Continental Airlines Flight 603
A Continental Airlines DC-10-10, sister to the crashed aircraft
|Date||March 1, 1978|
|Summary||landing gear collapse|
|Site||Runway 6R, Los Angeles International Airport|
|Aircraft type||McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10|
|Flight origin||Los Angeles International Airport|
|Destination||Honolulu International Airport|
Continental Airlines Flight 603 was a scheduled McDonnell Douglas DC-10 flight between Los Angeles International Airport and Honolulu International Airport. On March 1, 1978, it crashed during an aborted takeoff, resulting in the deaths of four passengers.[a]
The aircraft began its take-off from Los Angeles International Airport at approximately 9:25 am. During the take-off roll, the recapping tread of the No. 2 tire on the left main landing gear separated from the tire and the resulting overload caused that tire to blow out. That in turn, imposed an overload on the No. 1 tire on the same axle, resulting in a second blowout almost immediately after the first blowout. Pieces of metal from the rims of the failed tires then damaged the No. 5 tire on the left main gear, causing it to also blow out.
Although the captain (who was operating his last flight before retirement) initiated the abort procedure at 4 knots (7.4 km/h; 4.6 mph) below V1 speed, it became apparent the aircraft could not stop within the confines of the runway. This was the direct result of the partial loss of braking power following the failure of the three tires on the left main gear, and also because the runway was wet. The captain steered the aircraft to go off the end of the right half of the runway in an effort "to go beside the stanchions holding the runway lights" and thus avoid a collision with the approach light stanchions, which were positioned immediately beyond the end of the runway.:2 About 100 feet (30 m) beyond the end of the runway, the left main gear broke through the non-load bearing pavement, which caused it to collapse rearward. Portions of the failed gear punctured fuel tanks in the left wing, immediately starting a fuel fire on the left side.
The aircraft slid to a stop approximately 664 feet (202 m) beyond the departure end of the runway. Because of the fire on the left side of the aircraft, all passengers evacuated on the right side. All four emergency evacuation slides on the right side of the aircraft were affected by the heat and failed at some point during the evacuation.:31 Flight 603's flight crew and an off-duty pilot worked quickly to guide passengers to alternate exits as the slides failed, actions later commended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for saving lives and reducing the number of injuries.:38 Passengers who were still on board after the last slide failed were forced to either jump to the ground, or use a slide rope deployed from the first officer's cockpit window.:31
Of the 186 passengers and 14 crew on board, two passengers died sliding off the front edge of the wing during the evacuation. Moreover, 28 passengers and three crew members were seriously injured during the evacuation. Two of the seriously injured passengers died as a result of their injuries about three months later.[a]
During its investigation, the NTSB found the No. 2 tire failed because it threw off its (recapped) tread. The No. 1 tire then failed because it was overloaded and had fatigue in its ply structure. The No. 5 tire then failed, because it was hit with a piece or pieces of metal from either the No. 2 or the No. 1 wheel. The failure of that third tire on the left main gear probably contributed to the gear breaking through the non-load bearing pavement beyond the end of the runway, which in turn caused the gear to collapse and puncture the fuel tanks. Additionally, the NTSB stated: "The tires on the aircraft may have been operated in the overdeflected condition, since the average inflation pressure was less than the optimum pressure for maximum gross weight."
The NTSB made recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), including that the FAA prohibit mounting on the same axle different models of tires which had different load-bearing characteristics and also that greater load-bearing characteristics be required in tires manufactured in the future. The NTSB also issued a series of recommendations regarding improvements to aircraft evacuation safety, including development of more durable and fire-resistant slides, and the placement of evacuation ropes at emergency exits for use in the event of slide failure.
After the investigation of this accident was completed, the FAA made a number of rule changes improving runway performance, including updated tire rating criteria, performance standards, and testing requirements. In addition, the FAA mandated changes to the design of evacuation slides to increase their capacity, improve fire resistance, and inflate at a quicker speed.
- The NTSB's final report lists 2 fatal injuries and 31 serious injuries. However, two of the 31 people reported by the NTSB as having "serious" injuries actually died as a result of the crash. These two individuals, both passengers, initially survived the crash but died 3 months later from their injuries. In its final report, the NTSB explained that at the time, 49 CFR 830.2 required it to only identify persons who died within 7 days of an accident as fatalities. In accordance with the regulation, the NTSB did not list these two deceased passengers as fatalities, instead including them in the NTSB's count of 31 "serious" injuries.:8 A 2008 retrospective published by the Orange County Register accurately described the accident as resulting in a total of 4 fatalities and 29 serious injuries.
- "Aircraft Accident Report, Continental Air Lines, Inc., McDonnell-Douglas DC-10-10, N68045, Los Angeles, California, March 1, 1978" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. January 25, 1979. NTSB/AAR-79/01. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
- Berg, Tom (February 28, 2008). "Still surviving the crash of Flight 603". Orange County Register. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
- "Accident description - N68045". aviation-safety.net. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved October 16, 2013.
- "NTSB Safety Regulation(s) A-79-16 through -20" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board. May 1, 1979. Retrieved December 22, 2017.
- "Continental Airlines Flight 603, McDonnell Douglas DC-10, N68045 - Resulting Safety Initiatives". Federal Aviation Administration. September 27, 2013.