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Undetectable elevator malfunction caused Ameristar MD-83 overrun accident at Detroit
9 March 2019

The MD-83 runway excursion accident at Detroit-Willow Run Airport in March 2017, occurred because of an undetected mechanical malfunction in the elevator, the National Transportation Safety Board says.

Seconds after reaching the takeoff decision airspeed of 158 mph at about 5,000 feet down the 7,500-foot runway, the captain’s attempt to raise the nose and get the plane airborne was unsuccessful and he decided to reject the takeoff.  The airplane decelerated but was traveling too fast to be stopped on the remaining runway.  It departed the end of the runway at about 115 mph, traveled 950 feet across a runway safety area, struck an airport fence and came to a rest after crossing a paved road.

Investigators determined that a component of the elevator flight control system had jammed in the days before the accident flight while the aircraft was parked at the airport during a wind storm with recorded gusts in excess of 60 mph.  Although the flight control system was designed and certified to withstand such horizontal gusts, computer simulation of the wind flow showed that a nearby hangar generated localized turbulence with a vertical component that could move the elevator rapidly up and down, ultimately causing it to jam..

The flight crew completed all preflight checks, including a test of the flight controls, and found no anomalies before initiating the takeoff roll on the accident flight.  The NTSB said that there was no way that the pilots could have detected the flight control jam until it was too late.

Investigators said that the captain’s quick decision to abort the takeoff and the other crewmember’s coordinated efforts to assist him had likely contributed to the survivability of an accident in which there were no serious injuries among the 110 passengers and six crewmembers. The Ameristar MD-83, which was transporting the University of Michigan basketball team to Washington, D.C., was substantially damaged.

The NTSB also noted that the 1,000-foot runway safety area, added during upgrades between 2006 and 2009, likely contributed to the lack of serious injuries.

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