On August 3, 2016, Emirates Flight EK521 was en route from Thiruvananthapuram, India, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, when it crashed upon landing at Dubai International Airport. This was the worst incident in Emirates’ nearly 40-year history, resulting in the death of a firefighter and injuries to 32 passengers and crew members. What led to this tragedy, and how was it eventually resolved? Join us as we delve into the investigation of the Emirates Flight EK521 crash and the steps taken to ensure the safety of future flights.
A usual flight from Trivandrum International Airport (TRV, Thiruvananthapuram, India) to Dubai International Airport (DXB, Dubai United Arab Emirates) operated by Emirates Airlines using a Boeing 777-31H registered as A6-EMW. The flight was carrying 282 passengers and 18 crew onboard.
How did the plane crash?
The story began 60 minutes before the incident at DXB when the pilots were preparing to land by completing the approach briefings for DXB’s runways, 12L and 30L. The flight crew received a moderate wind-shear warning affecting all DXB runways from the United Arab Emirates National Center of Meteorology and Seismology (NCMS); the wind-shear seemed strong enough to cause two preceding B777s to perform go-arounds.
The incident happened at 08:37 UTC. The aircraft’s airspeed was significantly impacted by wind shear during the late final approach, and it touchdown on runway 12L (4,000meter/13,000ft long) at a speed of 162 knots (300 km/h), about 1,100 metres/3,600 ft) beyond the threshold. The crew attempted a go-around after the cockpit’s Runway Awareness and Advisory System (RAAS) signaled a “LONG LANDING” two seconds later. Six seconds after the main-wheel touchdown, the aircraft rotated to a climb attitude and regained airborne with the nose wheel still off the ground.
The flight crew executed the go-around procedures; the flap setting was reduced to 20°, and the gears were adjusted to retract; however, the engine throttle stayed constant since go-around automation was disabled after touchdown. The aircraft’s indicated airspeed dropped as it climbed to a maximum height over the runway of 85 feet (26 m), at which point it started to descend to the ground. The crew manually increased the throttles to twelve seconds after airborne. Still, the aircraft continued to fall and impacted the runway three seconds later, partially retracting its gears.
The plane collided with the bottom of its rear fuselage and slid about 800 meters (2,600 feet) along runway 12L with its landing gear partially retracted as it pivoted to the right about 120 degrees. As the plane went down the runway, the right engine (no.2) separated and slid over the wing’s leading edge toward the wingtip. Firefighting vehicles arrived at the aircraft less than 90 seconds after it came to rest (33 seconds after the first hit) and began fighting fires in various spots. At the same time, all 300 passengers and crew were safely evacuated.
There was an explosion nine minutes after the aircraft came to a complete stop, with just the captain and the senior flight attendant remaining on board (checking for any remaining passengers). The explosion killed a firefighter, “Jasim Issa Mohammed Hasan.” Thirty-two passengers and crew members were hurt, including the captain and senior flight attendant, who evacuated after the explosion; the senior flight attendant was the only person seriously injured among the passengers and crew, suffering from smoke inhalation. Furthermore, seven firefighters were hurt, and six suffered from heat stroke. The explosion spread the fire throughout the aircraft’s interior, and it took firefighters 16 hours to put it out. The airport was closed during and after the crash, resulting in several flights being diverted.
The airport was closed for 52 hours following the incident, and numerous planes were diverted to neighboring airports such as Abu Dhabi International Airport, Sharjah International Airport, and Al Maktoum International Airport. The shutdown forced Emirates and flydubai to cancel multiple flights, affecting 23,000 people at the airport. At 18:30 local time, Dubai International Airport began operations at a reduced capacity, using just one runway and maximizing the usage of the runways at Al Maktoum International Airport. On August 4, the damaged runway was rebuilt and reopened at 17:45 local time, and the airport resumed normal operations 72 hours after the accident on August 6.
Eight days after the accident, on August 11, Emirates gave each of the 282 passengers US$7000 in compensation.
The video below shows a simulated playback of the FDR data of Flight EK521
What caused the Emirates Flight EK521 crash?
According to investigations, the pilots on the flight did not realize that the engine thrust settings on the Boeing 777-300 remained too low and also missed part of a cockpit procedure. The pilots of flight EK521 attempted to abort the landing after the plane’s main wheels had already touched down, shutting off automatic access to full engine power, according to the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority.
“The flight crew did not effectively scan and monitor the primary flight instrumentation parameters during the landing and the attempted go-around”the authority said in its final report.
According to the report, the crew’s dependence on automation and a lack of preparation for flying go-arounds – or aborted landings – from near the runway surface seriously impacted flight crew performance in a critical flight circumstance.
The Aircraft involved
A Boeing 777-31H with the registration A6-EMW, serial number 32700, and line number 434 was involved. It had two Rolls-Royce Trent 892 engines and was thirteen years old, having taken to the skies on March 7, 2003. It was delivered new to Emirates on March 28, 2003, and had accumulated over 58,000 flying hours in 13,000 cycles before the tragedy.
Pilots involved in Emirates Flight EK521
The captain, a 34-year-old native of the United Arab Emirates, had flown 7,457 times overall, including 5,123 times on the Boeing 777, since joining Emirates in March 2001.
The first officer, Jeremy Webb, was an Australian citizen aged 37. He had been with Emirates since October 2014 and had logged 7,957 flight hours, 1,292 of which were on the Boeing 777.
After this crash, Emirates changed the flight number of the Trivandrum – Dubai service to EK523.
Air Accident Investigation Sector (AAIS) Accident Final Report, Case No: AIFN/0008/2016, Runway Impact During Attempted Go-Around, Emirates, Boeing 777-31H, A6-EMW, Dubai International Airport, The United Arab Emirates, August 3, 2016