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Spanair defends preflight checks before crash

/ Source: The Associated Press

The airline involved in the crash that killed 154 people last month defended its preflight equipment checks Wednesday after investigators said the plane that crashed had tried to take off without extending its wing flaps.

A preliminary report by Spanish investigators probing the Aug. 20 disaster said the pilots of the MD-82 that crashed during takeoff in Madrid were unaware the plane's flaps were not deployed because a cockpit alarm that was supposed to warn of such a problem failed to go off.

Flaps are moveable panels on the trailing edge of a wing and provide extra lift during takeoff.

Spanair policy is to check wing flaps three times before every flight, a company official said Wednesday. He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with company rules.

"Spanair complies with the highest safety requirements, both in Spain and internationally," the official said.

Can't confirm number of checks
But he was unable to say if the flaps on the plane that crashed during takeoff from Madrid had been checked three times.

The Spanair official confirmed an assertion by Spanish investigators that Spanair policy is to check a plane's takeoff warning system before its first flight of the day, and during stopovers if an entirely new cockpit crew takes over, but not on every flight.

But the official insisted the separate, triple check of the wing flaps is more than enough to ensure a plane is ready to go, even though the takeoff warning system test is checked less frequently. This warning system is supposed to set off a loud horn in the cockpit when a departing plane is not properly configured for takeoff.

The Spanair flight that crashed originated in Barcelona and stopped in Madrid en route to the Canary Islands, and the pilot and co-pilot were not relieved. Only 18 people survived.

The Spanish investigators' report was based on information from the plane's flight data and cockpit voice recorders. It was leaked to the Spanish media Tuesday.

The report said in 1987, after another deadly MD-82 crash in Detroit, Mich., McDonnell Douglas recommended that airlines operating such planes check their takeoff warning system before each flight.

U.S. investigators blamed pilot error, concluding that the pilot of Northwest Airlines Flight 255 had forgotten to set the wing flaps and slats — panels on the wing's leading edge — before takeoff.