Air traffic controllers warned two Southwest Airlines pilots that runway braking conditions were only fair to poor moments before their jet skidded off the runway at Chicago’s Midway airport and killed a 6-year-old boy, according to a transcript of the cockpit voice recording released Tuesday.
The National Transportation Safety Board is looking into procedures for landing at short or slippery runways as a result of the Dec. 8 accident, in which the jet landing in snowy conditions crashed through a fence into the street, where it killed Joshua Woods of Leroy, Ind., who was riding in a car.
“Braking action fair to poor,” the air traffic controller warned the aircraft.
After the warning, the Southwest jet touched down and co-pilot Steven Oliver asked captain Bruce Sutherland if he was jumping on the brakes, according to the transcript, released at the NTSB hearing.
“Son of a (expletive),” Sutherland said.
“Jump on the brakes, are ya?” Oliver said.
Pilots then struggled to slow the airplane, then told each other to “hang on” just seconds before the airplane crashed through a fence.
During the flight, the pilots wrestled with the question of how they would land in bad weather at Midway, even considering other airports, according to the recording.
The Midway runway, like about 300 others at commercial airports in the United States, did not have a 1,000-foot buffer zone at the end for airplanes that overshoot their landings.
Flawed landing technique
And the pilots of the Boeing 737 relied on a flawed landing technique that should be banned, according to the NTSB.
The safety board will try to determine the best procedures for landing on wet runways and investigate what to do about runways that lack buffer zones. Industry, airline and federal and municipal officials were to testify.
Since the accident, the Federal Aviation Administration has proposed stricter standards for landings by passenger jets.
The proposal would require pilots to add 15 percent to the length of runway they think they need to land safely. The agency had found that half of all U.S. airlines don’t have procedures for assessing dangerous runway conditions that develop after takeoff.
The FAA has also given a $15 million grant to Midway to build soft concrete beds that can slow airplanes that overshoot runways.