Today’s sixth anniversary of the wheels-up landing by a Boeing 767 at Warsaw Chopin Airport is a reminder that when dealing with an emergency, it’s possible to overlook simple but undocumented solutions.
In the Warsaw incident, all 231 aboard survived, but the 14-year-old aircraft was scrapped.
The aircraft’s central hydraulic system failed after take-off from Newark International Airport and the captain decided to continue to the destination in order to burn the heavy load of fuel.
Captain Tadeusz Wrona, who was highly experienced on type and his first officer Jerzy Szwarc, advised Warsaw air traffic control that they could not lower the landing gear because of the hydraulic system failure. The 767 circled the airport for more than an hour to reduce the fuel load, then conducted a textbook belly landing.
There was no fire or significant injury. On a US TV news report, a passenger described it as ‘One of the smoothest landings I’ve ever had’. The aircraft stopped at the intersection of the two runways, closing the airport for nearly two days.
It was subsequently discovered that one of two circuit breakers controlling the alternative electric gear extension system had popped (see picture from the Aviation Herald). The problem with circuit breaker was not indicated on the aircraft’s engine indications and crew alerting system, nor was its location mentioned in the relevant checklists.
When the aircraft was lifted, the alternative system deployed normally and the aircraft was towed away.
The investigation found that the cause of the hydraulic failure was fracture of a flexible hose connecting the brakes system of the right main gear with the hydraulic system. This had occurred after the gear was retracted shortly after leaving Newark.