A pilot was questioned again Wednesday by investigators trying to determine why his plane's apparently undamaged right engine was shut down before the jet crashed while the burning left engine remained in operation.
Capt. Kevin Hunt, whose back and legs were broken in Sunday's crash, was interviewed for 45 minutes at Leicester Royal Infirmary, said the hospital's deputy general manager, Carol Henshall.Hunt, 43, answered preliminary questions on Tuesday.
The British Midland Airways jet plunged into an embankment a half-mile short of the runway at East Midlands Airport in central England, where it was trying to make an emergency landing. Forty-four people died and 82 were injured.
Transport Secretary Paul Channon said Hunt had reported a fire in the right-hand, or starboard, engine of the new Boeing 737-400 shortly after it took off from London's Heathrow Airport for Belfast.
Channon told the House of Commons on Tuesday that investigators found evidence of fire in the left, or port, engine but no evidence of fire or mechanical damage in the starboard engine.
Britain's tabloid newspapers concluded Wednesday that Hunt had mistakenly shut down the right engine, believing it was on fire, instead of the left engine.
"Fatal Error" said the Daily Star; "Pilot Shut Off the Wrong Engine" said the Sun; "Error on the Flight Deck" said Today.
The British Airline Pilots Association called the newspaper reports "outrageous" and "without a shred of evidence." Aviation experts said it was highly unlikely the pilot could have confused the two engines, given the cockpit layout and the system of doublechecks between pilot and co-pilot.
Henshall said that after his meeting with crash investigators, "Capt. Hunt is obviously a lot happier that they have all the relevant facts."
She said some of the "wilder headlines" had been kept from him but he had been made aware by friends and colleagues of the news reports.
Asked if Hunt had denied them, Henshall said: "That is a comment I couldn't make." She said Hunt also was aware of Channon's statement to the House of Commons that investigators found evidence of a shut-down in flight of the right engine before impact, and evidence of a fire in the left engine.
Freddie Yetman, technical director of the pilot's association, said: "The official investigators need to talk to the crew to tie up some of their actions with the evidence they've found. . . . There may be some discrepancies they want to clear up."
The plane took off at 7:52 p.m. and crashed 34 minutes later.
Government sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Hunt reported at 8:06 p.m.: "I have an engine on fire." Then, at 8:14 p.m., in response to a question from East Midlands Airport traffic control, the sources said he replied: "I am shutting down the starboard engine."
Channon refused Tuesday to speculate on what happened, saying he wouldn't rule out anything, including pilot error or sabotage, though he said "I don't think sabotage is very likely."