Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sat Nov 03, 2001 9:23 pm


just found out about this mishappening a few years back. Thought I might share it with you.

Brussels incident

A NW flight landed at the Brussels National Airport in Brussels, Belgium. The flight was scheduled to operate from Detroit to Frankfurt. At a very low altitude, after making good visual contact, the Captain realized that the runway before him was not Frankfurt but, in the interest of safety, he elected to complete the landing which was uneventful.

The DTW-FRA flight was a regularly scheduled passenger flight. The rpeflight departure and en route portions of the flight proceeded normally until the airplane entered the airspace under London Center control.
Following initial contact with London over the Irish sea about midway between Cork and Lands End the flight requested and received a clearance to proceed direct to the Konan intersection, a navigation fix on the FIR boundary between London and Belgium. This fix was on the flight's ATC filed routing. At this time the flight was cruising level 37000 feet (FL 370).
As the airplane neared the vicinity of Dover, a clearance to descend to 33000 feet (FL 330) was received. Shortly thereafter the controller issued the first of several radar headings, taking the airplane off it's direct course to Konan. In conjunction with some of the heading changes, additional clearances to descend were received.
The combination of clearances resulted in the airplane being positioned over Konan at 24000 feet (FL 240). As the flight approached Konan, London Control effected a handoff to Brussels Control. When the flight contacted Brussels, the controller advised them that they would make a standard arrival Runway 25 at Brussels. The first officer who was handling the ATC communications acknowledged transmission by saying "runway 25, NW 52". Neither pilot noted or recalled hearing the closing words "at Brussels". A while later they were issued a radar heading (100°) that took it off the flight planned airway to the north (left). Further clearances to descend to Flightlevel 160 and Flightlevel 80 were received a while later.
Then the flight was cleared to the Bruno VOR (located a bit to the northeast of BRU). The first officer queried the controller about this VOR because he didn't know where it was and it was not on their flight plan.
The controller responded by issuing a heading towards the Bruno VOR.
The crew was still unable to locate the VOR because they were looking at the Frankfurt area chart. They called the controller again and he responded that their present heading was "fine" and that they still had another 33 miles to go.
They were given the frequency of Bruno VOR and then handed over to Brussels arrival on one-one-eight-decimal-two-five.
AT 08.08.20 the flight called "…furt arrival" leaving FL 83 for FL 80. The controller acknowledged "Good morning NW 52, descend to 2000 feet, QNH 1003, wind clam for runway 25".
The NW flight requested the transition level because they were unable to listen to the ATIS on the Frankfurt frequency because they were outside the range of Frankfurt ATIS.
During the next minuted the controller provided two radar headings that turned the flight to the south east and then to the south west. A few minuted later the controller issued the approach clearance for the ILS 25.
AT 08.16.00 the flight called "Frankfurt tower, NW 52 is established on the ILS 25".
The controller did not correct this misidentification and acknowledged.
NW flight 52 called the tower again to ensure they have visual contact. This was acknowledged by the controller. When the pilots made visual contact with the airport the pilot said "that something didn't look right".
The captain stated that at around 500 feet AGL he knew definitely that the runway he was looking at was not FRA. His deduction was not based on the runway configuration, however, but on the recollection that the FRA runway was white concrete and the runway at which he was looking black asphalt. At this time he made the decision that, not knowing their exact location, the safest thing was to land the airplane and sort it out on the ground.

So, what do you think ?


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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sat Nov 03, 2001 10:02 pm

I do think that the ATC at BRU should have noted the crews' response FRA tower and questioned it. I understand the tower is quite busy but what would have happened if the plane would have crashed due to IFR conditions ?? I guess that when they were at 500ft from the runway they were best to land and sort it out. Wonder what happened once they were on the ground ??????

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sat Nov 03, 2001 10:07 pm

That's an incredible story !

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sat Nov 03, 2001 11:44 pm

I guess they told the passengers some lie why they landed at Brussels. Maybe weather, fuel, tech prob or something. Don't have confirmed information on that.

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 12:07 am

To make the story more bizar. All passengers saw that the plane was landing at the wrong airport as the inflight entertainment system showed clearly that the plane wasn't in the vicinity of Frankfurt but in Brussels.

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 12:21 am

The captain made a p.a. to the pax and told them he had made a career ending mistake and told them where the had landed. He had a flawless record and was an outstanding gentleman. Numerous errors were made on this flight. many of which were from a.t.c. of which I recall approx. 4 or 5 people were fired. Soon after given an early descent because a.t.c. showed it's destination for the flight as a field 100's of miles short of the actual destination, they would have most likely would have had to divert to an alternate after given the early descent. Reading the summary of this incident it happened easier than most would imagine.
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 3:44 am

So is the captain still around or what? I can't imagine that this was the first time it had ever happened..

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 5:52 am

As a flight dispatcher, this incident is still something I just can't understand. I see what happened but how comes that ATC, especially Brussels Tower, never asked the question why is NW52 landing in Brussels...
Anyway, I remember that the Captain was crying next to the crew room, a very sad end of a career. a limo but with wings

RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 5:57 am

OO-AOG, maybe the folks at BRU tower didn't care about that because they thought this might be a diversion or a special occasion.
It's rather strange that the pilots didn't notify anything on their computer. They have their complete journey in there, right ? (Maybe not in these days though)

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 6:01 am

That's really funny! One question though: whose fault is it? Was it the London Control, the Brussels Control, or the pilots? I would think the Brussels Control for not correcting the pilot and copilot, but who knows.
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 6:50 am

If he was a -10 captain at NWA...he may have been senior enough to quietly retire early. Remember, NWA was the airline that hired back the guy who got fired for the little alcohol incident in Fargo years it's possible the DC-10 captain didn't lose his job....I don't remember.

Being an airline captain, you risk your job every time you show up to work or show up for your annual sim ride. That's why we have strong try and protect our jobs as much as possible. Not that some guys shouldn't get fired....but many more pilots would be getting fired for things if it wasn't for the unions. In fact, it's the protection from the unions that makes you more willing to refuse a flight for a safety reasons...the company knows better than to try and fire you.
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 7:07 am

Wow. That is a hell of a story, and it's pretty plausible that ground control/ATC was largely responsible for this. But what happenend to the pilot? I'm not sure it was ever determined in the thread. Did he indeed leave the airline?

Also, it is just incredible luck that this didn't wind up in some sort of much more serious accident.
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 8:57 am

I remember hearing this story, aswell as a CO flight that landed in a Military Airport.

What seems funny to me is that the Pilots would have been asked to change ATC freq. which would not have been on the appr. plates for FRA... and does BRU have the same r/w number allocation as FRA? Wouldnt it be a little strange to be cleared to a VOR which is not on your plates??

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 9:13 am

The same thing happened to delta i think twice this past year.

I don't remember what happend to the pilot.. but I can defintiely feel for him. My dad captains that Frankfurt flight all the time...i can only imagine what was running through his head.
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 9:19 am

FRA has a 25L/25R just like BRU. If you take the great circle route between the KONAN area (where NW52 was when the first mistake occured) and FRA more or less overfly the BRU area. I guess that, when NW52 was cleared to VOR BUN (Bruno), the crew realized that something was going wrong. I honnestly thing that the main responsability here is ATC who directed the aircraft to the wrong airport, but the confused crew was maybe slow to react and when it was to late eventually preffered to safely land in Brussels instead. a limo but with wings
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 9:50 am

I think landing was a good move. While it might have been a less embarrassing and less public incident if the aircraft hadn't actually touched Belgian soil, considering that at 500 ft AGL they suddenly realised they weren't where they were supposed to be, and in fact had no idea where they really were, landing it and sorting it out on Terra Firma was a better idea. The more firma, the less terror.

A Delta TriStar heading for Gatwick descended to 400 ft AGL on approach to a disused military afield in inner West London called Northolt. It's nowhere Gatwick and looks nothing like it, Gatwick is a huge single strip in the middle of the countryside, Northolt is small and squeezed inbetween industrial estates, houses etc. DL went around and landed at Gatwick (60 miles away), I doubt they could have stopped at Northolt. It's probably the same size as Meigs Field in Chicago, if not smaller. God (and the CAA) only knows how it happened.
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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 9:55 am

Northolt is just north of LHR!

RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 3:38 pm

Yes, FRA does have parallel runways 25 just as Brussels does.
As far as I remember the initial fault was made by a controler in England because he indicated BRU as the final destination (he later said he was busy) ...

So the following controllers all thought the flight was supposed to go to BRU and didn't change it. But as NW 52 was allways calling "...furt arrival/tower" it's rather strange nobody notified.

Obviously the pilots also didn't wonder why they had so much fuel left and were that early at their destination.

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RE: Northwest 52 Brussels Incident

Sun Nov 04, 2001 4:18 pm

Again, What happened to the pilot???

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