Chapecoense Crash: ‘Pilot Pride’ To Blame?

“Pilot pride” has been cited by some experts as the cause of the downing of LAMIA Flight 2933 near Medellin, Colombia on Monday. The flight, which was carrying members of the Brazilian Chapecoense soccer team crashed within five miles of the Jose Maria Cordova Airport in Medellin after flying nonstop from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

Air safety officials have begun their investigation into the cause of the crash, examining the wreckage as well as data from the aircraft’s black box flight recorders to help them piece together the final moments of the flight. It is believed the final resting place of the aircraft, a hillside relatively close to the destination airport, could prove important in determining why the jet crashed.

Relatives Of Dead Chapecoense Players Cry Memorial
Relatives of Chapecoense soccer players who died in Monday's plane crash cry during a memorial in Brazil. [Image by Andre Penner/AP Images]

While it is too soon to draw any solid conclusions, the lack of any charring or evidence of fire on the wreckage suggests that “fuel starvation” was a contributing factor in the crash, CNN explained.

“Fuel starvation occurs when fuel is cut off from the engines, causing them to stop running. It can be caused by a number of factors including a fuel leak, internal icing, failure of the fuel pumps or gauges, or crew error.”

Flight 2933 was captained by Miguel Quiroga, who also happened to be co-owner of the small charter airline. As more details of the ill-fated flight emerge, so do questions about the decisions made by the crew. In what has been described by other pilots as “risk taking under pressure,” Quiroga decided to skip a regular fuel stop in Bogota, choosing to fly directly to Medellin, an airport ringed by mountainous terrain known for unpredictable weather.

Chapecoense Crash Rescue Workers Remove Bodies
Rescue workers remove bodies from the Chapecoense crash site outside of Medellin, Columbia. [Image by Luis Benavides/AP Images]

While the managing director of the airline, Gustavo Vargas, was unable to explain why Quiroga chose to forego the fuel stop, it is understood the captain wanted to get the members of Chapecoense to Medellin as quickly as possible so they could have time to rest before the match.

While sources familiar with the investigation explain that one of the final messages between the pilots of Flight 2933 and air traffic control stated the “[p]lane is in total electric failure and without fuel,” this message didn’t come until after the plane was put in a prolonged holding pattern outside of Medellin, when it was essentially too late. Had the pilots alerted air traffic control to the emergency before the plane was put in the holding pattern, it is possible the flight could have reached the airport.

Monday’s crash has been likened to the 1990 case of Avianca Flight 52, which crashed on Long Island, New York, on approach to JFK airport. The flight had travelled from Bogota, Colombia, to New York, where it was put into several holding patterns that drained its fuel reserves. Despite low fuel levels, the pilots failed to declare an emergency to air traffic control, and the plane crashed 20 miles outside of JFK Airport. The cause of the crash was attributed to language problems as well as the reluctance of the pilots to declare an emergency that could damage their pride and see them face retribution from the airline.

Aviation protocol dictates that Flight 2933 should have been carrying enough fuel for a return to Bogota should the aircraft have run into unexpected delays in Medellin. Assuming investigators discover no evidence of a fuel leak or other issue, it is likely the crash will be put down to pilot error.

As the Australian explained, “Commercial pressures on airlines have in recent decades led to the cutting of fuel margins on busy routes. Aircraft sometimes land to refuel short of their destination, but the decision is closely regulated.”

At this stage, it is unclear whether the captain’s investment in the airline and the pressure to deliver the team to Medellin caused him to cut corners or whether “pilot pride” was the reason they failed to declare an emergency. The investigation continues.

[Featured Image by Associated Press/AP Images]