Notes from Show #36 of the
Conversation at Podcast


Title: Crash of British Airways 777 at Heathrow on 17 January 2008 - Update 1
Date: 23 January 2008;  Length: 8:51

This update includes information prvoided by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) from their first briefing on 18 January 2008. You can listen to or watch the podcast at the following links:
Audio: MP3 | VideoiPod/MP4 | WMV | YouTube

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Podcast Timeline

0:00: Introduction

0:30: Accident overview

1:03: Review of information provided by the initial AAIB report

1:30: Depiction of accident aircraft approach path

1:50: Review of aircraft damage and aircraft evacuation

2:25: Review of groups involved in accident investigation

3:00: Possible role of aircraft system issues in the crash

4:00: Factors favoring the AAIB in this investigation

4:32: Challenges faced by the AAIB in this investigation

5:05: General goals of the AAIB

5:31: Groups affected by the outcome of the investigation

6:05: How to evaluate news and other information about the crash

6:49: Suggested accident-related resources

7:28: Suggested tool for analyzing and understanding aviation safety data

8:02: Credits and copyright information


Hello, and welcome to the Conversation at, sponsored by Speedbrake Publishing I'm your host Dr. Todd Curtis, the creator of, your reliable source of airline safety and security information since 1996.

In this Conversation, I'd like to talk about the crash of a British Airways 777 at London's Heathrow Airport on the 17th of January 2008. This is an update to the original podcast about this event that was published the day of the accident Although the aircraft sustained serious damage only one of the 136 passengers was seriously injured, and there were no serious injuries among the 16 crew members

This was a scheduled international flight from Beijing, China to London, England.

The flight was routine until about two miles from touchdown. The engines would not respond to commands to increase thrust, and as a result the aircraft touched down about 1000 feet short of the runway. This was the first serious accident involving the 777 since it began service in 1995.

Based on an early analysis of the event, a preliminary report from the Air Accidents Investigations Branch provided some details about the final phases of the flight.

The flight was normal and uneventful until the aircraft was on final approach for runway 27L. At about 600 feet above the ground, the autothrottle system commanded an increase of engine thrust to maintain the aircraft's flight path angle. The engines did not respond to this command, and also did not respond after the crew manually commanded an increase in thrust.

During a standard approach, the aircraft is flown at a shallow three degree flight path angle. The pilot flying, in this case the first officer, increased the flight path angle after the engines failed to respond to thrust commands.

The aircraft cleared the airport's perimeter fence and touched down about 1000 feet short of the runway. During the crash landing, the aircraft sustained significant damage, especially to the landing gear and engines, as it slid along the ground. It came to a stop on the paved surface just to the right of the end of runway 27L.

The left main landing gear was pushed up through the wing root and the right main landing gear separated from the aircraft. The nose landing gear also collapsed. While there were significant fuel leaks, there was no post crash fire.

All eight emergency exit slides were deployed successfully, although there are currently no available details on how the exits were used by the passengers and crew.

The accident investigation is being led by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, or AAIB, of the United Kingdom's Department of Transport. The investigation team includes representatives from the AAIB, the aircraft's manufacturer Boeing, the engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. Other groups involved immediately after the crash included British Airways, British Airports Authority, and Airport Fire and Rescue.

The aircraft's fight data recorder, cockpit voice recorder, and quick access recorder were recovered and the data is currently being analyzed. The investigation is in its earliest stages, and anyone outside of the AAIB-led investigative team, myself included, can only speculate about the causes of this crash.

I can, however, make some general statements about this kind of event. Based on the initial information released by the AAIB, it appears that this event is similar to a class of aircraft accidents that occur in part due to the behavior of one or more aircraft systems and to the relationship of the flight crew to those systems.

There are many possible combinations of systems that may have been involved, and the evidence revealed by the investigation will narrow those choices.

Because of the behavior of the engines, one or more causes may be related to fuel availability, fuel quality, one or more aircraft system failures, or inadequate or inappropriate procedures.

Aircraft system failures include situations where the system performs as expected, but fails to achieve a desired result.

Other possible causes such as bird strikes, or electromagnetic interference, may be external to the aircraft

The AAIB has several advantages in this investigation.

  • The investigating authority is very competent and very well funded
  • In spite of the damage to the aircraft, most of the aircraft systems of interest are largely intact
  • All crew and passengers are available for interviews and debriefing
  • Other involved parties, particularly the aircraft manufacturer Boeing, the engine manufacturer Rolls-Royce, and the FAA, have significant resources, experience, and expertise that can be applied to this investigation.

In spite of the advantages the AAIB has in this investigation, the organization faces significant challenges:

  • System-related accidents are usually a combination of technological and human factors issues
  • It may be difficult to recreate the conditions associated with the accident, in part because some relevant environmental or system conditions may not be precisely understood
  • System-related problems may be due to subtle and complex interactions within and between systems and their human operators. Understanding those interactions can be a long and difficult process.

The AAIB has several general goals:

  • Find out what happened, with a focus on the unique sequence of events that led to the crash
  • Find out why it happened, specifically how the events, actions, procedures, or circumstances led to the crash
  • Identify ways to prevent future events that share one or more of the characteristics of the British Airways 777 crash, and Understanding those interactions can be a long and difficult process. Understanding those interactions can be a long and difficult process.
  • Make recommendations for actions that may be taken to enhance safety

Because most accidents are due to circumstances that are not unique to an aircraft model or aircraft operator, the outcome of the AAIB investigation will likely affect groups other than the airline and the aircraft manufacturer.

NTSB, FAA, and Boeing are working closely with the investigation and will likely incorporate AAIB recommendations into their response to the accident.

Because AAIB provides open access to major accident reports and supporting documentation, the aviation community and the general public will have the opportunity to review and to learn from the data, analysis, and findings of this investigation.

For those of you who are interested in following this investigation, I have a few suggestions for how you should evaluate what you may hear or see either online or in the news media prior to the publication of AAIB's final report. Prior to the completion of the investigation, those outside of the investigation, including the largest news media organizations, will have access only to a fraction of the relevant information. The AAIB will likely provide several interim reports prior to publishing the final report, and these reports represent the most authoritative source of information on the ongoing investigation For anyone besides the AAIB, take the time to read between the lines and figure out what is fact and what is speculation.

If you are interested in following the 777 investigation, or if you are interested in other aviation safety or security issues, you can check out the following resources:

  • For more on the 777 Investigation, visit
  • If you want to provide feedback about this podcast, visit
  • For other airline safety and security podcasts, visit
  • Background information about the site and the site's creator Dr. Todd Curtis is available at

I'll be back with some final thoughts after this brief message (commercial break)

Well, it looks like that's all the time we have for today.

Before we end this Conversation, I'd like to remind all my listeners that this podcast is produced by The Foundation, a nonprofit organization that supports a number of efforts to further the public's understanding of aviation safety and aviation security.

For information about the Foundation or to make a tax deductible donation, please visit

For more information about airline safety, you can find us at That's Or type the words "airline safety" into your favorite search engine. We're probably on the first page of results.

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.

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Dr. Todd Curtis is the author of the book Parenting and the Internet (Speedbrake Publishing, 2007) and is also the host of the podcast of the same name. For more information about the podcast, visit the podcast. For more on the book, visit

Notes from Show #37 of the Conversation at Podcast -- Revised: 10 February 2008