US cargo plane that narrowly avoided Hong Kong mountain was warned of danger three times in two minutes
Atlas Air flight was told to change course before the incident, report finds
A cargo plane that veered off course and narrowly avoiding hitting a Hong Kong mountain by just 204 metres last month was warned of the danger at least three times within two minutes, a report has showed.
The findings, disclosed on Monday in a preliminary report on the “serious incident”, prompted the Civil Aviation Department to launch a formal investigation regarding the Atlas Air flight from America.
The National Transportation Safety Board of the United States was also informed by the Hong Kong authority as the Boeing plane was designed, manufactured and registered there.
According to the report, the aircraft, carrying four flight crew, deviated to the right of its planned route at 3.44pm on September 24, soon after it took off from Hong Kong International Airport, and headed east towards the high ground at Lo Fu Tau on Lantau Island.
The mountain was less than 10km from the airport.
At 3.45pm, the pilots were warned for the first time by the control tower about the plane going off track, and were instructed to turn left to resume their original course.
Subsequently, the control tower urged the crew to speed up their climb to 5,000 feet – or 1,524 metres – to avoid the terrain to their right.
When the plane was at about 2,000 feet – or 610 metres – a warning system on board was triggered in the cockpit.
The altitude of Lo Fu Tau is about 465 metres.
In response, the pilots turned the plane left and missed the mountain by approximately 670 feet – or 204 metres – which is about the height of the Four Seasons Place in Central.
At 3.46pm, the plane re-established its preset track and continued its flight to Anchorage in Alaska without further incident.
“The incident was rather serious since the Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System on board was triggered,” said legislator Jeremy Tam Man-ho, who used to be a civil airline pilot.
Tam added that in a similar incident last June when a Shenzhen Airlines plane skimmed over the Big Buddha – around 914 metres above it – on Lantau before landing, the same system aboard was not activated to warn of immediate danger of flying into the ground or an obstacle.
Tam said the American cargo plane was flying below the standard vertical distance of 1,000 feet – or 305 metres – from the ground stipulated by the Civil Aviation Department, yet potential punishments for the pilots and the operator would depend on the final result of investigations as well as relevant regulations in the United States.
There was no injury to the crew or damage to the aircraft. Other flights were not affected by the incident.
Around the time of the incident, no low level wind or turbulence warning was reported.
An investigation team commissioned by Hong Kong’s chief inspector of accidents has ordered Atlas Air to provide all relevant aircraft data and to arrange an interview of the flight crew for an ongoing detailed analysis of the causes of the incident.
The pilot in command had 31,970 hours of flying experience, among which 1,100 hours were on type.