NTSB officials inspect and document the wreckage of Flight 1354, a UPS cargo plane that crashed near the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport. Source: NTSB Flickr photostream.
The NTSB tweeted this photo from the scene of the crash. Source: NTSB
An impact trail can be seen at location of the crashed plane. (Photo: Clare Huddleston)
Shanda Fanning has been identified by TV station WAVE as one of the pilots killed in the plane crash. Photo courtesy of her hometown newspaper, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette.
NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt addressed media in a 4 p.m. news conference held at the Birmingham airport. Source: WBRC video
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -
The National Transportation Safety Board is in the "very beginning stages" of their investigation into the fatal crash of UPS Flight 1354 in Birmingham, a spokesman said Wednesday.
NTSB spokesman Robert Sumwalt gave an update on their preliminary findings in a briefing held at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport a little after 4 p.m. Wednesday afternoon.
Before getting into the details of the crash, Sumwalt paused, took off his glasses and offered a few words of condolences to the families of the pilot and co-pilot killed in the crash.
"Before I go on, I would like to pause a moment and offer our sincere condolences and let you know that our thoughts and prayers are with the families and the victims and the friends of those. We are thinking of you and you are in our prayers," Sumwalt said.
Sumwalt confirmed that UPS Flight 1354 was on a scheduled flight from Louisville, Ky. to Birmingham, Ala. when it crashed on approach to runway 18 at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on Wednesday morning.
Local pilots tell investigative reporter Ronda Robinson that larger commercial aircraft, like Flight 1354, typically use runway 24. They tell FOX6 that a portion of 24 is under construction and this may be the reason runway 18 was used Wednesday. A spokesperson for the airport authority couldn't confirm this information.
Attorney Adam Clayton, who handles aviation litigation in the area, says that to his knowledge runway 18 doesn't have an instrument landing system, which provides guidance to aircraft pilots as they land.
Mike Mangeot with UPS tells FOX6 that the aircraft was in "good mechanical order when it left Louisville [Ky.] that morning."
According to preliminary information, the plane initially struck some trees, then made an initial ground impact toward the bottom of a hill near the runway where there is evidence of a fire. The plane then went up a hill to its final resting point within sight of the Birmingham airport and runway.
Sumwalt said the distance between the initial tree strikes and the forward part of the plane's fuselage was about 200 yards. The section of the plane containing the wings and tail were about 75 or 80 yards closer to the runway.
The over-wing portion was "extensively damaged by fire" and the tail was still smoldering, Sumwalt said.
The black boxes, or cockpit voice and data recorder, are located in the tail section of the plane, which was still smoking on Wednesday afternoon. Crews are still putting out the final flames in that part of the wreckage, so the NTSB has not yet been able to retrieve the black boxes.
Sumwalt said he is "optimistic" they will be able to go in an quickly recover the recorders, which will give them more information about what may have led to the crash.
A 26-member Go-Team from the NTSB is on the ground in Birmingham, led by Dr. Dan Bower. Sumwalt said they will be looking into everything that may be relevant to the cause of the accident, including "structure, survival factors, human performance, systems, operations, air traffic control, and weather."
The NTSB spokesman emphasized that the goal of the Go-Team is to collect the perishable evidence from the crash including witness accounts, debris, and diagrams of the wreckage.
Sumwalt said they will be looking into several factors over the next few days of their investigation, including the size of the debris field, the possibility of hazardous material on board and the plane's rate of descent.
He said their goal is to not only find out what happened, but also "why it happened so that we can keep it from happening again."
He added that they are not here to conduct any analysis or cause of the accident at this time, nor will they speculate on the accident. He said the NTSB will provide updates as they have information to share.
Sumwalt said the NTSB would like to hear from anyone who has debris in their yard or home. To report debris in your yard, send an email to email@example.com.
He said the NTSB would not release the names of the pilots killed in the crash, but that information should come from the local medical examiner's office or the airline itself.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office says they will get the fingerprint results tomorrow on the plane victims. At this time, they do not have a positive identification of either victims.