Flight American Airline 1420 crashed on 1st July 1999

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Flight 1420 of American Airlines went down on July 1, 1999. The flight was scheduled to take two hours to get from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to Little Rock National Airport. Due to bad weather conditions, the aircraft was postponed by more than two hours, putting the crew's change at risk. Due to time constraints, the crew agreed to fly the plane as is. As the plane arrived at Little Rock National Airport, it crashed after flying past the security fence and overrunning the runway. The accident's triggers revolve around human problems. For starters, the crew was exhausted after a three-day trip series. The crew was flying the last flight before ending the shift. The fatigue clouded their judgment leading to errors. The captain decided to land the plane before the storm arrived. However, the thunderstorm reduced visibility leading to the crashing of the aircraft.

Secondly, the crew did not scrutinize the checklist leading to errors in launching the spoilers that are instrumental in landing. The miscalculation on wind and wetness of the runway contributed to the failure of the breaks. The pilot tried to salvage the situation by engaging the reverse engine which was not powerful enough to stop the plane. A combination of the weather and human factors led to the crashing of the aircraft. However, the crash brought about the benefits of Crew Resource Management which make good use of all the crew in keeping the plane safe. Besides, the accident reaffirmed the need for communication between the crew and the controller for an accurate analysis of the ground to proper landing. However, failures of applying CRM lead to the destruction of property and death of six people on the flight with many others getting injured.

Crash of American Flight 1420


In 1st June 1999, flight American airline flight 420 left Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport for Little Rock National Airport. However, the flight had an accident after overrunning the runway in the airport. The flight had 145 people, 11 of whom died in the crash. During the period of flight, the weather was very unstable with frequent thunderstorms. The weather was not favorable leading to flight delay of over two hours. The accident occurred from a combination of human and natural factors. Firstly, the weather was not stable leading to changes in the runway from 22L to 4R. During the landing process, a thunderstorm covered the track, but instead of postponing the landing, the controller directed the pilot to use the instrument landing system since the visibility was poor. The hastened arrival prevented completion of pre-landing checklist overlooking important steps such as arming the automatic spoiler system that deploys the spoilers that reduce the lift in the plane easing the process of landing. A combination of bad weather and technical errors by the flight crew due to fatigue are the primary cause of the crash of American Flight 1420.

Cause of the Accident

Communication is an important aspect of the aviation industry. The controller gives instructions to the crew which determines the safety of the plane in the sky. The primary reason behind crashing of American Flight 1420 is human error. The flight crew was on a three-day trip sequence. The team was making the last trip using Flight 1420. As expected, the team was tired and in a hurry to make the last trip and end the shift. To make matters worse, flight 1420 delayed for over two hours due to unfriendly weather. The delay increased the level of fatigue on the crew. Fatigue tends to reduce the standard of attentiveness of the mind and increase the possibility of making errors. During the time of departure, the weather was not stable. However, the shift for the crew was almost over prompting them to start the journey before the shift ends.

However, the weather at Little Rock was unstable too. The fatigue was affecting the decisions made by the crew to complete the journey before the shift ended (National Transportation Safety Board, 2001, p. 11). On reaching the airport, the runway had to change because of the frequent thunderstorm. The pilot made a decision to hasten the landing process so as to beat the weather. Such decisions indicate the dire need to end the flight due to fatigue in the team. In addition to fatigue, the crew made errors in the landing process. When the pilot was making a turn to align the plane with the runway, a thunderstorm approached the runway making visibility poor. However, the controller indicated that it was safe to land using the instrument landing system. Due to the rush, the crew failed to check the pre-landing checklist. The list provides many activities to perform before landing the plane.

One such activity is arming the spoilers. Spoilers reduce the lift in a plane increasing friction with the runway and making the breaking system work efficiently (Hull, 2007, p. 131). Failure to arm the spoilers was an error by the crew which made the breaking system less efficient. Secondly, the pilot did not set the automatic braking system. The plane has a breaking system that applies both the manual and automated systems (National Transportation Safety Board, 2001, p. 21). In case the electronic system fails, the manual system acts as a second option that keeps the plane safe. However, the pilot did not set the automatic braking system which works in collaboration with the spoilers to stop the lane within the runway. The crew in the plane made individual errors that played crucial parts in crushing the place. For the team, they failed to set the landing flaps. The landing flaps are part of the checklist that needs a keen analysis before the plane begins to descend.

To rectify the mistake, the first officer set the flaps at 40 degrees for landing. At 23:49:32, the controller indicated that the winds were 330 degrees at 25 Knots. The captain and the first officer argued briefly on the safest wind speed to land. The fist officer indicated 25 knots while the captain indicated 20 knots. None of them confirmed from the manual. Besides, the crew failed to consider the wet runway with reduced friction in their calculations. Despite all these challenges and mistakes, the captain went ahead to land the plane. Initially, the controller was considering landing the aircraft in other airports such as Nashville International Airport. However, the leader concentrated on landing the plane under these conditions. After touching down, the breaking system was ineffective due to lack of spoilers. The plane slid on the wet runway rendering the brake useless.

On sensing danger, the captain applied excess reverse thrust making the plane unstable. Therefore, the plane crashed on the security fence killing six people instantly. It is safe to point out that human aspect is the reason behind the accident. The three-day trip sequence fatigued the crew leading to poor decision making. Secondly, the weather was not favorable. The thunderstorms reduced visibility and made the runway slippery reducing friction and making the breaks ineffective. Lastly, the human error led the crew to hasten the landing process without inspecting the checklist leading to significant errors such as failure to launch the landing flaps and spoilers. The elements in a combined form made the accident inevitable. It was possible for the captain to avoid the accident by redirecting to another airport that was not experiencing similar weather challenges. However, the urge to finish the shift in time made it impossible for the captain to consider other safer options.

Crew Resource Management

The crew was in perfect health status. The captain and the first officer were both physically fit and in a stable condition to fly the plane; not to mention the ample experience in the crew. The servicing of the aircraft was also up to date. All the parameters such as the brakes and the flaps were in perfect condition for flight and landing. Their training and experience in the aviation industry were also optimal based on their flight hours. Therefore, the plane did not experience any technical hitches before the flight. The company policy for the lane company ensured that the aircraft was properly equipped according to the federal laws. The failure of the crew is on the application of Crew Resource Management (CRM). CRM trains the team to make decisions with minimal errors for safety.

The three essential elements of CRM are communication, leadership, and decision-making (Davis, 2008, p. 505). In the plane, these three elements were not useful. At no point did the captain communicate with the crew to establish the analysis of the checklist. Communication is vital in the aviation industry. At some point, it is clear that the captain and the first officer experience technical hitches while communicating with the controller. The first failure of CRM was n communication. Secondly, the leadership in the plane was very feeble. When the captain and the first officer were arguing about the amount of the wind that was safe for landing, the first leader wanted to consult the manual, but the chief prohibited him and settled on 20 knocks. Effective leadership allows consultation and communicates to the crew the challenges at hand for collective decision making.

Lastly, the team experienced problems in decision making. Despite the hazardous conditions, the captain went ahead to land the plane on the runway. At first, he started descending the aircraft without full visibility of the runway. Such actions are dangerous and risk the lives of the passengers. The crew in the lane did not practice CRM skills in meeting the challenge offered by landing the plane in the conditions. Good CRM skills prioritize the safety of the aircraft through ample communication between the crew for effective decision making. If the team practiced CRM, the captain would consult the crew on the checklist leading to the launching of the spoilers either automatically or manually. Secondly, the team in a collaborative status would decide if the weather was good enough to land. Such consultations would bring to realization the risks that the weather presented leading to the selection of another airport.

Lessons Learnt

The accident brought a realization that the pilots needed to countercheck the checklist before landing (Turner, 2001, p. 22). The checklist ensures that all aspects of landing such as the flaps and the spoilers are ready for arrival. Besides, the planes needed engines with higher power for reverse thrust power. Engines with higher capacities would assist the aircraft to stop especially when the runway is wet and slippery. It is also very clear that the captain and the first officer need to work together in landing the plane smoothly. If the first officer confirmed the speed of the wind that was safe for landing, the captain would have understood the dangers presented by the weather.

It is important for all the crew to undertake their specific duties in the plane to contribute to the collective safety of the aircraft. The accident exposed the susceptibility of the crew when tired. Tired people make uninformed decisions which threaten the security of the passengers. Therefore, it was important to reduce the number of flights in a day to reduce the fatigue. In future, the confirmation of the checklist by both pilots will ensure every aspect is in the right capacity. Also, engines with higher power will provide better reverse power that can stop the plane. The airports should also have detectors that estimate whether the conditions are safe for the aircraft to land. Such changes will improve safety in the aviation industry.


American Flight 1420 crashed by running beyond the runway and crashing on to the security fence. The primary causes of the crash were fatigue on the crew which led to poor decision making, technical errors by the team and inclement weather that reduced visibility and made the visibility poor. The accident exposed the dangers of fatigue on the crew and poor communication that lead to landing without analysis of the checklist leading to errors. For example, the team did not launch spoilers that improve efficiency on the breaking system. Besides, the captain decided to land with the harsh wind conditions and poor visibility caused by the thunderstorm. The poor decision making was because of poor use of Crew Resource Management that calls for unified collaboration between the crew for optimal results on decision making. Both the crew and the plane were in a stable condition ruling out any medical or technical hitch as the reason behind the accident.


Davis, J. (2008). Fundamentals of aerospace medicine. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

Hull, D. (2007). Fundamentals of airplane flight mechanics. Berlin New York: Springer.

National Transportation Safety Board. 2001. Runway Overrun During Landing, American Airlines Flight 1420, McDonnell Douglas MD-82, N215AA, Little Rock, Arkansas, June 1, 1999. Aircraft Accident Report NTSB/AAR-01/02. Washington, DC.

Turner, T. (2001). McGraw-Hill controlling pilot error series. New York: McGraw-Hill.

December 21, 2022

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