Airbus strikes firetruck on runway [Peru]

Curious if others have seen this news story. Apparently the fire department was conducting a drill while landings/takeoffs were being conducted. I’m not sure how fire departments schedule practice, but during live airport operations seems really risky. Reports vary, but at least one fireman was killed. The Airbus lost at least one of their main landing gear and one engine was torn away. Happened at the airport in Lima, Peru

Link to video here

I know nothing beyond what’s in the vid. Here’s one of the early comments on youtube which has a plausible sound to it.

I’m a commercial pilot here in Peru and I’m very sad and mad that this happened. Aircraft was given clearance to takeoff by ATC. Firefighters were doing a simulacrum practice but they did not request the ATC to use the runway. Easily avoidable by either checking both ways before entering the runway or by following procedure and requesting ATC for clearance. I’m devastated.

I don’t operate into Lima myself, so can’t add any personal local knowledge. Per my navigation publications the airport is undergoing expansion involving a new runway and a bunch of new taxiways which appear to be paved but not in use yet. The Google Maps pictorial view is pretty good. We don’t know how fresh those pix are, but they show a lot of new pavement to the southwest side of the single existing runway and its parallel existing taxiway near the existing terminal on the northeast side.

The usual way these sorts of close calls happen is somebody is cleared to do “X” but instead does “almost X” due to confusion about either the instructions, or their actual position on the field versus where they think they are. Perhaps the fire trucks were supposed to be zooming down a taxiway but goofed and ended up on the runway that parallels the correct taxiway. The way a close call turns into an accident is when just enough people in just enough vehicles are looking in the wrong place at the wrong time and nobody notices the goof until it’s too late to prevent a tragedy.

An airport under major construction increases the risks because the construction zone is not controlled by ATC but the operating part of the airport is. The dividing line between the two will shift many times during the construction process. Which might lead to someone operating on the controlled part without clearance while mistakenly thinking they were on the non-controlled part. Which non-controlled part will also be guaranteed free of high-speed airplanes, so they’re not exactly looking for them.

All the above is informed speculation without specific info about this particular accident.

Thanks for the insight, especially regarding airport construction and its possible effects.

I’m getting a bit bewildered by the apparent spate of accidents recently. This one, the B-17, and the Caravan structural failure 2 days ago (in Wash state). I don’t know if it’s unusual or just a normal statistical spike, but it seems too many in such a short time. (Yes I realize “any” is too many, but I’m sure the SDMB understands what I mean).

Spikes happen. If you visit the NTSB’s aviation accident search page and simply put in any one-month date range at random you’ll see there’s a steady drumbeat of people killing themselves and others in airplanes. The newsworthiness of most such events is small and local. ISTM the spike is more in newsworthiness than in accidents themselves.

As to this particular accident, @Magiver found an interesting aviation news link which he shared here

From his cite it appears the fire brigade was conducting a drill to race from someplace in the construction zone (perhaps their new fire station) to someplace on the existing active part of the airport (perhaps the existing terminal). And somehow forgot they needed clearance to cross the active runway. Or thought they had it when they didn’t. Bad luck on timing sealed the deal.

We joke about trucks crossing the runway or fire trucks being in the way during an emergency landing. As in, “You’d better move, I’m a lot bigger than you are!” Same as semi-truck drivers probably joke amongst themselves about bulldozing wayward cars out of the way if necessary. The evidence here shows that although airplanes are indeed much bigger and faster than airport fire trucks, they’re also rather more fragile. Which is not actually a surprise. Cartoon physics only exists in cartoons for a reason. A well-understood reason.

A really shitty day at work for all concerned.

I wonder whether the fire truck had a radio, or some means of direct comms with the tower.

Easy to believe that firefighters don’t have quite a pilot’s sense of runway sanctity, or how vital it is to cede absolute control of airport vehicle movement to the tower.

The fire folks are professional airport employees. Yes, they have radios and yes they understand what and where ATC is in charge. This is as true in Peru as it is in the USA.

At least in generalities. What specifically went on that day at that place remains a mystery that will doubtless take the authorities some time to unravel. But we can say with near total certainty it wasn’t institutional ignorance of airplane / airfield / vehicle operations protocol.

Meanwhile, here’s the US’s NTSB search results page for runway incursions which covers a lot of content, not just accident reports.

Right now both FAA & NTSB are real hot about these kinds of events. It’s definitely on their top-10 list of problems to mitigate. The statistics suggest these happen a lot more than they ought to be and someday soon someone’s luck is going to run out. As we saw in Lima.

They would need to be trained on recognizing airport markings and radio procedures before operating on airport grounds.

Take a simple airport like Lunken in Cincinnati. In order to get from the Administration terminal (center left) the radio instructions would be something like this:

  • Ground this is fire truck 123 at the terminal requesting clearance and progressive instructions to mid runway intersection for 21L.
  • Fire truck 123 you are cleared for taxiway Alpha to runway 21R hold short of Runway 21R, watch for traffic landing.
  • Fire truck 123 you are cleared to cross 21R to Taxiway Delta. Turn right hold short of runway 25.
  • Fire truck 123 you are cleared to cross 25R and cleared for access runway 21L.

Now add in the fact that runway numbers change with changes in the Earth’s magnetic fluctuations. This actually happened to me at that very airport. I had recently printed out a map of the airport for reference and when I listened to the automated-approach instructions it was a “wait what?” moment.

All that was for a simple commercial airport. Airport fire fighters have no other purpose than to operate on the airport so they would on-top of procedures. It gets a little dicier when outside equipment is brought in for big crashes but it’s the same process. I’ve watched that happen at my local airport and the ambulance/fire truck operators seemed well versed on procedures.

Some new info from Aviation Week. The article is paywalled of course. Paraphrasing:

The exercise was planned in days advance between the fire service, the airport operator, and ATC including a general timeframe. Earlier on that day a specific time was selected and ATC was informed. The plan included the fire vehicles never entering the active part of the airport, just the under-construction part.

ISTM the last part of that plan was not followed for reasons as yet unknown to us.

Citation for those who can see it:

Pprune discussion:

And something I find quite surprising:

There are many countries that essentially assume an accident is a criminal act until proven otherwise with police & prosecutors involved from the git go. Brazil and France are two other countries I happen to know of; there are more.

That not something I or the US pilot unions approve of. Nor is it US policy for mishaps under US jurisdiction. But it is out there. It’s not a good thing, not at all.

In a somewhat similar vein, when TWA800 came down there was a real turf war between NTSB & FAA. Lots of bad things happened under the covers.

Could you provide us with a cite please? Not disputing, just never heard this before.

The wiki entry on TWA800 contains a couple of minor mentions of that with some cites. That’d be a good place to start.

Here’s Juan Browne (blancolirio channel) explaining how this runway incursion happened. Basically, the fire trucks were heading to a planned exercise on an under-construction taxiway parallel to the active runway. But they crossed this and turned onto the runway instead, perhaps because the taxiway is unobvious due to not yet having been paved.

This explanation doesn’t make much sense. While you can understand why visiting aircraft can make these kinds of mistakes (since the crew often visit large numbers of airports over the course of the year) these firefighters only worked at one airport and were completely aware of this taxiway and that it was under construction–they probably passed over it several times a week.

I would say you’re completely right. It was the fault of the driver of the fire truck. There are almost no fires or rescues to deal with so their duty time should consist of reviewing airport procedures. It makes me wonder if the taxiway under construction was not properly marked and they got confused.

The crew is fed instructions from push-back to takeoff that they read them back to ensure they were understood.

What specifically I was thinking about was

where the pilot was confused about which was the correct runway.

Yep, 2 people in the cockpit and both missed the runway signs. They turned onto the wrong runway instead of the intersecting taxiway. they would have had to taxi passed a hold-short marker for the runway which was their first clue.

Mistakes happen. Procedures, such as @Magiver cites, are intended to reduce the likelihood of mistakes. Which they do when followed correctly. But they don’t eliminate mistakes.

As well, standard truck / airplane / ATC radio procedures are simply irrelevant to this mishap where we know the fire department was not communicating with ATC because they were intending to operate only on the part of the airfield where ATC was not in control.

I wonder how much the Lima airport fire department folks actually had been driving around the construction area before the test that day. It’s a good bet there’s an existing fire station on the existing part of the airport and that’s where they’ve operated out of for years if not decades. They’d know that part of the airport cold. It’s the other part that’s relevant to the mishap.

Looking at the plans for the airport expansion, there will be a new fire station near what will be the midfield area. We have no way of knowing how much the current Google maps aerials match the actual current state of construction. They may be months out of date. So the new station may exist, some new taxiways may be paved and others not, etc. The bottom line relevance being the lead fire truck driver may not have ever driven the exact pavement configuration that was out there on the day they goofed / got misoriented.

Actually no. They would have had to taxi past the runway 22 hold short line to taxi to the wrong runway 22 or to the correct runway 26. So crossing the runway 22 hold line was normal expected behavior. It’s what they did next, turning too far to the left and basically losing locational awareness that pointed them down the wrong path.

One stupid thing that happens in complicated airplanes is there’s a bunch of switch flipping & checklist reading that happens as you’re taking the runway. Which invites looking inside and thinking about the inside at a time when all eyes should be looking outside and all brains should be thinking outside. And in the case where the FO will make the takeoff, as was done on the Comair flight, there’s the change of control to perform as well, which involves a certain amount of distraction too.

All this stuff is done correctly enough many thousands of times per day all over the world by many thousands of crews. Once in a while all the tolerances line up badly, somebody isn’t paying quite enough attention, is sleepy or momentarily distracted, or somebody is in more of a hurry than the situation can stand, and suddenly a mistake happens. Sometimes it only results in embarrassment known only to the crew. Other times it gets more interesting. And for 1 in a few hundred such mistakes, airplanes get wrecked and people get killed.