DETROIT (AP) — A military vehicle aboard an overloaded plane in Afghanistan broke free and struck critical operating systems, likely leading to the 2013 crash that killed all seven crew members, federal officials said Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board said an improperly secured mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, known as an MRAP, went through the bulkhead and disabled two hydraulic systems, rendering the aircraft uncontrollable.
The Dubai-bound Boeing 747-400 plane crashed just after takeoff from Bagram Air Base on April 29, 2013, killing six crew members from Michigan and one from Kentucky. It was operated by National Air Cargo Group Inc. and carried 207 tons of cargo, including five MRAPs, weighing 12 to 18 tons each.
NTSB officials, detailing their findings at a meeting in Washington, D.C., found "critical safety deficiencies," including a failure by National Air Cargo, which does business as National Airlines, to restrain cargo. Investigators also found inadequate Federal Aviation Administration oversight of cargo operator procedures and inspector training, as well as unclear responsibility for the oversight of special cargo handling operations.
National Airlines did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press seeking comment. The FAA said in an emailed response to the AP that it will officially respond within the required 90 days, and that officials have reviewed air-carrier manuals and guidance on cargo loading, operations and other procedures at National Airlines and other cargo carriers.
The crash killed navigator Jamie Brokaw, of Monroe, Michigan; maintenance worker Gary Stockdale, 51, of Romulus, Michigan; pilots Brad Hasler, 34, of Trenton, Michigan, and Jeremy Lipka, 37, of Brooklyn, Michigan; first officer Rinku Summan, 32, of Canton, Michigan; loadmaster Michael Sheets, 36, of Ypsilanti, Michigan; and maintenance crewman Timothy Garrett, 51, of Louisville, Kentucky.
"I would like to express our condolences to the family members, friends and colleagues of those who were lost," said NTSB Chairman Christopher Hart. "Your loved ones took on an important mission to support American forces abroad and lost their lives not to enemy fire but to an accident. We cannot change what happened but in fully investigating, we hope to find ways to prevent such an accident from ever happening again."
The NTSB had said in February that it was examining shifting cargo as a possible factor. The plane had picked up the five vehicles at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, and took on 53 tons of fuel at Bagram before taking off for Dubai.
In its earlier report, the NTSB said the flight took longer than originally planned when Pakistan refused permission for the plane to use its airspace for a direct flight from Camp Bastion to Dubai, and Taliban forces opened fire on Camp Bastion, delaying the plane's arrival by about an hour.
The captain was made aware of a broken strap while the plane was still on the ramp in Bagram. Investigators said Tuesday that although crew members and the load master were aware that cargo moved during the previous flight, they didn't recognize that this indicated a serious problem.
NTSB officials say National Airlines had never attempted to transport an 18-ton vehicle before the 2013 flight. Additionally, they said, if the airline's chief load master consulted the manuals he would have determined that five vehicles couldn't be properly or safely secured in the airplane.