NTSB Offers Details of Miami Air 737 Accident in Jacksonville

Initial report creates more questions than answers.

Miami Air Runway Accident
The speed at which the Boeing left the runway is unknown.Courtesy NTSB

The U.S. aviation industry's hard work to reduce the accident rate of air carriers shows. Over the past decade, Part 121 flight operations have experienced just a single death. That puts the industry safety record just a notch short of perfect when measured by the number of fatalities.

But earlier this month, the industry came pretty close to altering that near-perfect record when on May 3, 2019, at 2142 local time, a Miami Air Boeing 737-800 slid off the end of Runway 10 at Jacksonville Naval Air Station (KNIP) in northern Florida while attempting to land in heavy precipitation. While the aircraft was substantially damaged, there were no serious injuries to the 142 passengers and crew onboard. The airplane was operated by Miami Air International as a Part 121 supplemental non-scheduled passenger flight from Leeward Point Field (MUGM), Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to KNIP. The circumstances under which the aircraft slid off the runway have raised questions about why the crew took some of the actions they did.

Twenty minutes prior to the accident, the local ASOS reported wind 350° at 4 knots, 5 miles visibility, heavy rain and thunderstorms and mist. Scattered clouds floated at 800 ft., with a broken deck at 1,800 ft. and an overcast layer at 3,000 ft. The temperature was 24°C, and the dew point 22°C. Remarks noted thunderstorms began at 2104 with frequent lightning overhead and that the storms were moving east. Approximately 0.10 inch of precipitation had fallen in the previous half hour. In a report recorded three minutes after the accident, the wind was 290° at 8 knots, gusting 16 with 3 miles visibility, heavy rain and thunderstorms. The clouds were essentially the same as the earlier report, but 0.63 inches of precipitation had fallen in the previous hour.

Upon initial arrival in the Jacksonville area, the area of thunderstorms was moving across the naval air station from west to east, with more buildups to the west. The approach to either Runway 10 or 28 would have seemed to put the airplane through areas of heavy precipitation and the crew initially chose Runway 28. As the aircraft approached the airport, the air traffic controller told the pilots the wind was still a light crosswind, but again with heavy precipitation along either runway’s approach path. The crew changed their approach request to Runway 10 and the controller complied.

Miami Air Runway Crash 737
The NEXRAD weather image at the time of the accident showed the airport in the middle of the heaviest local precipitation.Courtesy NTSB

At the moment the controller cleared the 737 to land on Runway 10, 2139 local, the wind was 240 at 10 knots indicating a tailwind component, but the crew simply acknowledged the clearance. About a minute later, the controller asked the pilot to report the field in sight, to which the pilot immediately responded he had the field in sight. There were no further communications between the pilot and the controller. At 2142:22, an emergency locator transmitter (ELT) was heard on the frequency.

The speed of the aircraft as it left the runway is not yet known. The Boeing impacted a rock embankment at the end of the Runway 10 overrun area before coming to rest in the St. Johns River about 1,200 ft past the end of the runway. The embankment had a distinct area of disturbed rocks, consistent with the engines and main landing gear impacting the embankment. Both main landing gear had separated from the airplane and were located in the river. The NTSB reported that Runway 10 is 9,000-ft long and 200-ft wide with a 1,000-ft displaced threshold and a 1,000-foot long paved runway overrun area. The center of the airplane was sitting about 100 ft east of the river's shoreline and about 75 ft south of the Runway 28 approach lighting pier. Depending on the tidal conditions the depth of the water where the airplane came to rest was 3-5 ft deep.

Investigators surveyed tire marks on and beyond Runway 10, extending from the airplane’s estimated touchdown point to the embankment along the river. Light, white, landing gear tire marks were found on the pavement beginning at the touchdown point of the airplane, about 1,600 feet from the Runway 10 displaced threshold, and continuing to the end of the pavement. The touchdown point based on the tire marks is consistent with the estimated touchdown point based on an initial review of the flight data recorder [FDR] data.

The tire marks also showed the airplane touched down about 20 ft right of the runway centerline, returned to the centerline within about 1,000 ft of touchdown, then veered about 75 ft right of the centerline by the time the airplane had traveled about 4,600 ft from touchdown. The airplane again departed the runway surface about 60 ft right of the centerline onto the grass before striking the rock embankment.

A few questions come to mind, such as: Why the crew continued the approach to a wet runway with a tailwind component? And, indeed why they did not choose to circle near the field and allow the severe weather to move through the area? It is unclear whether the captain or the first officer was actually flying the airplane.

While both pilots were properly certificated, the captain had logged 1,000 hours PIC in the aircraft and the first officer just 18 hours. The accident flight was part of an initial operating experience (IOE) trip for the first officer that began the day before, when the crew operated the flight from KNIP to MUGM and then operated the accident flight back to KNIP. A review of airworthiness directive status lists for the airplane, powerplants, and appliances found no discrepancies. The Boeing’s flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) were returned to the NTSB recorders laboratory where they were downloaded.