Sunday, 22 December, 1996
– United States of America
Airborne Express Flight 827, a functional evaluation flight (FEF) of a McDonnell Douglas DC-8-63F, registration N827AX, was destroyed when it impacted the terrain in Narrows, Virginia.
The three crew and three maintenance/avionics technicians perished. (6 fatalities)
DC-8 N827AX had received major modifications at Triad International Maintenance Corporation (TIMCO), including a “D” check (major airplane overhaul), modification and standardization of cockpit, avionics and airplane systems, installation of a cargo handling system and engine modifications to achieve Stage III noise level requirements. A partial functional evaluation flight was conducted on December 21, 1996, but was terminated when the airplane developed a hydraulic system anomaly (low fluid quantity indication). Due to maintenance delays the aircraft departed 4 hours and 20 minutes late, at 17:40, the following day. The crew were assigned a block altitude of FL130 to FL150 with an IFR clearance back to Greensboro Airport. The planned flight duration was about 2 hours. The airplane climbed through FL90feet at 17:43 and was level at FL141 at 17:45. At 18:05, after performing several landing gear, hydraulic and engine system checks, the flight engineer told the other flight crew members that the “next thing is our stall series. The evaluation flight profile form required that the flight crew identify and record the speed at which the stick shaker activated and the speed of the stall indication. The crew slowed the aircraft down one knot at a time. At 18:08:09, the sound of rattling was heard on the CVR and, at 18:08:11, the flight engineer said “that’s a stall right there… ain’t no [stick] shaker” (at 145 knots). The crew tried to recover from the stall by selecting maximum power. The nose was brought down to gain speed. Not able to recover from the stall, the aircraft struck mountainous terrain in a 52-degree, left wing low and 26-degree, nose-down attitude about 3,400 feet msl.
– Cause: “The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable causes of this accident were the inappropriate control inputs applied by the flying pilot during a stall recovery attempt, the failure of the non-flying pilot-in-command to recognize, address and correct these inappropriate control inputs, and the failure of Airborne Express to establish a formal, functional evaluation flight program that included adequate program guidelines, requirements and pilot training for performance of these flights.
Contributing to the cause of the accident were the inoperative stick shaker stall warning system and Airborne Express DC-8 flight training simulator’s inadequate fidelity in reproducing the airplane’s stall characteristics.”