Sun, Aug 31, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Spanair considered switching aircraft before fatal takeoff


The airline involved in last week’s plane disaster in Madrid had considered switching aircraft at the last minute because of a mechanical problem, but ultimately went ahead with the plane that ended up crashing, a government minister said on Friday.

Spanair flight JK5022 was delayed for about an hour because of what the airline has called a minor glitch with an air temperature gauge near the cockpit. This happened while the MD-82 was still on the ground and the plane returned to the gate where mechanics disconnected the gauge and declared the plane fit to take off.

On a second attempt at takeoff, it crashed, burned and largely disintegrated, killing 154 of 172 people aboard. Spanair has insisted the gauge problem had nothing to do with the Aug. 20 disaster.

Spanish Development Minister Magdalena Alvarez, addressing a parliamentary panel on Friday, said Spanair at one point “indicated to the airport the possibility of replacing the plane with another.”

“However, in the end it also told the airport control center that it had decided to continue with the plane ... which is the one that crashed,” the minister said.

Spanair so far has not said anything publicly about having considered changing planes.

A spokesman on Friday said the company could neither talk about nor confirm specific details of what happened to the plane because the accident was under judicial investigation.

He said, however, that it was standard practice among airlines to check the availability of reserve planes whenever a flight is interrupted.

The Development Ministry handles civil aviation in Spain.

One of the survivors of the crash, Ligia Palomino Riveros, a 42-year-old Colombian-born Spaniard, said last weekend that when the plane returned to the gate because of the gauge problem, two buses arrived and she thought these were for taking people to another plane.

But the passengers were kept on the plane that ended up crashing.

The director of Spanish civil aviation, Manuel Bautista, also said last week that the gauge problem required further analysis.

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