Why did the Emirates Flight 521 Crash? – 2 Minute Read – TOGA gone bad

A preliminary report about the Emirates Boeing 777 crash on August 3rd 2016 indicates pilot error. Quite a change in stance, since the pilots were initially credited with saving all 282 lives on board. The aircraft however, was reduced to dust.

But what happened to the Emirates 777? The Boeing 777 has been known as a workhorse ever since it entered service. A good service record, not many accidents and incidents. Let’s briefly discuss what a ‘Go-Around’ is.

When an aircraft is minutes, maybe even seconds away from landing, the pilots are expected to be very vigilant of various parameters like speed, height above the runway, the flaps and landing gear configuration of the aircraft, the general attitude of the aircraft among many things. When seconds away from landing, often referred to as Finals or Short Finals the tolerance to exceed these parameters is very little. Any deviation beyond a recommended value and the pilots are trained to initiate a Go-Around i.e. abort the landing, climb up to a safe altitude and come back for another attempt to land. It’s very normal, a lot of you would have experienced it at some point when you’ve flown.

Different aircraft fly differently, but a Go-Around can safely be assumed to comprise of these 4 steps:

  1. Full Power or TOGA power (Throttle levers all the way up)
  2. Pull the nose up (Pitch up the airplane so that it climbs)
  3. Landing Gear up
  4. Flaps up (Incrementally)

    TOGA Buttons

    TOGA Buttons

Step 1 is Full Power. Full power is achieved by moving the throttle levers all the way up. Most aircraft have got a pair of comfortably located buttons on or around the Throttle Lever grips called TOGA buttons. When the TOGA buttons are pushed, the Throttle Levers automatically and rapidly advance to the TOGA position i.e. Full Power Position.

#TheMistake

Reportedly, the Emirates 777 pilots initiated a Go Around too late. They touched down on the runway and then decided they wanted to Go Around. Once again, perfectly within the realms of flying except they made one very critical mistake. They failed to realize that after the airplane makes contact with the ground, the systems automatically inhibit or disable the TOGA buttons. So here’s how the steps panned out for the Emirates Pilots:

  1. Press the TOGA Buttons (NO POWER AT ALL – the throttle levers didn’t move) 
  2. Pull the nose up (They got off the ground again and speed washed out)
  3. Landing Gear up (The airplane sank back to the ground without the wheels locked down)
  4. They Crash on their belly

The purpose of this article is not to assign blame, but this lapse in training will certainly haunt Emirates, the crew, Boeing and many pilots for years to come. Something so simple, caused us to lose an entire Boeing 777. When those two pilots decided to go around their reflexes kicked in, among many other things to keep in mind, they forgot this small but extremely critical piece of information. The throttle stayed where it was, probably at IDLE.

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