on the street outside Midway Airport who collided with a Boeing 737."

For a fraction of the financial losses that Chicago and Southwest will pay out from the accident, he said, the city and its major airlines at Midway should have invested in safety systems to minimize the damage of a plane skidding off a runway. The Southwest flight landed in a snowstorm at Midway on Dec. 8, slid off the runway, crashed through barriers and hit several cars on Central Avenue. A 6-year-old boy in one car was killed and 10 other people were hurt.

"Midway chose not to address and mitigate the apparent hazard. ... Southwest did not seem to care about reducing the risk either," said Kuepper's 35-page report.

The report cited similarities to a 2000 accident in which a Southwest plane overran a runway in Burbank, Calif., in rainy weather and crashed into two cars on a street. After the accident, the Burbank Airport improved its safety areas at the ends of runways by installing pits of soft concrete that crushes under the heavy weight of planes to arrest momentum.

"Eighty percent of this expense was covered by an FAA grant," Kuepper said.

"One might expect that such a large carrier (as Southwest) would pressure Chicago's Aviation Department to provide excellent safety measures at Midway," he said.

"Southwest Airlines and many airports have been lucky so far," he added. "But luck can run out easily."

Southwest spokeswoman Linda Rutherford said the airline and all carriers at Midway "partner on any enhancements that are made" through the charges the airlines pay to the airport.

Chicago airport officials say they are working with the FAA on a plan to comply with a 2015 federal deadline to improve runway safety areas.

Meanwhile, Southwest officials disputed news reports that said the captain of the Southwest plane that crashed at Midway violated company policy by using the plane's autobrakes.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board have said the autobrakes were used in the maximum power setting and that they helped the pilots stop the plane.

"You can also manually brake an aircraft under any circumstances, which is Southwest's policy," said Southwest spokeswoman Beth Harbin. "But autobrakes are standard equipment on our aircraft."

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WBBM News Radio 780


The pilot of that Southwest Airlines jet that crashed last week at Midway reportedly has told investigators he violated airline policy.

   The Sun-Times says the pilot used the Boeing 737's "auto-brakes" when he realized the plane wasn't stopping on the snowy runway. Southwest bans use of the autobrakes. Some pilots say it's a cost-saving measure so Southwest doesn't have to wait for the brakes to cool before putting the plane back in the air.

   Six-year-old Joshua Woods was killed when the plane hit his family's car. Funeral services are being held Wednesday in Steger.

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Associated Press

by Mike Colias

Houses and businesses surrounding Midway International Airport severely limit the options for creating buffer zones or other safety measures to prevent accidents like last week's fatal runway skid, a city aviation official

There is no known remedy for the airport's lack of a 1,000-foot buffer zone at the end of runways, Erin O'Donnell, the city's deputy aviation commissioner and Midway manager, said Tuesday. The Federal Aviation Administration recommends the buffer zones for all commercial airports.

Studies by the city and the FAA in recent years determined that there is not enough room at the end of Midway's airstrips to install beds of crushable concrete that can slow an aircraft if it slides off the end of a runway, O'Donnell said.

Some safety experts have said the runway enhancement -- known as Engineered Material Arresting Systems -- might have prevented the accident.

A Southwest Airlines plane trying to land in a snowstorm Dec. 8 slid off the end of the runway, plowed through a fence and struck two vehicles near a busy intersection. A 6-year-old boy in one of the vehicles was killed and 10 people, most on the ground, were injured. The boy was buried Wednesday.

Only 82 feet separated the end of the runway and the fence. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.

The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday that light poles and other obstacles prevent landing planes from using the first 696 feet of the 6,522-foot runway where the accident occurred, a number confirmed Wednesday by Wendy Abrams, a city Department of Aviation spokeswoman.

The one-square-mile airport was built in 1923 during the propeller era and has shorter runways than most major airports, with no room to expand. Midway is among nearly 300 U.S. commercial airports without the recommended runway buffers, according to the FAA.

A recent federal law seeks to encourage more airports to build EMAS systems or extend their runway barriers by requiring them to do one or the other by 2015.
"We're hopeful that with new legislation, there will be investment in research and development of new technology to address this issue of runway safety," O'Donnell said.

Planes began using the runway again Tuesday evening, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said. It had been closed since the accident as workers repaired damaged navigation gear on the airfield.

The FAA asked city aviation officials 18 months ago to revise a 2004 report they submitted on recommendations for runway safety zones at Midway, Isham Cory said. The request did not indicate the FAA believed the runways were unsafe, she added.
"Part of the normal back and forth is that they're supposed to be coming up with a few solutions, and I think they are really trying," she said. "But they are short on space."

Also Tuesday, an attorney for the parents of the boy killed in the accident said he planned to file a lawsuit, although he declined to provide details.

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Associated Press

by Mike Colias

Midway International Airport's tight boundaries severely limit the options for creating buffer zones or other safety measures to prevent accidents like last week's fatal runway overrun, a city aviation official said Tuesday.

There is no known remedy for Midway's lack of a 1,000-foot buffer zone at the end of runways, which the Federal Aviation Administration recommends for all commercial airports, said Erin O'Donnell, the city's deputy aviation commissioner and manager of Midway.

O'Donnell said studies in recent years by the city and the FAA determined that there's not enough room at the end of Midway's airstrips to install beds of crushable concrete that can slow an aircraft if it slides off the runway's end. Some aviation experts have said that enhancement -- called Engineered Material Arresting Systems, or EMAS -- might have prevented Thursday's accident.

A Southwest Airlines plane trying to land in a snowstorm that night slid off the end of a 6,500-foot runway, plowed through a fence and onto a busy street, striking two vehicles. Six-year-old Joshua Woods of Leroy, Ind., who was riding in one of the vehicles, was killed and 10 others were injured, including a few passengers.

Only 82 feet separated the end of that runway and the fence. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.

Midway -- built in 1923 and hemmed in on all sides by dense neighborhoods -- is among nearly 300 U.S. commercial airports that lack the recommended runway buffers, according to the FAA. A recently passed federal law requires those airfields to build EMAS systems or extend their runway barriers by 2015.

"We're hopeful that with new legislation, there will be investment in research and development of new technology to address this issue of runway safety," O'Donnell said.

Planes began using the runway again Tuesday evening, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said. It had been closed since the accident as FAA crews worked to repair navigational equipment at the end of the airstrip.

Isham Cory said the FAA asked city aviation officials 18 months ago to revise a 2004 report they submitted on recommendations for runway safety zones at Midway. She added, though, that the request did not indicate the FAA believed the runways were unsafe.

"Part of the normal back-and-forth is that they're supposed to be coming up with a few solutions, and I think they are really trying," she said. "But they are short on space."

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Washington Post

by Sara Kehaulani Goo

The City of Chicago has resisted federal urgings since 2000 to add safety areas to the end of runways at Midway International Airport that might have prevented last week's crash of a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 that overshot a runway and hit a vehicle, claiming the life of a 6-year-old.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 jet slid off the end of the airport's Runway 31C in heavy snow Thursday and crashed through a fence into a nearby street. The Federal Aviation Administration requires new runways to have a 1,000-foot safety area beyond the runway in case planes overshoot the end. Midway's 31C -- pinned in by city streets and housing -- has only 82 feet.

Federal officials said that Midway's runway, like 300 other older ones across the country, is exempted from the rule unless the airport makes major runway or airport modifications because of the high cost of building a safety area. In the case of Midway's runways, it likely would require moving nearby city roads.

The FAA said yesterday that Chicago officials told them in 2004 that they could not build a safety area because they did not have the funds to acquire neighboring land.

But the city also passed on a fix that could have cost substantially less.

If a city cannot afford to build a safety area, the FAA allows airports to install a material made of a mixture of foam, water and concrete at the end of the runway that is designed to keep a plane from barreling off the end. Only one company, Engineered Arresting System Corp. of Aston, Pa., manufactures the material, and it has installed such systems at 14 airports in the United States with notable success. When placed at the end of the runway, the material is designed to collapse under the plane's weight, stopping the plane as quicksand might. The technology has stopped three planes at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, including a 747 cargo plane earlier this year.

The firm "did come to meet with us and we never said yes or no to that product," said Wendy Abrams, spokeswoman for the Chicago Airport System, the airport authority run by the city. "We don't believe there's a one-size-fits-all solution for more than 300 U.S. airports that don't meet FAA rules. We'll continue to look at all options."

Engineered Arresting System said it would have cost about $3 million to install its product at Runway 31C. The company's vice president of airport engineering and sales, Kent Thompson, said most airports do not install the material because the FAA does not require it. "It's a matter of cost and priority," Thompson said. He said, "there was some interest there, but ultimately [Chicago officials] didn't decide to put it in." No Washington area airport uses the technology.

The cause of the Southwest accident will likely take a year to determine, a National Transportation Safety Board spokesman said. Among the factors investigators will consider are the condition of the runway at the time of the landing, the pilots' execution of the landing and the plane's mechanical systems. The NTSB said investigators were able to determine that the plane landed at a speed of 152 miles per hour -- 26 miles per hour faster than normal -- and it was moving at about 46 miles per hour when it hit the fence. The pilots told NTSB investigators that the plane's thrust reversers, which are used to slow the plane, initially did not work properly.

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San Luis Obispo Tribune

by Jon Hilkevitch; Chicago Tribune

Light poles, utility lines and other obstacles prevent planes from using the first 696 feet of the already short runway at Midway Airport where a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 skidded and crashed in a swirling snowstorm last week, city and federal officials said Tuesday.

Landing a big plane on the remaining 5,826 feet of the 6,522-foot runway requires precision even in good weather. But touching down safely in sloppy, icy conditions on Midway's Runway 31 Center, where the accident occurred, tests the abilities of an airline's best pilots, according to veteran aviators.

Swept along by a gusting tailwind while being told by air-traffic control that the aircraft braking ability on the runway was dicey, the captain of Southwest Flight 1248 descended fast on Dec. 8, according to an account culled from radar tapes under review by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Data from the onboard flight recorder indicate that the plane touched down harder than normal - reflecting an apparent attempt by the captain to hit the intended runway-landing markings dead-on so the maximum amount of remaining runway was available to stop the plane. The hard landing also explains the previously reported bounce that the plane made before sliding across the concrete, crashing through barriers after racing through a dangerously short runway protection zone and exiting the airport.

"When you break out of the clouds on a snowy night like that, you don't try to do a nice squeaky smooth landing. You plant the plane down onto the runway," said Robert Mark, a former airline and corporate pilot who flew for the original Midway Airlines.

The Southwest plane came to rest on Central Avenue after hitting several vehicles and spearing a fire hydrant. A child inside one of the cars was killed and 10 people were injured in the worst accident in Southwest Airlines history.

Federal investigators who are recreating the flight's events say they don't know yet whether the captain hit the landing mark - 696 feet from the edge of the runway - or floated farther down the runway before touching down.

"We expect to have the information soon," said Keith Holloway, a spokesman for the safety board. "A lot of issues involving the runway and runway safety are being looked at."

Midway air-traffic controllers told investigators that blowing snow prevented them from seeing where the plane landed on the runway.

Obstacles on and off the airport, coupled with the angle of the plane's descent on an instrument-guided glide slope, prevent pilots from using the full length of the runway during landings.

It is called a displaced threshold, meaning the landing zone is at a point that is not the physical end of the runway - in this case, 696 feet away. The portion of the runway displaced may be used for takeoffs only. Landing aircraft may use the displaced area when touching down on the opposite end of the runway.

The opposite end of 31 Center, called 13 Center, allows for 6,059 feet of landing space - 233 feet more for pilots to use. The extra distance would have been helpful in the case of Flight 1248, but 13 Center was not the landing configuration in use.

Holloway said the safety board is probing to determine why 13 Center was not used.

Runway 13 Center met the minimum requirements of a 300-foot cloud ceiling during the snowstorm. But the runway was 500 feet under the 5,000-foot minimum visual range for that runway. A minimum visual range is the distance a pilot sitting on the runway would be able to see straight ahead, according to officials at the Federal Aviation Administration.

Runway 31 Center requires a minimum runway visual range of 4,000 feet.

Some veteran Midway pilots, who asked not to be identified, questioned the FAA explanation, saying rules are often stretched a bit at the Southwest Side airport to allow for what is known as a "Midway mile."

These pilots said the extra 233 feet in runway stopping distance would have been more than worth giving up the 500 feet visually for the pilots of Flight 1248.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration reopened Runway 31 Center at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday for the first time since the accident. Equipment that aligns planes on the middle of the runway was damaged in the crash. Some fencing at the airport's perimeter also was replaced.

In addition, Chicago aviation officials responded to criticism from the FAA that the city isn't doing enough to improve safety on the edges of Midway runways.

The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that the FAA ordered city airport officials early last year to come up with a better plan to prevent planes from over-running runways. The city submitted a study that the FAA rejected as unacceptable, but airport officials did not follow up with new recommendations.

Longtime FAA standards call for obstacle-free safety zones at the margins of runways. The safety zones are supposed to be at least 1,000 feet long and 500 feet wide.

Most of the runway safety areas at Midway, which opened in 1927 next door to a Chicago public school, measure less than 100 feet long.

Almost 700 homes and more than 100 businesses would be uprooted if the city complied with the FAA standards, said Erin O'Donnell, a deputy Chicago aviation commissioner who manages Midway.

"We are not going to go on an aggressive land-acquisition program (to build runway safety areas)," O'Donnell said. "Instead of busting up stable neighborhoods, the city will continue to work with the FAA to find the appropriate technologies and safety measures at an airport that has been hailed as one of the safest in the nation."

She pointed out that an FAA report in 2000 on runway safety never specifically called for Midway officials to build safety zones, and in fact called the zones impractical at the space-constrained airport.

The FAA, however, did not take Midway off the hook. The FAA report said the city needs to conduct a detailed study of alternatives to provide a safety net to minimize the damage, deaths and injuries caused by a plane skipping off a runway.

A number of options exist, ranging from pits filled with soft, crushable concrete to stop out-of-control planes to barrier systems that more gently absorb the impact of a crash.

O'Donnell pledged the city would step up its review to remove objects from runway perimeters and from surrounding streets that could endanger airline passengers and vehicle occupants in a crash, and it will explore emerging technologies.

"There is no magical solution at airports with short runways today. But I am confident" answers will be found, she said.

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Chicago Tribune

by Jon Hilkevitch
contributions by John McCormick and Carlos Sadovi

City's Plan to Improve Safety Zone at Landlocked Airport was Rejected

Chicago has failed to come up with an acceptable plan to improve safety zones on the fringes of Midway Airport runways--more than a year after the city was ordered to do so by the federal government.

The Federal Aviation Administration, in the wake of last week's fatal Southwest Airlines accident at Midway, says it is still waiting.

The FAA asked city aviation officials in the spring of 2004 to submit safety recommendations for the zones, which are spots where planes can safely stop if they overrun a runway. None of Midway's runways comes close to meeting FAA standards that call for at least a 1,000-foot safety zone at the end of each airstrip.

Still, various solutions are available, even at an airport like Midway, where room to extend runways is limited.

The request to the city came after an FAA inventory of runways across the Midwest found that improvements should be made at Midway to better protect airline passengers, as well as people on the busy streets and in neighborhoods surrounding the airport.

"We gave the report back to the city in May 2004 and said no to the plan," FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro said. "We want some changes made. We haven't gotten anything back from the city."

Acting Chicago Aviation Commissioner Patrick Harney said his staff is "continuously talking" with FAA officials. Harney added that Midway is in compliance with all federal safety regulations.

But Midway, covering just 1 square mile, was built before the larger, heavier and faster planes of the Jet Age. As such, safety margins are tight, especially in bad weather similar to that of Thursday night when the Southwest plane skidded off the runway during a snowstorm and ended up on top of cars on Central Avenue, killing 6-year-old Joshua Woods of Leroy, Ind.

One possible alternative that has been used successfully at more than a dozen other U.S. airports to improve safety beyond the edges of runways involves deploying barriers that arrest and absorb the momentum of errant airplanes. Other technologies include laying down beds of soft concrete that crush beneath landing-gear wheels to slow planes, or tunneling nearby streets below the airport to extend existing runway safety zones.

For a time, during planning for the almost $1 billion new Midway passenger terminal that was completed in 2004, it appeared city aviation officials would address the issue. City aviation officials had been looking at various technologies for years. Then in 1996, the city started selling bonds for the Midway terminal redevelopment project, and ATA Airlines and Southwest were growing their already strong operations at Midway, generating plenty of landing fees, rents and other revenue for the city.

"I don't think costs were an issue because Midway was in an investment mode," said Mary Rose Loney, who was Chicago aviation commissioner from 1996 to late 1999.

Officials in the Chicago Department of Aviation were most interested in putting up barriers to stop planes that overran runways.

"We started an analysis, but it wasn't finished before I left," Loney said. "But I recalled that the analysis showed that, given the state of the technology at the time, there wasn't adequate room to put the barricades at the runway ends."

Erin O'Donnell, a deputy city aviation commissioner who manages Midway, said she is hopeful that new safety technologies come along soon that would allow a landlocked airport like Midway to make the safety improvements. "Midway is not alone in this challenge," she said.

Since 2000, the FAA has made an inventory of runway safety areas at Midwest airports and targeted the zones that need improvements.

Between 2000 and now, airports in the region have improved runway safety areas on 46 runways, Molinaro said.

Thirty-seven airports, including Midway, have still not complied, Molinaro said.

All except two of the shorter runways at O'Hare International Airport meet or exceed the 1,000-foot standard, the FAA said, adding that the runway safety area on those shorter runways varies from 500 feet to 896 feet.

"We are more focused on Midway because the runways there are shorter than the runways at O'Hare," Molinaro said.

Almost 300 of the U.S.' 427 commercial airports have runways that do not meet the 1,000-foot standard. They must comply or provide alternate safety methods by 2015.

None of the four landing approaches to Midway meet the 1,000-foot standard, the FAA said.

A scant 82 feet separated the end of Runway 31 Center and a jet-engine blast wall struck by the Southwest Boeing 737-700 on Thursday. The safety zone at the other end of the same runway is even shorter, only 48 feet, according to the FAA.

Midway's longest safety zone, off the tip of Runway 22 Left on the northeast side of the airport, measures 127 feet, the FAA said.

Extending the zones to 1,000 feet would require major demolition of dozens--perhaps hundreds--of homes and businesses surrounding the airport, especially on the southwest, southeast and northwest corners. An expansion of runway safety areas beyond the existing northeast corner of the airport would primarily affect remote parking lots.

The southeast corner would likely be the most challenging. A 1,000-foot extension of runway 31C would jut deeply into dozens of residences, reaching about as far as West 64th Street and Kilpatrick Avenue. The extension of the 31R runway would cut across Cicero Avenue and clip at least a dozen homes between West 61st and West 62nd Streets, between Cicero and South Keating Avenue.

Meanwhile, the family of Joshua Woods was busy Monday making burial funeral arrangements for the boy.

Visitation will be from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday in Smits Funeral Homes-Steger Memorial Chapel in Steger.

A funeral service will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in the home at 3045 Chicago Rd.

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Chicago Tribune
online edition
by Jon Hilkevitch
contributions by Deborah Horan

Radio communications recorded just before last week's fatal accident at Midway Airport reveal that some pilots and air-traffic controllers were concerned about the worsening snowstorm and discussed whether they could change the runway configuration to escape a tailwind that increased the stopping distance of planes landing, the Tribune has learned.

But the only possible runway switch at Midway would have caused an air-traffic logjam, curtailing the use of a major departure runway at O'Hare International Airport about 15 miles away, officials said. Swapping runway operations also would have added to the serious weather-related flight delays at both airports.

Only one Midway runway was open Thursday night when a Southwest Airlines plane skidded across the airfield and smashed through a jet-engine blast barrier and a perimeter fence, striking cars on a busy street. Joshua Woods, a 6-year-old Indiana boy who was in one of the cars, was killed, and 10 other people were hurt.

Midway flights were restricted to the one runway because city crews could not de-ice and plow other runways fast enough to keep up with the falling and blowing snow. Midway, surrounded by residential neighborhoods, can be a tricky airport for pilots. It is known for planes approaching fast and low over homes onto relatively short runways.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating why the Federal Aviation Administration, the Chicago Department of Aviation and the airlines serving Midway did not implement a runway plan that would have boosted safety by putting a headwind against the noses of planes landing, investigators said.

"Our air-traffic group is looking at the decision-making process and how they decided which runway to use and which ones not to use," safety board spokesman Keith Holloway said Sunday. "We are also examining the responses between the pilots and the air-traffic controllers and what they viewed as the conditions of the runway."

Pilots favor headwinds
The general rule to always try to land and take off into the wind is one of the first lessons a pilot receives, and many airlines mandate it if winds are strong or other conditions are present. A plane moves slower over the ground when landing against the wind, decreasing the distance it needs to stop. In a headwind, a plane also encounters more airflow over the wings to help produce lift on takeoffs.

"I find it hard to believe that any airline pilot would knowingly land in such a tailwind under any conditions, and most certainly not at Midway on a slippery runway," said Tom Bunn, a retired captain who flew for United Airlines and Pan Am for 30 years.

Air-traffic radio tapes show that at least several pilots Thursday night asked if the option were available to land into a headwind to help slow aircraft instead of being buffeted by a 10-m.p.h. tailwind that buffeted the plane at an angle, said sources close to the NTSB investigation.

Investigators will look at whether visibility rules set by the FAA for Midway permitted the use of a different landing configuration.

The pilots of the Southwest plane, Flight 1248 from Baltimore, reported a normal approach to Midway and they did not request a change in runway, said Robert Benzon, the safety board's investigator-in-charge for the accident.

The Midway runway in use at the time of the accident is known by two names--31 Center on a northwest approach and 13 Center on a southeast approach.

Arriving planes Thursday were put on a course to land on 31 Center, despite a 10-m.p.h. tailwind that periodically gusted to higher speeds, safety board investigators said.

The tailwind, the fair-to-poor braking condition of the runway and a delay by the Southwest pilots in activating the engine thrust-reversers on the Boeing 737-700 are being examined as the safety board works to determine the probable cause of the accident, Benzon said.

One of the lawyers representing the family of Joshua Woods on Sunday blamed the Southwest pilots for choosing to land at Midway under miserable weather conditions. He said the plane should have approached the runway from the opposite direction or the pilots should have diverted the flight to another airport.

`Night demanded perfection'
"That night demanded perfection," said Ronald A. Stearney Sr., the attorney hired by Leroy and Lisa Woods of Leroy, Ind. "This was a terrible night to be landing."

Other aircraft landed safely at Midway before Flight 1248 skidded and crashed. Safety board investigators are just beginning what is expected to be a yearlong investigation examining issues including the weather, snow-removal on the runway, aircraft performance, mechanical systems and human factors.

Using the 13 Center end of the 6,522-foot runway to land would have created a 10-m.p.h. headwind, increasing aircraft braking power significantly on the snow-topped runway.

An added benefit would be a slightly uphill landing on 13 Center, which is 5 feet lower than the 31 Center end of the runway, according to the FAA's Midway Airport diagram.

The Southwest plane's airspeed was 143 m.p.h. just before touching down at Midway, the NTSB said. The plane's flight data recorder clocked its speed on the ground at 152 m.p.h.

The tailwind at the time varied between 9 and 10 m.p.h., the safety board said. It is not considered a strong wind, but it magnifies the challenge of landing on a snow- and ice-slicked runway.

A tailwind that is 10 percent of the landing airspeed will increase the landing distance about 21 percent, according to the FAA Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge.

FAA officials, air-traffic controllers and city aviation officials said that controllers and the supervisor in the Midway tower considered landing planes on the 13 Center end of the runway.

But that would have required receiving agreement from the FAA radar facility in Elgin, where controllers handle approaching and departing aircraft in the Chicago area, as well as a signoff from the FAA's national air-traffic command center in Herndon, Va.

Redirecting Midway arrivals to 13 Center would have interrupted the pipeline of planes approaching and departing the Southwest Side airport while flight patterns were reconfigured during the busy evening travel period.

Effects on O'Hare
In addition, using 13 Center to land in bad weather would require extending the final approach pattern to the airport to about 10 miles, affecting the use of Runway 22 Left for departures at O'Hare, officials said.

While making the runway change increases the controller and pilot workloads, it is a common request made by pilots uncomfortable about the landing.

"It's not unusual to get pilot requests for a different runway based on the wind, the type of aircraft and the runway configuration we are on," said Ron Adamski, president of the controllers union at Midway. "If the pilots are adamant about it, air-traffic control is not going to be put in a position of saying no."

The policies of many airlines require pilots to land on a different runway or divert to another airport to avoid tailwinds. Pilots at Northwest Airlines often request different runways at Midway based on wind, cloud ceilings or conditions at the airport, Midway controllers said.

Southwest Airlines did not return phone calls or pages Sunday seeking comment.

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Chicago Tribune

By Jon Hilkevitch
Contributions by Brendan McCarthy, Lisa Fleisher,
Jonathon E. Briggs and Dave Wischnowsky

Pilots' efforts to stop plane were delayed, investigators say
Vital seconds were lost while trying to bring a Southwest Airlines plane to a halt on a slick runway at Midway Airport because a balky switch delayed deployment of devices that reverse the thrust of the jet's powerful engines, investigators said Saturday.

In the first account by the pilots of the Thursday night accident, the captain of Southwest Flight 1248 told investigators the flight from Baltimore was "completely normal" until he landed the plane at the Southwest Side airport.

A control on the throttle to activate the twin-engine plane's thrust reversers would not slide into place, the 59-year-old veteran pilot told investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board.

At that point, the first officer in the right seat of the cockpit leaned over and was able to deploy the thrust reversers while the captain applied full braking power to try stopping the plane.

The thrust reversers redirect engine power forward to slow the aircraft, and work in conjunction with automatic brakes that investigators said activated immediately upon landing the 737-700. Flaps on the wings, called spoilers, also help kill speed. Investigators say the spoilers were working.

When the captain saw that they were running out of runway, he also used his brake pedals to provide extra stopping power, said Robert Benzon, the investigator in charge.

The captain told safety board investigators he was concerned about the weather in Chicago, but was unaware of the "unique weather phenomenon" that was occurring around them. National Weather Service forecasters told the safety board that an "enhanced snowbank" was coming into the Chicago area at the same time the plane was flying toward the Midwest.

Officials are not releasing the pilots' names.

Visibility was about two-thirds the length of the runway at Midway when Flight 1248 descended through low-hanging clouds, and the flashing lights of the airfield below became visible in the blowing snow, according to new data received Saturday.

Working backward from Thursday night, when the aircraft smashed through an airfield barrier and rammed vehicles on Central Avenue, investigators have sifted through data from the cockpit and flight recorders, air-traffic radar and weather advisories to create a second-by-second chronology.

One major unanswered question is where the plane, gaining speed due to a tailwind, touched down in the landing zone on the first third of the 6,522-foot runway.

The plane needed to land within about the first 2,170 feet of the runway to stop on the snow-slicked surface, which was rated "fair" to "poor" for aircraft-braking ability by the pilot who landed several minutes in front of Flight 1248, transportation officials said.

Investigators still want to know whether the plane crossed the runway threshold at the correct altitude and speed--or if it was too high and too fast--and how much those factors reduced the pilots' ability to bring the aircraft to a safe stop.

Joshua Woods, 6, was killed, and his parents, Leroy and Lisa, and two brothers were injured when their car was crushed by the plane. Their attorney Ronald Stearney said Leroy Woods was released Saturday from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn. He said Leroy Woods suffered one fracture at the back of his skull and four under his right eye.

Steven Peters, Joshua Woods' uncle, said the family's main focus is now on preparing to bury Joshua. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Saturday's snowfall and weather conditions, although drastically less threatening than Thursday's conditions, contributed to many airline delays and cancellations at both Chicago airports.

At Midway, Southwest Airlines had canceled all flights by about 6 p.m. Saturday, said company spokeswoman Linda Rutherford. She said Thursday's crash did not factor into the company's decision.

"For our type of operations, the airport went below minimums [in visibility]," Rutherford said. "On Thursday ... it was not below our minimum visibility."

Rich Brumer, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service office in Romeoville, said Saturday's conditions were more conducive to airplane travel.

"The temperature is about the same, but the snowfall is much less," Brumer said. "The winds are a little stronger, but visibility and the ceiling is much better."

As of 7 p.m. Saturday, the Chicago Department of Aviation said about 60 Midway flights had been canceled and at least seven flights diverted elsewhere because of poor weather conditions and only one operable runway.

On average, Midway has about 300 departures a day.

At O'Hare, United Airlines and American Airlines reported delays of up to 90 minutes and at least six cancellations.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administration worked Saturday to replace an aircraft-guidance antenna that was knocked out during the crash. The equipment, which guides planes down a glide path to the airport, is needed before the runway on which the accident occurred, 31 Center, can be reopened. The runway was expected to be back in service Sunday.

Mayor Richard Daley said Saturday that he did not want to examine the idea of expanding runway safety areas at Midway until the board completes its investigation.

"This airport has been very safe. Southwest Airlines has been a safe company," Daley said at a news conference.

Daley sought to reassure residents living around the airport that the area is safe.

"They've lived there for so many years and there's not been many accidents," he said. "More people are killed on expressways, so would we shut down expressways?"

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Chicago Tribune

by Jon Hilkevitch
Contributions by Tom Rybarczyk, Gary Washburn
and Joseph Sjostrom


Slippery end of runway was `like being on ice skates'
A blowing snowstorm, a tail wind pushing their plane faster toward Midway Airport and a short runway that became progressively slicker all worked against the pilots of Southwest Airlines Flight 1248, federal investigators said Friday.

The plane, carrying 98 passengers and five crew members to Chicago from Baltimore Thursday evening, experienced a slight bounce after touching down at 143 m.p.h., using up precious runway space as the wheels made contact for a second time with the ground.

The slippery end of the runway--which was "like being on ice skates," an official for a pilots' group said--and a steel wall just beyond where the concrete ended, made matters much worse.

Runway braking power was rated only fair as the plane landed on the front portion of the 6,522-foot runway, which was covered by 1/16th of an inch of snow, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.

But traction deteriorated to poor toward the end of the runway as the pilot tried to bring the Boeing 737-700 to a safe stop, said Ellen Engleman Conners, a member of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The aircraft barreled through a barrier fence at 45 m.p.h., knocking out radar equipment and striking several vehicles on Central Avenue near 55th Street northwest of the airport. A 6-year-old boy in one of the cars was killed, and at least 10 people were injured. The roof of one car was crushed beneath a wing.

Inquiry could take year

On Friday, investigators began assembling thousands of bits of data--ranging from radio communications between the pilots and air-traffic controllers to the mechanical functions of the aircraft--to model the flight and determine what went wrong. That could take about a year, Engleman Conners said.

Chicago Deputy Aviation Commissioner Erin O'Donnell, who manages Midway, contradicted safety board officials, saying the braking action on the runway was "good prior to this incident, as well as after."

But city officials also said the runway was idle for several minutes before the Southwest plane attempted to land--enough time for the runway to get more slippery. Pilots preparing to land rely heavily on the braking reports of pilots landing in front of them.

Part of the investigation will look at whether the city should have closed the airport, officials said. Midway received 9.3 inches of snow Thursday. Only one runway was open during the storm. Airport crews operating snowplows, power brooms and de-icing equipment worked feverishly to maintain braking action on the runway.

"This is the city of Chicago. Weather is a big factor," Engleman Conners said.

Only 82 feet separate the end of the runway and the barrier wall--less than one-tenth of the 1,000-foot runway safety area called for in Federal Aviation Administration standards aimed at safeguarding planes if pilots overshoot runways or run off the end of them.

"Airports should continually strive to reach these standards," said FAA spokesman Tony Molinaro.

Midway can operate with such a small overrun zone because the 77-year-old airport qualifies for a grandfather clause under old rules. The FAA has targeted two of Midway's runways for safety improvements, but Chicago has not committed to any changes. In fact, the city can seek an exemption to a new law that President Bush signed this week mandating at least 1,000 feet at the end of all runways at major commercial airports by 2015.

Midway "has had a wonderful record of safety," said Mayor Richard Daley, who recently completed an almost $1 billion renovation of Midway terminals while leaving the landlocked airfield unchanged.

The city operates a voluntary land-acquisition program to buy commercial properties on the perimeter of the airport and landscape them as part of a beautification program, said Wendy Abrams, spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Aviation. Asked if any of the parcels would be used to broaden the runway safety areas, Abrams said, "Not at this time."

Clearing the crash site

Meanwhile, investigators said they planned to put the forward section of the plane, from which the nose landing gear was severed when it burst through the barrier, into a sling on Saturday and tow the aircraft back onto airport property to continue an examination of the exterior and passenger cabin.

The plan included reopening the Central-55th Street intersection to traffic no later than Sunday and reopening Runway 31 Center, where the plane landed.

The voice and flight data recorders from the plane were sent to the safety board's laboratory in Washington Friday. The quality of the information downloaded was "pristine," Engleman Conners said.

Investigators will also interview the pilots and flight attendants aboard the plane, air-traffic controllers and Southwest Airlines flight dispatchers who provided weather reports to the pilots. Investigators declined to say whether the captain, described only as a 10-year Southwest veteran, or the first officer, who had been with the airline less than three years, was flying the plane.

But the decision to attempt the tricky landing at Midway, after the plane flew at least one go-around over the airport to give the pilots a feel for the wind and low visibility, was made by the captain.

Conversations on the flight deck downloaded from the cockpit voice recorder showed that the plane made a normal approach to Midway, Engleman Conners said. But a slight wind blowing from the east, buffeting the right side of the plane's tail section, pushed the aircraft faster toward the airport.

When possible, planes land into the wind to help reduce speed. But Thursday night, planes bound for Midway were landing with a tail wind to avoid an airspace conflict with planes on approach and departure routes at O'Hare International Airport, according to controllers at both airports. It is a normal practice that does not become a safety issue except in poor weather.

In addition, the sideways direction of the wind may have required repeated pilot corrections to keep the nose of Flight 1248 aligned with the runway, according to a Midway air-traffic controller who was working in the airport tower the day of the accident.

`Like being on ice skates'

Once on the ground, the real battle to control the airplane began.

In slick or icy weather, the braking power on the first several thousand feet of a runway, where planes touch down, is generally the best due to tire compression against the pavement that keeps the surface de-iced and warm. But stopping power and traction erode quickly by the middle of the runway and diminish even more at the opposite end, which most planes don't reach because they exit onto a taxiway, experts said.

"At that point, it's sort of like being on ice skates," said Gary Boettcher, president of the Coalition of Airline Pilots Associations, a trade group that represents Southwest pilots in Congress.

Boettcher, a 32-year veteran captain at American Airlines, said the FAA issues broad guidelines to airports about closing runways, and each airline has its own policy.

"At American Airlines, if we have a tail wind and braking action is less than good, we are prohibited from landing," he said.

Gary Kelly, chief executive officer at Southwest, said Flight 1248 "was cleared for landing, and all we can assume is that the runway was prepared for it. ... We let our flight crews make a determination as to the braking of the aircraft."

In a similar incident in 2000--Southwest's first major accident--a plane skidded off the runway in Burbank, Calif., but did not kill anyone. The captain was among 43 people injured.

Kelly said Thursday, which marked the first fatal accident in the low-cost airline's history, was "a sad day for Southwest."

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Chicago Tribune
Tribune Staff Report
Contributions by Jon Hilkevitch, Joseph Sjostrom
and the Associated Press

Runway conditions at the time a Southwest Airlines jetliner touched down during a snowstorm Thursday night at Midway Airport were "fair" for most of the strip but "poor" toward the end, federal investigators disclosed this afternoon.

Now they are trying to determine why Flight 1248 from Baltimore-Washington International Airport ran off the end of the runway, crashed through a concrete barrier and fence and smashed into vehicles on Central Avenue.

A 6-year-old boy riding in one car was killed. At least 10 other people-eight on the ground and two on the plane-were injured. Midway was shut down immediately after the accident, stranding some 600 travelers overnight. The airport reopened at 6 a.m. today.

Investigators hope to complete their site review and move the airliner from the street to an airport hangar Saturday, said Ellen Engleman Conners, a board member of the National Transportation Safety Board who is leading the inquiry.

Speaking at a late afternoon news conference, she detailed the sequence of events leading to the crash.

"The airplane had been in a normal hold position. The approach was normal with normal conversations. The crew did not mention problems with the airplane," she said.

"Air traffic control reported runway braking to be fair on most of the runway and poor at the end. Touchdown was normal. There was a slight bounce. There was a 7- to 8-knot tailwind. There was 32 seconds from touchdown until the aircraft hit the fence."

"Excellent" and "pristine" data has been recovered from the Boeing 737-700's flight data and cockpit voice recorders, Engleman Conners said.

Among other things, data showed the plane was going 132 knots, or 152 m.p.h., when it touched down at 7:14 p.m. Thursday on Midway's Runway 31 Center. It was traveling about 40 knots, or 46 m.p.h., when it went through the fence on the northwest corner of the airport.

"The airplane has been successfully secured and is now safe," Engleman Conners said. "We hope to move the airplane back to the airport tomorrow to one of the hangars, the ATA hangar. We anticipate that will be mid to late morning."

As for Central Avenue and 55th Street, also closed by the accident, "The loose debris is being removed, and we hope it will be possible to open both streets by Sunday, if not before." Officials also hope to reopen Runway 31 Center to air traffic by Sunday, she said.

The NTSB official did not say when the 98 passengers who fled the aircraft, along with five crewmembers, would have their luggage and carry-ons returned to them. The bags have been tagged and will be weighed Saturday to determine center-of-gravity issues.

Also on Saturday, the pilots, flight attendants and the first of a number of witnesses investigators have identified will be interviewed.

The Cook County medical examiner's office identified the sole fatality in the accident as Joshua Woods, 6, of the 14200 block of Elkhart Place in Leroy, Ind. He was pronounced dead at 7:45 p.m. at Advocate Christ Medical Center, Oak Lawn, according to a medical examiner's spokeswoman.

Joshua was in his family's car eating a meal from McDonald's his father had just bought him, singing along to Bruce Springsteen's version of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town.''

Then, in an instant, the car was filled with noise, a deafening roar that just got louder and louder. The jet crashed on top of the car, killing the child and injuring his parents and two siblings in the vehicle with him.

"His father looked out and saw a turbine engine turning right outside his window,'' Ronald Stearney Jr., the attorney for the family, told the Associated Press.

The family members all went to Advocate Christ. Three people were treated and released by this morning, while one remained at the hospital, spokesman Mike Maggio said.

Joshua's father remained at the hospital this afternoon in serious condition, WGN-Ch. 9 reported.

Three victims from another car were released, and a fourth was in good condition at Holy Cross Hospital, spokeswoman Michelle Boyd said.

Two plane passengers were treated and released from MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn, hospital spokeswoman Esther Corpuz said. A tow truck driver who stopped to help plane passengers also was treated for a foot injury and released, Corpuz said.

Friends of the Woods family today established a memorial fund in his name. It is the Joshua Woods Benefit Account, c/o Centier Bank, 1276 N. Main St., Crown Point, Ind., 46307.

Gary Kelly, chief executive of Southwest Airlines, told a news conference in Dallas that this was the first fatal accident involving a Southwest flight in the carrier's 35-year history.

"It is a sad day for Southwest, and we are going to focus all our efforts on taking care of our passengers and their families and supporting the NTSB investigation," Kelly said before boarding his own plane to Chicago.

Earlier today, Engleman Conners declined to go into specifics or make any conjectures, saying, "This is the beginning of our investigation. We have a lot of work to do."

"We'll be here as long as we need to be, but the investigation is going to take time. NTSB investigations are not `CSI' programs," she said, referring to the popular TV series. "Investigations like this generally take at least a year to be completely thorough."

"Obviously, weather was a significant condition," Engleman Conners said. At the time of the accident, she said, the wind was out of the east at 13 m.p.h., and there was blowing snow, visibility of ¾ of a mile and an overcast sky with a cloud ceiling of about 300 feet.

She said city airport and emergency response personnel, Southwest Airlines officials, and engineers with Boeing Co., maker of the plane, and General Electric, manufacturer of its engines, will be involved in the inquiry.

Southwest took delivery of the aircraft involved in Thursday's accident in July 2004, Kelly said.

The 737-700, he said, "is the most up to date, next-generation version of the 737," equipped with anti-skid systems and modern braking equipment. No problems were found during a routine maintenance check Wednesday.

The plane's pilot has flown for Southwest for 10 years, and the first officer, for more than two years, Kelly said. Both are based in Baltimore, and Flight 1248 was their first of the day. It originated in Baltimore and was to have continued on to Las Vegas and Salt Lake City.

Kelly acknowledged Midway's runways are shorter than at some other airports where Southwest operates, but said Runway 31 Center's length of 6,500 feet is "certainly adequate" for a Boeing 737.

As for the runway's condition during Thursday night's snowstorm-city officials said it was in fair to good condition for braking ability-Kelly said the aircraft had been cleared for landing by FAA controllers, and "all we can assume is the runway was prepared for it."

Asked about the overall safety of Midway, an older airfield landlocked by city neighborhoods, and with relatively short runways without extended overruns, Kelly said, "Chicago Midway is a very fine airport, and one that we have operated at for over 20 years very successfully."

Southwest is Midway's dominant carrier, controlling 25 of the airport's 43 gates and with 196 departures daily.

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