The pilot of a Delta Air Lines jet that crashed upon takeoff, killing 14 people, told investigators that he had taken some shortcuts in his preflight preparations but admitted no major errors or rules violations.
Capt. Larry Davis told a hearing Tuesday into the crash of Flight 1141 that before takeoff he often substituted hand signals for spoken commands, which are recommended but not required by the Federal Aviation Administration.The Delta veteran of 23 years also testified that during the fatal flight he had combined the takeoff briefing with a preflight briefing at the gate, although Delta regulations call for two separate briefings.
"I like to get as much done before we get into a position where we might be rushed," Davis said.
But under close questioning by National Transportation Safety Board investigators, Davis and two other flight crew members insisted that while they had been lax in some areas, their preparations had been adequate.
The Boeing 727 crashed Aug. 31 shortly after takeoff on the south side of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, killing 13 of the 108 people on board. A man died of injuries 11 days later.
Safety procedures have become a focal point since the accident. In Washington on Tuesday, the FAA told airlines it wants an additional warning device in the cockpits of all U.S. commercial jetliners to tell pilots whether the critical takeoff alarm system is working.
The proposed directive, which is expected to go into effect early next year and give airlines another year to comply, would affect about 3,700 large commercial jets, the FAA said.
Commercial jetliners have alarm systems that are supposed to warn pilots if the plane's critical control devices such as wing flaps are not in the proper position for a takeoff.
The FAA recently chastised Delta for inadequate cockpit discipline and poor coordination and communications among pilots. Delta has said it will formalize the checklist process with increased emphasis on verbal challenges.
Carey W. Kirkland, Flight 1141's first officer, told the panel he is certain he must have set the flaps properly for takeoff, although he said he has trouble recounting many events of the day.
"I'm convinced I did lower the flaps that day," said Kirkland, who explained it was his option to choose when they would be lowered as soon as the plane had started two engines and pushed away from the gate.
Kirkland also said he could not account for the fact that the flaps were found to be in a raised position by NTSB investigators.
Second officer Steven M. Judd said that he, like his crewmates, could not explain why the flaps had been found in an "up" position and that he did not know if anyone touched the flap handle after it became clear something was drastically wrong.
But Judd also noted that "with one last chance to save an aircraft, anything is possible."