The South African CAA concluded that a loss of situational awareness caused the crew of a Boeing 747-400 to taxi on the wrong path until the airplane’s right hand wing impacted a building.
On December 22, 2013, the Boeing 747-436 operating British Airways Flight BA34 to London-Heathrow sustained substantial damage in a taxi accident at Johannesburg-O.R. Tambo International Airport, South Africa.
The flight crew prepared for a departure from runway 03L and expected a taxi clearance for taxiway Alpha, which ran parallel to runway 03L. After pushback the flight was cleared by the Tower controller via a different route: “Speedbird 34, taxi Bravo to Cat 2 holding point, Runway 03L”. The flight crew did not re-brief for this new route and instead the copilot, who was Pilot Flying, began taxiing towards taxiway B. “Straight down all the way isn’t it? It is, yeah makes it nice and easy doesn’t it? And Bravo will take us all the way to the threshold. I’m following this line jinking slightly to the right and then straight ahead. Perfect”, the copilot stated.
Taxiway Bravo ran parallel to taxiway Alpha. But at some point the taxiway curved left where it merged with Alpha. At that point a smaller taxiway Mike proceeded straight ahead to an apron.
In night time conditions the pilots missed the curve to the left because the two green lead in centreline lights were inoperative. The taxiway information sign lighting was also unoperative. The flight continued onto Mike and the copilot noticed that the taxiway seemed smaller. The Tower controller noticed the crew’s mistake on his ground radar and instructed the crew to stop: “Speedbird 34, hold your position”. At that time the right hand wing impacted a building to the right of the taxiway. The wing sliced through the second storey, injuring four workers inside.
The aircraft was immobilized and passengers deplaned through the rear exit on the left hand side after a fuel leak was contained.
Probable cause as established by the S.A. CAA: The loss of situational awareness caused the crew to taxi straight ahead on the wrong path, crossing the intersection/junction of Bravo and Mike instead of following Bravo where it turns off to the right and leads to the Category 2 holding point. Following aircraft stand taxilane Mike; they collided with a building on the righthand side of Mike.
Contributory Factors: The crew did not conduct a briefing to discuss the cleared route, nor did they refer to the correct taxiway information in chart 10-6. In combination with the ground movement visual aids, this created confusion and loss of situational awareness when taxiing on taxiway Bravo.
- S.A. CAA Final Report (PDF)