Yesterday United Parcel Service Flight 1354 crashed while on approach to runway 18 in Birmingham, Al. The crash occurred at approximately 4:45 a.m. Central Time (9:45 Zulu). Both crewmembers died in the crash. The flight originated at the UPS hub in Louisville, Ky.
The hourly weather report taken shortly after the crash at 4:53 a.m. (0953Z) indicated few clouds at 1,100 feet with a broken ceiling layer at 3,500 feet. There was an overcast layer at 7,500 feet. Rain was not reported. The wind was reported from 340 degrees at four knots. This would have meant a slight tailwind for a landing on runway 18, but would have likely been within acceptable limits.
GlobalAir.com’s airport directory reports that runway 18 is 7,099 feet long. There are two instrument approaches to runway 18, a GPS approach and a localizer approach. Both approaches would have taken the airplane to a minimum altitude of 600 feet above the ground, which would have been sufficient to clear the lowest cloud layer.
The crash site was reported by Birmingham’s Fox 6 to be approximately one quarter mile north of the airport, indicating that the airplane would have been on short final to the runway. Normally the aircraft would have been about 100 above the ground at this point. Witnesses reported abnormal sounds coming from the plane’s engines, but the crew did not report any problems.
CNBC reported that the crash caused at least two explosions and a fire on the ground. The airplane came to rest in a field outside the airport perimeter. A CNBC video shows what appears to be an explosion amid the post-crash fire. Raw video from Birmingham’s WHAS also shows the post-crash fire. The crash reportedly did not damage any structures on the ground.
The pilots of the airplane were not identified, but the Moore County News reported that Shanda Carney Fanning, 37, of Lynchburg, Tenn. was killed. Fanning’s husband, Brett Fanning, is an employee at the Jack Daniels distillery. The Daily Mail reported that Fanning was the first officer of the flight.
The accident aircraft was reported to be an Airbus A300F4-600R. According to Airliners.net, the A300F4-600R is a modification of the A300 which first flew in 1983. First flight of the A300-600 was in 1987. The updated A300 incorporated a more advanced cockpit and increased range. The “R” denotes a long range version with a fuel trim tank in the tail and a higher maximum takeoff weight. The “F” denotes a freighter version of the aircraft. The UPS website notes that the company operated 53 of the heavy Airbus freighters.
The Aviation Safety Network lists a total of 21 hull-loss accidents for the A300 series. Only one of these accidents, the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Belle Harbor, N.Y. on November 12, 2001, was in the United States. This accident was determined to have been caused by the first officer’s excessive rudder inputs in response to a possible encounter with wake turbulence.
The Birmingham crash is the second fatal UPS Airlines crash. On September 3, 2010, UPS Flight 6 caught fire and crashed 45 minutes after takeoff from the Dubai airport in Qatar. Both crewmembers aboard the Boeing 747-400F were killed. Al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the crash according to Reuters, but the official report of the crash by the General Civil Aviation Authority of the United Arab Emirates focuses on the cargo of lithium batteries as a source of ignition for the fire.
In 2006, another UPS freighter was destroyed by fire in Philadelphia. The crew successfully made an emergency landing and escaped safely, but the DC-8-71F was destroyed. The NTSB report traced the fire to lithium batteries contained in electronic devices that were being shipped on board the plane.
The NTSB has dispatched an investigation team to Birmingham, but has not yet commented on the specific details of the accident.
Originally published on National Aviation Examiner