Further details have emerged regarding an incident that occurred during the weekend at Lima Jorge Chavez International Airport (LIM), where a LATAM Airlines Airbus A320neo hit a fire truck that was on the runway. The incident resulted in two fatalities on the ground.
According to Lima Airport Partners (LAP), the operators of LIM, the firefighters present at the site were performing an exercise to determine whether they could reach an accident site within the required three-minute window. “This exercise is stipulated in the Peruvian Aeronautical Regulation (RAP 314), one of its characteristics being the speed with which rescue units must enter the runway,” the company’s statement read. LAP also indicated that it was coordinating the drill between itself and the Peruvian Corporation of Commercial Airports and Aviation (CORPAC), which also acts as the local air traffic control (ATC) authority, a day prior to the incident, with the latter party suggesting that the exercise be carried out “between 15:00 and 16:00 hours the following day”.
On November 18, 2022, “the firefighting team made all the necessary arrangements to execute the maneuver,” LAP’s statement continued. The local ATC green-lit the exercise to start at 3:10 PM local time (GMT -5). A minute later, the LATAM Airlines A320neo (registered as CC-BHB) collided with a fire truck, claiming the lives of two firefighters. One firefighter, as of November 20, 2022, was being treated in a medical facility.
However, CORPAC stated that the firefighter truck was not permitted to enter the runway, “exceeding all limits,” according to the organization’s president, Jorge Salinas Cerreño.
“LATAM offers its most sincere condolences to the families of aeronautical firefighters, Ángel Torres and Nicolás Santa Gadea. We will continue to monitor the medical condition of the third firefighter, Manuel Villanueva, who is currently being treated in a medical center,” according to the airline’s statement, which was published two days after the incident.
Questions regarding arrested LATAM pilots
Shortly after the incident, the two pilots of the LATAM Airlines aircraft were arrested and placed in custody in Lima, Peru, which, according to The International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA), was “unacceptable”.
The pilot union, which represents more than 100,000 pilots in almost 100 countries, released its own statement regarding the incident, emphasizing that there is no need to fuel speculation about why the accident happened and “only extensive, complete accident investigation conducted in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Annex 13 will provide the recommendations required to advance aviation safety and prevent reoccurrence.”
According to IFALPA, the two pilots were placed under arrest until November 19, 2022, which was an “unacceptable” situation.
“Holding individuals in custody who are already under intense psychological pressure due to an accident is extremely detrimental to flight safety and can only hinder the investigation,” IFALPA said.
Additionally, the decision to arrest the flight crew completely disregards the Positive Safety Culture principles and “may also lead the public to conclude that the accident resulted from the flight crew’s intentional acts, rather than technical issues or a string of errors originating from multiple factors.”
“In any similar circumstances, the flight crew should be provided immediate medical care and evaluation. In no circumstances is it appropriate to question them in the immediate aftermath of any accident or incident until they have been professionally evaluated by qualified medical personnel who can determine their mental and physical fitness to contribute accurate information to investigators,” the pilots’ union concluded.
Meanwhile, the airline emphasized that it “appreciates the assistance provided by the authorities, airlines, firefighters, airport employees and all those who collaborated during the emergency response and is committed to providing the most updated information regarding the incident through its various communication platforms.”
The airport’s operating company also expressed that they will “continue to collaborate” with authorities to clarify all the facts related to the accident.
The incident occurred on November 18, 2022, when a LATAM Airlines Airbus A320neo was about to take off for Juliaca Inca Manco Capac International Airport (JUL) on Flight LA2213. While all passengers and crew evacuated safely from the aircraft which veered off the runway as the right-hand engine began to burn once it hit the fire truck, two firefighters lost their lives. Another firefighter is currently under medical supervision.
The Peruvian capital’s airport temporarily suspended operations, resuming them in the early morning hours on November 20, 2022.