After departing Berlin Tegal Airport in Germany, Crossair flight CRX 3597 was en-route to Zurich Airport located in Switzerland. During the early stages, the flight was fairly non-eventful but problems arose as the aircraft started it’s approach to land. The pilot prepared to land on Runway 14 which is equipped with a precision approach ILS system, but was later told to switch to Runway 28 which only had a VOR/DME non-precision approach.
Aircraft: AVRO 146-RJ100
Dep: Berlin, Germany Arrival: Zurich, Switzerland
Crew: Captain + First Officer PIC Flight Hours: 19,555 Co-Pilot Hours: 490
Number on Board: 33 People Killed: 24
An Instrument Landing System (ILS) is a form of radio navigation that gives the pilot both lateral and horizontal guidance in relation to the runway, when approaching to land. When the visibility is poor the pilot can rely on the ILS to guide him/her to the runway by focusing only on the instruments in the flight deck. When the pilot reaches the ‘minimum’ altitude, known as DA/DH (Decision Height/Decision Altitude) and he/she doesn't see the runway a missed approach must be executed immediately, allowing the pilot to try again.
On the other hand, a VOR/DME approach is a non-precision approach and differs slightly to the ILS. The pilot is provided lateral guidance in relation to how far either side of the runway centre line the pilot is. Vertical guidance is not provided. The pilot can descend down to the MDA (Minimum Descent Altitude) and fly at that altitude until the missed approach point is reached (MAP). In aircraft that are not highly automated flying a non-precision approach requires a high level of skill.
The pilot informed ATC that he had acquired the ATIS for the airport and due to the conditions expected he assumed he would be landing on runway 14.The ATIS is an automated broadcast that provides pilots with critical information regarding the airport terminal, including most recent weather, runway information and Notices To Airmen (NOTAMs). When listening to the ATIS of an airport, an informational code is provided in the form of the phonetic alphabet: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie etc. Upon initial call up pilots advise ATC which ‘ATIS Information’ they have, therefore the tower can ensure that the pilots have the most recent information in regards to weather etc.
However, unknowingly to the pilot the ATIS information had changed, indicating that deteriorating conditions are present. The tower instructs the aircraft that they will be landing on runway 28.
Moments before Crossair Flight CRX 3597 configured for landing, an Embraer jet that had landed moments earlier stated that the visibility conditions for landing on Runway 28 were close to the limit, in other words the pilot may have trouble seeing the Runway at the MDA. As the aircraft continued with the VOR/DME approach, the flight data shows the aircraft flying at an altitude of 3,240ft MSL, 120ft below its assigned altitude for that segment of the approach. After reaching the approach's MDA of 2,400ft MSL, the pilot stated he had visual contact with the runway environment, the co-pilot agreed.
As vital seconds passed, the pilot was 250ft below his MDA with no runway in sight. Following this, a system on the aircraft warned the pilot that he was dangerously low. The First Officer questioned the PIC of whether a go-around should be conducted. Upon hearing this, the pilot decided to execute the missed approach. It was too late. The aircraft had collided into trees and burst into flames upon impact. Both pilots, 1 crew member and 21 passengers were dead, 9 survived.
SAIB (2001) ‘Final Report No. 1793 by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau’, AAIU, (1), p. 1. Available at: http://www.aaiu.ie/sites/default/files/SAIB Switzerland Accident AVRO 146-RJ HB-IXM near Bassersdorf Zurich 2001-11-24.pdf.
Stocker, T. (2016) ‘Pilot blamed in Crossair crash; others implicated’, p. 1. Available at: https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-news/aviation-international-news/2007-03-16/pilot-blamed-crossair-crash-others-implicated.
Fear Of Landing (2013) ‘Controlled Flight into Terrain’, p. 1. Available at: https://fearoflanding.com/accidents/accident-reports/controlled-flight-into-terrain/.