Alaska Airlines Flight 261 crashed on January 31, 2000, while flying from Puerto Vallarta to Seattle, crashing in the Pacific Ocean due to a loss of pitch control. Everyone on board, including two pilots, three cabin crew members, and 83 passengers perished in the crash. The initial analysis of CVR data and the crew’s actions show that the crew’s actions were appropriate for the situation – they attempted to go to Los Angeles airport instead of continuing to San Francisco, in order to deal with a jammed horizontal stabilizer, despite the dispatcher urging them to continue on schedule. They attempted various maneuvers to regain the pitch, and the CVR showed that they sent out Mayday signals despite none coming out from the plane. This indicates that the Mayday system also had issues in functionality.
The crash was caused because of maintenance issues, with the FAA bearing responsibility for the incident, as it was with their approval that Alaska Airlines increased the distance between end-play checks of the systems that failed the plane and resulted in a crash. Some of the issues that the FAA willfully neglected or did not investigate included inadequate maintenance programs, staffing issues, corruption or incompetency within the decision-making process of FAA committees, and the specification requirements for Alaska Airlines planes. Based on the evidence uncovered during testimonies, the FAA administration expedited the process by simply signing certification papers without actually performing checks. Thus, both the company and the FAA are responsible for the catastrophe.
The NTSB allowed their board members to include statements at the end of the report for several reasons. The first is to give the report a human face, so to speak – to show the people that care, behind the catastrophe. The second reason is that the agreement on what caused the crash – negligence, corruption, and the lack of maintenance, was unanimous, as other members of the committee approved the message. The unanimous agreement and the underscoring of the issues in both published statements are meant to put more zeal into FAA and Alaska Airlines to correct their mistakes and ensure that the incident does not happen again.
The report offered extensive recommendations to both culprits behind the event. 24 major staples included better and increased maintenance over the major and minor systems of the planes, improved regulatory oversights, and a request to improve the jackscrew that failed due to a lack of maintenance. Pilot training takes a major part in the recommendations list as well, so that in an event of malfunctions similar to this one they should not try to solve the issue on their own, instead of running checklist procedures and land in the nearby airport if the performed measures are not enough. In retrospect, the crew tried doing so, and turned for Los Angeles, but never made it.
I would have added an additional recommendation for the FAA to implement to exclude the possibility of negligence or corruption that led to Alaska Airlines operating without proper oversight for so long. The violations of regulations were systematic and showed that the practices were likely encouraged from the very top. There were no criminal charges pursuing these individuals, and the affairs between the families of passengers and the company were settled out of court. In order to ensure that these accidents would not happen again, I recommend the FAA revise its commissions to include rotation-based assignments, ensuring that companies like Alaska Airlines would not have the same inspectors to work with for long. It will reduce the chances of negligence and bribery happening, and ensure better checks and maintenance procedures.