Royal Air Maroc ATR 72 incident 9th July 2018 at Al Hoceima, Morocco.

Royal Air Maroc ATR 72 incident 9th July 2018 at Al Hoceima, Morocco.

The official
report has now been published regarding an incident in which a RAM ATR 72
aircraft, with 54 passengers and four crew, descended below minimum safe altitude
on two occasions, the second time hitting the sea before diverting and landing
with no injuries to passengers or crew but with substantial damage to the
aircraft.

The report states that whilst the co-pilot was nominally
flying the aircraft on the second flight, he was in effect under the instructions
of the captain who was giving, “improper instructions.” The report makes clear
that on the two approaches in question the commander deliberately broke the
minimum descent profile in an attempt to land in poor weather, disabling the
Ground Proximity Warning System prior to the approach. This prevented warnings that
would have alerted them to their proximity to the water. They descended within 45
feet of the sea and at a high rate of descent. They landed successfully from
the first approach, albeit breaking the minimum descent altitude by almost 1000
feet.

On the second approach they hit the sea, damaging the
aircraft. During this approach, the co-pilot (First Officer) initiated a missed
approach before the impact as he recognised that the approach was wrong. He raised
the aircraft’s nose and applied power but the captain resisted him by pushing
against the control column. When the aircraft hit the sea, the co-pilot was
able to climb away. The crew radioed air traffic control saying they wished to
divert due to a bird strike. They subsequently landed at Nador.

Due to the short flight between the first landing and the
incident approach at Al Hoceima, the crew completed their approach briefing on
the ground prior to take off. The Captain declared that whilst the minimum
descent altitude was 760ft, they would descend to 400 feet if the runway was
not insight and maintain that altitude until they saw the runway. It is clear
therefore that the descent below minimum was a conscious act. The 61 year old captain
had more than 13,000 hours flying time and was an instructor. The co-pilot had
joined the company in February.

The full report is long and detailed and I do not intend to
go into many of the elements, which include engineering and documentation as
well as training issues. Suffice it to say that the conclusions are that the
incident occurred due to poor crew coordination, deliberate breaking of the minimum
safe altitude compounded by an unstable approach and disabling of the warning
system that would have alerted them to the impending water contact. The
investigation was carried out by the Moroccan BEA in conjunction with the
French BEA.

That this was clearly intended to be an approach based on unauthorised
methods one has to wonder if this was a one-off event or the result of habitual
breaking of the rules, which in this case, went badly wrong. That this is a
cultural issue I have no doubt. The culture of rule breaking may be confined to
the individual captain, the flight department or of the airline in general; I
have no way of knowing. What is clear, is that no responsible aircraft
commander would behave in this manner and the report makes it clear that the
reason that this was not a fatal crash is due to the high wing design of the aircraft.
We could so easily have been looking at a major tragedy