Both crew dead as UPS jumbo crashes near Dubai airport

09:51AM Sat 4 Sep, 2010

DUBAI - A major disaster was averted by the pilots of a UPS 747-400 that crashed near the Emirates Road late on Friday evening when they avoided residential areas after their aircraft developed engine trouble.

Two minutes after the plane took off from the Dubai International Airport for Cologne in Germany, the plane developed an onboard crisis, and came down in a ball of fire at about 8pm near the Nad Al Sheba Military Camp close to the Global Village, just 20km from the airport.

Both pilots died and their bodies have been recovered, according to police sources. Some eyewitness reports said the jumbo jet streaking flames roared over the Emirates Road setting some cars on fire, but there is no report of any injuries on the ground.

Col Omer Al Shamsi, Deputy Director of Operations Room of the Dubai Police, said the cargo plane belonged to UPS, a US cargo company based in Sandy Springs, Georgia.

"This incident is very unfortunate and we will do everything we can to find the cause," said Lekites of UPS. "Our thoughts go out to the crew members involved in the incident and their families."

According to sources, both pilots were Americans and the cargo plane was carrying electronics items and toys.

Some eyewitnesses said they saw a ball of fire when the aircraft hit the ground followed by an explosion on impact close to the fencing of the military complex, 5km off the Emirates Road.

As fire engines from several emirates rushed to the scene, black smoke billowed from the crash site. Police and support agencies swiftly cordoned off the area. Only emergency vehicles were seen entering the site while traffic on the highway and operations at the airport were not directly affected.

Usually the debris from one of the largest aircraft in the world (the passenger version can seat 400 passengers) can spread over two miles or more but the soft sand in which the Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT) occurred could have dramatically reduced the wreckage area and saved several lives.

The sky was engulfed in smoke and a fire raged at a distance in what appeared to be a deserted area. There was a buzz of activity in the area and over 35 police vehicles could be seen. Traffic on the road slowed as curious motorists stopped to watch the scene of the crash and the billowing smoke.

Mohammed, a construction worker and witness to the accident, noticed the aircraft losing altitude and a truck in its way had a lucky escape. He added: "Within moments there was a loud explosion and we could hear people screaming for help." Another witness, who did not wish to be named, saw a fire as he drove along the road, while many others thought the plane was flying dangerously low.

The 'GO' team of the US National Transportation Safety Board, also known as Tin Kickers and considered the finest air accident investigation team in the world, is expected to arrive soon since the aircraft is a Boeing-manufactured plane.

It is too early to even hazard a guess about what happened in the 120 seconds after the takeoff, but one can record that the pilots whose names have not been disclosed showed great presence of mind in avoiding inhabited parts of Dubai, losing their lives in the process. The scenario otherwise would have been harrowing.

"We will release more information as it becomes available, in cooperation with government authorities. We will not speculate about the cause. Until then, we ask for your patience in this difficult time,'' said Lekites of UPS.

Deputy Director of the Dubai Civil Defence, Col Ahmed Al Sayegh, said the rescue team is yet to find the Flight Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder, the two pieces of key evidence in orange glow steel-reinforced boxes that record the parameters of the flight up to the very last second as well as all conversation on the flight deck with ground control and the pilots among themselves through four cockpit microphones.

Senior officials of the Dubai Disaster Committee were at the site supervising the operations by members of the Dubai Civil Defence, Dubai Ambulance, the Dubai Rescue Department and the Department of Emergency.

Khaleejtimes, Amira Agarib and Muaz Shabandari