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Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 1:12 am

I've done some web surfing to look into this accident, which involved a WA DC-10 flying a red-eye from LAX, and landing on a closed runway. The results were a lot like the Singapore takeoff a few years ago, with the aircraft running into construction equipment, etc., and some loss of life.

I was not totally satisfied with what I read, in terms of gaining an understanding of why an experienced crew did this, though there were some reports that the first officer was fatigued and going through marital hell at the time. There's also some talk of acrimony between him and the captain, which may have led to distraction and poor discipline, although the captain seemed to have a decent record.

A surviving flight attendant wrote a book about his experience, but I think it was privately published and some questioned his objectivity.

Can anyone add anything (inside info, etc.)?
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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 1:35 am

I agree with you - for whatever reason, it's very difficult to find information about this crash, let alone photos. I've only seen two pictures of the crash site.

One of the two parallel runways at MEX was closed for resurfacing, but it was the runway with a functioning ILS. Because it was a foggy morning, MEX was having all arrivals use the ILS (on the closed runway) until they had acquired the airport visually, then 'sidestep' over to the active runway.

This was the procedure that Western's "El Tecolate" (night owl) flight was following during the crash. The tower told the Western aircraft several times that the ILS runway was closed to traffic, but inexplicably the crew followed through with the ILS approach and landed on the wrong runway.

Interestingly, the resurfacing of the runway had not actually begun yet, and so the pavement was still in usable condition. The aircraft would have landed without incident had it not collided with a dumptruck driving along the shoulder of the runway. The pilots would have been disciplined, but the crash never would have happened. Given the circumstances, though, the dumptruck had every right to be on the runway.
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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 2:52 am

I was told that there may have been some linguistic things that contributed to the crash, something to the effect that the crew asked the tower, "Am I lined up with the right runway?", and the tower responded with " Yes you are on the right runway". The thing was, the cockpit crew meant "correct", and the tower meant "not the left runway", and this led them down the wrong path. I'm not even sure that's consistent with the runway layout, but it's one thing I heard.

To me, it's one of the creepiest accidents out there.
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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 2:58 am

Actually most of the passengers aboard the Western flight died. And everyone is right when coming to finding information let alone pics of this crash. Its almost as if some covert government operation was carried out to conceal info about the crash. I actually managed to find some very rare and good pics of the wreckage a few weeks ago that i've never seen before. Looking at them its not hard to imagine why so many people died. What I want to know is why was the destruction of the cabin so great when the plane was coming in for a landing. Its not as if the plane nose-dived into the ground or was traveling superfast. United 232 was going 250mph when it crashed and broke-up, yet more than half the passengers survived. This plane was almost totally destroyed and basically everyone died. Weird to me.

[Edited 2005-12-05 18:59:28]
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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 3:21 am

What I want to know is why was the destruction of the cabin so great when the plane was coming in for a landing.

Here's the answer:

Flight 2605 departed Los Angeles at 01:40 for a flight to Mexico City. Because of refurbishing work on runway 23L, the flight was cleared for a runway 23R approach. Descend through a fog bank was continued below the 600 feet minimum for instrument approaches. The aircraft touched down with the left main gear in the grass left of 23L and with the right main gear on the runway shoulder. Go-around power was added and the nose lifted 10-11deg. The right main gear then collided with a truck located on the runway. The gear leg separated and struck the right tailplane and elevator, causing substantial damage. The aircraft banked to the right until it struck the left wing struck the cab of an excavator, 1500m from the runway threshold, continued and crashed into a building and caught fire.
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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 3:28 am

Designated as a supplemental service, flight 2605 LAX-MEX was operated by the DC10-10 N903WA.
As the aircraft prepared to land at MEX airport, the control tower operator informed the crew that the runway in use was 23R.
However, the adjacent runway 23L which had been closed for resurfacing was the runway equipped with both ILS facilities and approach lights.
For that reason, the Captain apparently elected to execute a "side-step" manoeuvre, using the ILS of the 23L before transitioning over to 23R...

In accordance with this procedure, the crew would be required to abandon the approach if no visual contact was established at an aboce ground height of 600ft (180m).

During the final approach, the tower controller drew the crew's attention to the fact that the aircraft had deviated to the left of the correct flight path, and again advised that Runway 23L was closed.
The DC-10 then entered a fog bank at an approximate altitude of 800ft (250m), and a crewman reported that the approach lights could not be seen.

Inexplicably, the DC-10 did not land on 23R. Instead, its left main gear touched down the grass to the left of the pavement of 23L, and the right one on that Runway's shoulder. The aircraft then entered the Runway, after which full power was applied and a go-around initiated.

However, just after becoming airborne again, the DC-10 collied with an earth-laden dump truck that was being driven on the shoulder of the closed Runway.
The impact sheared off the right main gear, and the underarriage leg itself then hit and severed the aircraft's starboard horizontal tailplane.
Porions of the right wing flaps were also torn away.
Due to this damage, the DC-10 banked steeply to the right and its starboard wing was fractured when it scrapped along the taxiway.

The DC10 right wing then struck a repair hangar, rupturing the fuel tanks and the aircraft finally slammed into another building, broke appart and was swept by flames.
Killed in the accident were 72 on the 89 persons aboard the aircraft (61 PAX + 11 crew members) and the driver of the dump truck.

Except for two passengers, the 17 survivors, who also included two F/A, suffered various injuries.

The crash occurred around dawn, and in addition to the fog there was mist and haze in the area.
Visibility had been reduced to zero.
The flight crew did not complied with the approach procedure being used and had descended below the minimum height without reporting the runway in sight. Analysis of the CVR (Cockpit oice Recorder) tape also indicated that the required altitude call-outs had not been made during the descent.

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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 3:28 am

Quoting N202PA (Reply 4):

What a horrible thing to read.
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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 3:48 am

Hmmm and mysteriously the link at that has the CVR recording no longer is working....

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RE: Western Crash, Mexico City 1979

Tue Dec 06, 2005 11:10 am


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