Air China Flight 605: The First 747-400 Hull Loss

November 7th, 2022
← Back to blog

Air China Flight 605: The First 747-400 Hull Loss

China Airlines is an international air carrier service provider in the Asia Pacific region. It operates scheduled flights between Taipei and Hong Kong using Boeing 747-400 aircraft, which are wide-body planes typically seating 416 passengers in three classes and having a range of 14,000 km.

On November 4th, 1993, China Airlines Flight 605 (nicknamed “Dynasty 605“) was carrying 374 passengers and 22 crew members on a 75-minute flight to HKG. The aircraft (B-165) had been built in June of that year and only accumulated 1,960 flight hours at the time.

The crash occurred at 6:27pm, when the Airbus A330-200 aircraft from Beijing was running on its final approach to runway 13. The pilots had a collective 12,500 flight hours, but due to the heavy storm and failure of a pitot tube (A pitot tube is used for measuring air speed in relation to the position of an aircraft or body), they didn’t realize they were approaching land. About 75 meters before the end of the runway they then steered off course, striking Victoria Harbor – although fortunately all 74 passengers and 10 crew members escaped before the plane struck land.

What will happen with events?

Heavy rain, strong winds and fluctuating wind shear conditions were experienced by Dynasty 605 on its approach to the runway at Hong Kong International Airport. Just outside of the airport, 25-knot (29 mph, 46 kph) crosswinds were recorded. Shortly before landing, cockpit warnings regarding fluctuating wind shear and glide slope deviations were received.

The captain saw that the airspeed was significantly different from what the cockpit monitor was showing and so disconnected the autopilot. He then manually controlled the throttle and headed for the rest of the flight.

A short while after the Captain said “fantastic,” he turned the controls over to First Officer and said “I’m in your hands now.” Shortly after, the first officer took control of the controls to keep the airplane on course during winds that were sending them off center. The captain set the spoiler controls to armed and positioned auto-brakes to level 2. These actions helped avert disaster.

The captain tried to activate the thrust reversers but increased the throttle instead. This meant that the auto-brakes were turned off and the speed brakes retracted, so the airplane could “float” down the runway. The first officer noticed that the thrust reversers weren’t activated and quickly deployed them before arming the speed brakes.

Both pilots knew that they would not have enough runway left to stop safely, so they steered the plane away from the ALS and ditched it into Victoria harbor.

The aftermath of the disaster

The airplane landed in 6.2 feet deep water. It was at a 90-degree angle on the opposite side of the runway. The emergency responders approached the scene when the passengers had evacuated through the emergency exits. Out of all 200 people, only 23 incurred minor injuries during the crash.

The jumbo-jet, however, received significant damage and was declared as a total hull loss. The plane suffered significant damage and was deemed a total loss. The vertical stabilizer interfered with the Instrument Landing System (ILS) of runway 31, which is why we had to blow it off with explosives after clearing the area.

The investigators found that the captain’s deviation from a missed approach procedure given specific conditions led to the crash. The first officer lacked the required training and experience on a Boeing 747. China Airlines was also held responsible for lack of a formal crosswind landing procedure in their flight manuals.