Garuda Indonesia Airline Crash at Yogyakarta Airport
- Garuda Indonesia Airlines Flight 200 landed at a higher than normal airspeed, crashed through a security fence, and skidded across a highway when it broke apart and caught fire.
- Reports that one egress door would not open point to a potential problem with the airplane that may lead to questioning the crashworthiness of the craft.
- Pilot error may have contributed as the Yogyakarta airport runway is known for its short length and prominent sloping feature, and the crew would have needed extra vigilance to land safely.
- Some reports indicate there may have been mechanical failures, including defective maintenance or manufacturing of the front tire, malfunctioning flaps, or a faulty wind shear detection system.
On March 7th, 2007, Garuda Indonesia Airlines Flight 200 crashed while landing at the Adisutjipto International Airport in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Twenty-three of the 140 on board were killed in the crash. Of the survivors, 60 were seriously injured — ranging from severe burns to broken bones.
The aircraft, a Boeing 737-400, was arriving from Jakarta at 6:57 a.m. local time. The plane apparently landed at a higher than normal airspeed and could not stop on the remaining runway. The plane was reported to be maneuvering abruptly at a low altitude just prior to landing. The airplane landed very hard, crashed through a security fence, skidded across a highway, and broke apart as it came to rest in a rice field where the airplane caught fire. As survivors were attempting to exit the burning aircraft, the plane exploded, trapping the remaining passengers when flames fully engulfed the ruptured passenger cabin.
While it is early in the investigation, the likely areas of focus will be on human error and possible mechanical failures. Reports indicate that the majority of deaths were likely caused by the fuel tank explosions and fire, well after the initial crash.
One factor that is crucial for potential claims and aviation safety is whether the airplane was sufficiently crashworthy. The speed that the fire spread and reports that one egress door would not open point to a potential problem with the airplane that will be a major part of the investigation.
Passengers in the crash appeared to have survived the initial accident, but many were unable to escape the fire. In the past 10 years, there have been at least 40 survivable aircraft accidents in which travelers died from fire or smoke. (Please contact Kreindler & Kreindler for a detailed list.)
Pilots are responsible for properly planning and flying the aircraft to a safe approach and landing. Airline pilots are trained to err on the side of caution. If the approach is not stabilized (e.g. aircraft not traveling at a correct speed for a safe landing, checklists not complete, aircraft not configured for proper landing), then the pilot must discontinue the approach to landing. This procedure, known as a “go around,” is to ensure the safety of the passengers and is always an option for the flight crew.
Since the runway at the Yogyakarta airport is known for its short length and prominent sloping feature due to a recent earthquake, the crew would have needed extra vigilance to safely land the airliner. The runway length is 200 meters (7,218 feet) long. Moreover, Garuda’s 737-400 was the largest airplane permitted to land on the runway.
Because of this, investigators will examine whether the pilots landed too far down the runway. They will determine their point of touchdown early in the investigation, as well as other important characteristics of the flight by analyzing the onboard “black boxes.”
The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) will help investigators determine that the crew followed proper procedures and operated the airplane within safe limits. These devices will also allow investigators to verify whether or not the aircraft responded properly to the pilot’s control.
The mechanical failure of one or more of the aircraft’s components (thrust reversers, brakes, flaps, tires) could be a relevant factor in determining liability. It has been reported that the front tire of the Garuda jetliner burst into flames immediately after making contact with the runway. If this report is correct, this could point to defective maintenance, improper landing technique, and/or defective manufacturing of the tire.
Initial investigation has focused on the position of the flaps (devices on the inboard section of the wings used to slow the airplane’s landing speed). The flaps are typically set to their full position for the slowest — and safest — possible landing speed. In this case, the flaps were not in their full position, which might point to a possible mechanical failure with the flap mechanism.
Another possible factor may have been wind shear. If the aircraft’s wind shear detection system was not functioning properly, that may also have contributed to the crash.
The issue of liability — who is at fault in an air crash — can be a complex legal process. There can be one or more causes that form a chain of events leading to the disaster. Each cause contributing in some degree to the eventual accident. These causes can give rise to product liability, negligence or strict liability claims. With complex litigation involving airlines, aircraft manufactures, avionics manufactures and other organizations, injured parties need expert legal assistance for the fullest protection of their rights.
The firm of Kreindler & Kreindler has handled cases similar to the air disaster that occurred in Yogyakarta. The August 2006 Comair crash in Lexington, Kentucky, for instance, involved an extremely fast-moving fire that completely destroyed the passenger cabin within minutes. And, a runway accident in Quincy, Illinois, in 1997 killed 14 people on two airplanes. Occupants of the airplanes were unable to escape the fires created when the two planes collided.
“The most crucial factor for survivability is how quickly people can escape the aircraft,” said Jack Veth, an attorney with the firm. “In the Garuda crash, while a number of people did flee the airplane, others did not. It is important to understand what factors prevented their escape.”
Notwithstanding the outcome of this accident investigation, one thing is certain — human lives were needlessly lost. The harm from this accident was not the fault of the passengers, yet those lucky enough to survive and the families of those who perished are the ones who will suffer from this tragedy.
About Kreindler & Kreindler, LLP
Founded in 1950, Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, with offices in New York, Los Angeles and Boston, is nationally recognized as the first and most prominent aviation law firm in the nation. The firm has been lead plaintiff legal counsel in hundreds of aviation cases, including litigation stemming from the September 11th terrorist attacks; the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland; the downing of Korean Airlines Flight 007; and many cases of private, commercial and military air crashes. Its ranks include airplane and helicopter pilots, engineers and other technical experts.
Photo Credit: Garuda Indonesia Airlines plane, Nicolas Lannuzel