Investigación del accidente de Los Rodeos 27 Marzo 1977
On 27 March 1977 the collisión
of the 747s the at
Publisher on December 2004 concerning the truth about this accident and the
Airlines Pilot's Association (ALPA)
Disasters: Dialogue from the Black Box
Stanley Stewart, 1986
“Subsecretaría Aviación Civil", Accident Report, 1978 ( ICAO CIRCULAR
INDEPENDENCIA DEL ARCHIPIÉLAGO CANARIO
NOTA: Se adjunta las declaraciones
del piloto jubilado de
Leer las reproducciones de las conversaciones de las
Cajas Negras y las consideraciones de
* * *
JUBILADO DE IBERIA Y RESPONSABLE DE
los accidentes aéreos no hay culpables,
ANDRADA, S/C. Tfe, 9 enero 2005
Aunque lo pareciera, el domingo del día 27 de marzo de 1977 no terminaría
para Juan Velarde como otro día festivo cualquiera. A las 17:06 horas GMT,
momento en que disfrutaba con su familia en las afueras de Madrid de su merecido
descanso, este piloto de Iberia (en la actualidad de 71 años y jubilado, aunque
sigue volando aparatos de época junto a su hijo, de idéntica profesión) no
podía imaginar que a la llegada a su domicilio un mensaje reclamaba su
presencia porque se había producido el que hasta la actualidad (da gracias a
Dios de que así sea) ha sido el accidente aéreo con mayor número de víctimas
mortales: el registrado en Los Rodeos, en el que perecieron 583 personas por la
colisión de dos Boeing 747, uno de la compañía holandesa KLM y otro de la
americana Pan Am.
porque mañana, lunes, Nat Geographic, de Digital + ofrece a las 14:00, 19:00 y
23:00 horas un reportaje alusivo a la tragedia, EL DÍA logró
entrevistar a este piloto de Iberia que conoce de primera mano qué sucedió y cómo
se vivieron los momentos posteriores al terrible accidente aéreo. No en vano
fue comisionado para que se encargara de la investigación oficial por parte de
la asociación de pilotos que existía en aquella época.
qué lo llamaron a usted para hacerse cargo de la investigación?
especializado por cuenta de la asociación de pilotos españoles en la
investigación de accidentes aéreos, ya que había realizado un curso en la
universidad del Sur de California, aunque en realidad mi mayor y primera
experiencia fue precisamente ésta. No tuve mucha suerte.
con el aeropuerto de Los Rodeos cerrado, ¿cómo llegó a Tenerife?
asociación me dijo que me buscara la manera de llegar, y yo sabía que el
tiempo corría en contra, ya que la propia actuación de los servicios de
emergencia podían borrar pistas clave. Salí esa misma noche en un Iberia que
iba a Caracas, vía Gran Canaria, y el único medio que existía era un helicóptero.
Dio la casualidad que conocía al piloto y le rogué que me desplazara a
Tenerife. Me fui como teórico mecánico de vuelo y me puse el mono. Llegué a
las 5 de la mañana, aún sin amanecer, con niebla cerrada, y aún quedaban
rescoldos, sobretodo de la avión de
fue lo que más lo impresionó al presenciar lo que se le venía encima?
espeluznante. Se percibía la tragedia por la tristeza en los rostros de la
gente y un olor ocre que impresionaba enormemente. Y sin darle coba a los
tinerfeños, tengo que decir que la respuesta solidaria fue de tal magnitud que
hubo que emitir un bando por la radio para rogar que dejaran de donar sangre
porque la cantidad era tal que colapsaba las entradas al recinto portuario.
fueron los primeros pasos en la investigación?
lo tenía muy claro. Croquis, fotografías, dibujos de los restos principales...
lo antes posible, y lo segundo, afrontar la situación y responder a lo que
recomienda la asociación internacional de pilotos para ponerme a disposición
de la tripulación afectada, que estaba en el hospital.
cortapisas para la investigación o presiones?
situación en España era dificilísima, ya que la estructura pertenecía al ejército
del Aire, de hecho me llamó el general Franco Iribarne Garai y fue muy
valiente, porque mandó la investigación a EEUU, donde se llevó a cabo. Le
mostré mi disponibilidad y se buscó la verdad. Todo un orgullo.
hacia dónde fue la culpa?
un accidente aéreo no hay una sola causa y no hay culpables, sino un cúmulo de
causas y responsables. Lo cierto es que hubo una responsabilidad del piloto de
la holandesa KLM, una de las compañías más prestigiosas y pionera de Europa.
realidad es que a España no le cayó nada...
pero en la búsqueda de la verdad, tras dos años de investigaciones, las
presiones de Holanda fueron muchas. Pero lo que nos preocupaba era llegar a qué
fue lo que pasó, y la responsabilidad llegó a señalar sin lugar a dudas al
se supo que la responsabilidad no era española?
siguieron las investigaciones dos años más en EEUU, nosotros, no como
investigadores sino como españoles, tras oír las "cajas negras" con
las conversaciones de las dos naves y los controladores supimos que la
responsabilidad fue del piloto de KLM.
siempre la verdad"
se presentaron las primeras conclusiones, una vez oídas las "cajas
negras" de los dos aparatos siniestrados, Velarde confiesa que "la
parte holandesa, precisamente de una de las compañías más antiguas y
prestigiosas de Europa, trataron de hallar alguna responsabilidad en la
comunicación de los controladores que operaban en aquel momento en el
aeropuerto de Los Rodeos, pero -añade- la labor de los mismos fue impecable,
incluso por encima del nivel, ya que el aluvión de tráfico que les llegó de
repente, merced al cierre por un atentado del MPAIAC del aeropuerto de Gando,
fue impresionante". Apostilla Jaime Velarde que buscaban la verdad como única
opción y b "estaba dispuesto a fijar responsabilidades donde las hubiera,
incluso en contra de los intereses de España si así hubiera sido, aunque después
pudieran machacarme (sonríe), pero la realidad es que la responsabilidad fue un
fallo clamoroso del piloto de la compañía KLM, que no esperó la autorización
de la torre y puso los motores a tope para despegar, y pasó lo que pasó; pero
también había niebla, y hubo un leve corte en las comunicaciones... La cierto
es que cuando sucede un accidente así nunca se produce por una sola causa, sino
por una suerte de infortunios", aclara el veterano piloto.
en el periódico El
Día, 9 enero 2005
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American Airlines Pilot's Association (ALPA)
Air Disasters: Dialogue from the Black Box
Spanish Subsecretaría Aviación Civil", Accident Report,1978
(ICAO CIRCULAR AN-/56).
Area Inertial Navigation System
Área Surveillance Radar
British European Airways
Cockpit Voice Rccorder
Flight Data Recorder
Flight Information Region
Greenwich Mean Time
Instrument Flight Rules
Instrument Meteorológical Conditions
Koniges Lucht Macht — Royal Dutch Airlines
Local time if different to GMT
Alphabet used for clear and distinct spelling. This is also used as a
shorthand when referring to aircraft, so G-ARPI becomes ¨Papa
Mean Sea Level Altimeter Pressure Setting
revolutions per minute
Decision speed - the go or no-go decision point on take-off
Mínimum safe speed required in the air after an engine failure at VI
Visual Flight Rules
Very High Frequency
Visual Meteorological Conditions
VHF Omnidirectional range Radar beacon
Pan American Flight
PA1736, a Boeing 747 — registration N736PA — on charter
to Royal Cruise Lines, departed Los Angeles on the evening of 26 March local
date (01.29hrs GMT, 27 March) with 275 passengers for New York and Las Palmas.
On the stop-over at JFK a further 103 passengers boarded, bringing
the total to 378. The crew of 16 was changed. At 07.42hrs (all
times GMT) Flight PA1736, call sign Clipper 1736, departed Kennedy for Las
Palmas under the command of Captain Víctor Grubbs, with First Officer (F/O)
Robert Bragg and Flight Engineer (F/E) George Warns. Tending the passengers'
needs were 13 flight attendants. About 1 1/4 hours after the Clipper's
both Boeing 747s converged on
the Dutch crew, concerned that there might be insufficient time for them
to complete the round trip
after Pan Am's arrival,
The KLM passengers were
summoned from the terminal building, but it took time to bus them back to the
aircraft and reboard the flight. Of those who landed in
The time was now about
16.30hrs and the Pan Am crew had been on duty for 103/4
hours. They were beginning to feel the strain and were looking forward to their
rest after the short 25min hop to
for KLM to depart did not come through
until refuelling was almost finished
and vindicated Captain van Zanten's decision to complete the process in
'Aha', said Captain
Grubbs, 'he's ready!'
Clipper also received start clearance as KLM was starting engines and the two crews prepared to taxi.
Owing to the prevailing northwesterly wind, both aircraft
had to enter the runway from the holding area for runway 12 and taxi right to
the far end of the ll,150ft (3,400m)
runway, a distance of over two miles, for take-off in the opposite direction on runway 30.
At that time the control
tower had three radio frequencies available of 121.7MHz, 118.7MHz and 119.7MHz.
Only two controllers were on duty, however,
and 118.7MHz was used for ground taxi instruction and 119.7MHz, the approach
frequency, for both take-off and approach communication. KLM was cleared to taxi
at 16.56hrs but was instructed to hold short of the runway 12 threshold
and to contact approach on 119.7MHz. On establishing contact, Flight KL4805
requested permission to enter and back-track on runway 12. Clearance was
received to taxi back down the runway and to exit at the third turn-off, then to
continue on the parallel taxiway to the runway 30 threshold. The first officer
mis-heard and read back 'first exit',
but almost immediately the controller amended
the taxi instruction. KLM was directed to back-track the runway all the way,
then to complete a 180° turn at the end and face into the take-off direction. The
first officer acknowledged the instruction but the Captain, now concentrating on
more pressing matters, was beginning to overlook radio call. The visibility was
changing rapidly from good to very poor as they taxied along the runway and it
was proving difficult to ascertain position. The approach controller issuing
taxi instructions could see nothing from the control tower so was unable
to offer any help. One minute later the KLM Captain radioed the approach
controller asking if they were to leave the runway at taxiway Charlie 1. Once
more KLM were instructed to continue
straight down the runway.
Pan Am received taxi
instructions on the ground frequency of 118.7MHz and was also directed to hold
at the 12 threshold. Captain Grubbs was happy to wait until after KLM's
departure but almost immediately they were cleared to follow the
Dutch flight. The instruction was given to back-track on the runway and leave by
the third exit but because of the ground controller's heavy Spanish accent the
crew had a great deal of trouble understanding the clearance. With better Communications the Captain might well
have established his preference to hold position, but since several attempts
were required to comprehend a simple direction it was obviously going to be
easier to comply with the controller's wishes.
Pan Am was given instructions to back-track on the ground frequency so the
Dutch crew, already changed to approach, were at first unaware that the Americans
were following behind. As Flight PA1736 began its journey down the runway,
ground cleared Captain Grubbs to contact approach. At 17.02hrs KLM now
heard the Pan Am crew call approach control and request confirmation of the
approach, 'taxi into
the runway and leave the runway third, third
to your left, third'.
now the Americans had been on duty for over 11 1/4 hours and were feeling
The Dutch crew had been on duty for over 9 1/4 hours, of which about 3 1/4 hours
had been spent waiting on the ground at
'Here comes the end
of the runway.'
'A couple of lights to
go', replied the Captain. Approach then called asking Flight
4805 to state its position.
R/T: 'KLM 4805, how many taxiway did you pass?'
17.02:56, KLM 4805 R/T: 'I think we just
passed Charlie 4 now.'
17.03:01, Approach R/T: 'OK. At the end of the runway make a
180 and report ready for ATC (Air Traffic
The KLM crew now asked if
the centre line lights were operating and the controller replied he would check.
The Americans were still not sure of
the correct turn-off because of the language difficulties and once again asked
for confirmation that they were to exit the
runway at the third exit.
R/T: 'Third one sir, one, two, three, third, third one.'
17.03:39, PA1736 R/T: 'Very good, thank you.'
'Clipper 1736, report leaving the runway'.
The Clipper replied
with his call
sign. As the Americans continued down the runway the taxi check was commenced.
Instruments and flying controls were checked, the stabiliser was set and the
flaps were positioned for take-off, etc. Meanwhile, the Pan Am crew were also
trying to spot the turn-offs from the runway in order to count along to the
third one, but were having a great deal of trouble in seeing properly. They
passed and recognised the 90° taxi exit but were unable to see the taxiway
markers so were unsure how many turn-offs they had passed. The allocated exit
involved following a 'Z' shaped pattern to manoeuvre on to the parallel taxiway
and was going to be difficult for the large Boeing 747 to negotiate. Finding
Charlie 3 was also proving to be difficult since its shape was similar
to Charlie 2.
KLM approached the end of the runway
the controller called both aircraft regarding
the centre line lights.
R/T: '-For your information, the centre line lighting is
out of service.'
acknowledged in turn and checked the minimum visibility
required for take-off in such
circumstances. By now KLM was commencing the turn at the end of the runway and
much was on the Captain's mind. Turning a large aircraft through
180° on a narrow
runway requires a degree of
concentration and temporarily distracted the captain from other duties. The time
was now almost 17.05hrs and
for departure out of
KLM F/O: 'Cabin warned. Flaps set ten, ten.'
KLM F/E: 'Is coming — all on flight start.'
KLM F/E: 'Body gear OK?'
The turn was now almost complete
with the aircraft lining
up on runway 30. KLM Capt: 'Yes, go ahead
The visibility now improved to
900m, but a cloud could be seen ahead moving down the runway. There was just enough time to get away. The Pan Am
aircraft was approaching exit
Charlie 3 at this
stage, half way along the 3,400m runway, but
in the bad conditions was unobserved by KLM. Nothing could be seen of the
locations of the 747s from the tower. The two aircraft faced each other unseen
in the mist.
KLM F/O: 'Wipers on?'
KLM Capt: 'Lights are on.'
KLM F/O: 'No ... the wipers?'
KLM Capt: 'No I'll
wait a bit...
if I need them I¨ll ask.'
KLM F/O: 'Body gear disarmed, landing lights on,
check list completed.'
At 17.05:28 the captain stopped the
aircraft'at the end of the runway
and immediately opened up the
KLM F/O: 'Wait a minute,
we don't have an ATC clearance.'
The KLM captain, being
a senior training pilot,
had a lack of recent route practice and was
more used to operations in the simulator
where he spent a great deal
of his time.
In the simulator radio work
is kept to a minimum on the grounds of
expediency in order to concentrate on drills
and procedures, and
take-offs are often conducted without
any formalities. Such an oversight, although alarming, can perhaps be explained
by the circumstances. On closing the throttles the captain replied, 'No, I know that,
go ahead, ask'. The first officer pressed the button
and asked for both the take-off clearance and the
clearances in the same transmission.
KLM F/O R/T: 'KLM4805 is now ready for take-off and we are waiting for our ATC
Pan Am arrived at exit Charlie 3 just
as approach began to read back KLM's ATC
clearance. Having miscounted the
turn-offs, they missed their
designated taxi route and continued
on down the runway unaware of their
mistake. They were still about
l,500m from the threshold and out of sight of KLM. It was now over
two minutes since the approach controller's
last call to Pan Am requesting him
to report leaving the runway, and in the KLM
crew's desire to depart, the fact that
Pan Am was still in front of them, not having cleared the runway, was being overlooked.
Approach R/T: 'KLM4805, you are cleared to the papa beacon, climb
to and maintain flight level nine zero. Right turn after take-off,
proceed with heading zero four zero until intercepting the three three five
radial from Las Palmas VOR [VHF omnidirectional range radio beacon].'
Towards the end of this transmission, and before the controller had finished
speaking, the KLM captain accepted this as an unequivocal
clearance to take-off and said, 'Yes'. He opened up the thrust levers slightly
with the aircraft held on the brakes and •*"
paused till the engines stabilised.
17.06:09 KLM F/O R/T: 'Ah, roger sir, we're cleared to
the papa beacon, flight level nine
first officer spoke the captain released the brakes at 17.06:11 and, one second later, said,
'Let's go, check thrust'. The
opened to take-off power and the
engines were heard to spin
up. The commencement of the take-off in
the middle of reading back the clearance caught the first officer off balance
and during the moments which followed this, he 'became noticeably
hurried and less clear'.
KLM F/O R/T: '. . . right turn out, zero
four zero, until
intercepting the three
two five. We are now at take-off.'
The last sentence
was far from distinct. Did he say 'We are now uh, takin'
off? Whatever was said the rapid
statement was sufficiently ambiguous to cause concern and both the approach
controller and the Pan Am first
officer replied imultaneously.
Approach R/T: ‘OK…’
the one-second gap in the controllers' transmission,
Pan Am called
to make their position clear. The two spoke
over the top of each other.
Approach R/T: '…stand-by for take-off, I will call you.'
Am F/O R/T: 'No, uh . . . and we are still
taxying down the runway, the Clipper 1736.'
The combined transmissions
were heard as a loud three-second squeal on the KLM flight deck causing
distortion to the messages. Had the words been clearer the KLM crew might have
realised their predicament but, only moments later, a second chance carne for
them to assess the danger. The controller had received only the Clipper call
sign with any clarity but immediately called back in acknowledgement.
17.06:20 Approach R/T: 'Roger, papa alpha 1736, report the runway
On this one and only radio call the
controller, for no apparent reason, used the call
sign papa alpha instead of Clipper.
R/T: 'OK we'll report when we're clear.'
Approach R/T: Thank you.'
In spite of these
transmissions the KLM Boeing 747 continued to accelerate down
the runway. The words were lost to the pilots concentrating on the take-off but
they caught the flight engineer's attention. He tentatively inquired of the situation.
KLM F/E: Is he not clear,
KLM Capí: 'What did
KLM F/E: 'Is he not clear, that Pan American?'
KLM Capí: 'Oh, yes.'
The co-pilot also answered
simultaneously in the affirmative and the flight engineer
did not press the matter. The KLM aircraft continued on its take-off run into
the path of Pan Am.
It is difficult for most
people to understand how anyone as experienced as the Dutch captain could have
made an error of such magnitude. For those used to regular
hours and familiar surroundings, with nights asleep in their own time zone ''and
frequent rest periods, it may be impossible to comprehend. But the flying
environment, although for the most part routine, can place great strain on an
individual. Constant travelling in alien environments, long duty days, flights
through the night and irregular rest patterns can all take their toll. The Dutch
crew had been on duty for almost 9!/2 hours and still had to face the
problems of the transit in
On the Clipper
flight deck the crew were sufficiently alarmed by the ambiguity of the
situation to comment although they were not as yet aware that the KLM had started his take-off run.
Pan Am Capt: 'Let's get the hell out of here.'
Pan Am F/O: 'Yeh, he's anxious, isn't
Pan Am F/E: 'Yeh, after he held us up for an hour and a half . . . now he's in a
flight engineer had no sooner finished speaking when the American captain saw
KLM's landing lights appear, coming straight at them through the cloud bank.
Pan Am Capt: 'There he is . . . look at him . . . that .
. . that son-of-a-bitch is coming.'
Pan Am F/O: 'Get off! Get off! Get off!'
threw the aircraft to the left and opened up the throttles in an attempt to run
clear. At about the same time the Dutch first officer, still unaware of
Pan Am's presence, called 'Ve one', the
go or no-go decisión speed. Four seconds
later the Dutch crew spotted the Pan Am 747 trying to scramble clear.
Dutch captain pulled back hard on the
control column in an early attempt to
get airborne. The tail struck the ground in the high nose up angle leaving a 20m
long streak of metal on the runway surface. In spite
of the endeavours of both crews to take avoiding action, however, the collision
was inevitable. The KLM 747 managed to become completely airborne about l,300m
down the runway, near the Charlie 4
turn-off, but almost immediately slammed into the side of Pan Am. The
nosewheel of the Dutch aircraft lifted
over the top of Pan Am and the KLM number one engine, on the extreme left, just
grazed the side of the American aircraft. The fuselage of the
KLM flight skidded over the top of the other but its main landing gear srnashed into
Pan Am about the position of Clipper's number three engine. The collision was
not excessively violent and many passengers thought a small bomb had exploded.
Pan Am's first class upstairs lounge
disappeared on impact, as did most of the top of the fuselage, and the
tail section broke off. Openings appeared on the left side of the fuselage and some
passengers were able to escape by these routes. The Pan Am aircraft had its nose
sticking off the edge of the runway and survivors simply jumped down on to the
grass. The first class lounge floor had collapsed, but the flight crew, plus the
two employees in the jump seats, managed to leap below into what was left
of the first class section and make their escape. On the left side the
engines were still turning and there was a
fire under the wing with explosions taking place.
main landing gear of the KLM flight sheared off on impact and the aircraft sank
back on to the runway about 150m further on. It skidded for another 300m and
as it did so the aircraft slid to the right, rotating clockwise through a
90-degree turn before coming to a halt. Immediately an extensive and
violent fire erupted engulfing the wreckage.
controllers in the tower heard the explosions and at first thought a fuel tank
had been blown up by an .error, but soon reports of a fire on the airport began to
be received. The fire services were alerted and news of the emergency was
transmitted to all aircraft. Both 747s on the runway were called in turn without
success. The fire trucks had difficulty
making their way
to the scene of the fire in the misty and congested airport, but
eventually the firemen saw the flames through the fog. On closer inspection the
KLM aircraft was found completely ablaze. As they tackled the conflagration
another fire was seen further down the runway, assumed to be a part of the same
aircraft, and the fire trucks were divided.
It was then discovered that a second aircraft was involved and, since the KLM
flight was already totally irrecoverable, all efforts, for the moment, were
concentrated on the Pan Am machine. Airport staff and individuals who happened
to be on the premises bravely ran to help the survivors.
the extent of the disaster became known a full emergency was declared on the island and ambulances and fire fighting teams were summoned from
other towns. Local radio broadcast requests for qualified personnel to offer
their services. Although the request for help was made with the best of
intentions the rush to the airport soon caused a traffic jam, but fortunately
not before the survivors were dispatched to hospital. Large numbers of islanders
also kindly donated blood.
the 396 passengers and crew aboard the Pan Am flight only 70 escaped from the wreckage and nine
335 were killed. All 248 aboard the KLM
aircraft perished. On that Sunday evening of 27 March 1977, 583 people lost their
lives, and as if to mock those in fear of flying, the accident happened on the ground.
It stands on record as the world's worst disaster in aviation history.
As the survivors were
being tended in
The burnt out tail of the KLM 747 at Los Rédeos airport.
events leading to this tragic accident are, summarized in the
report of the International Commitee set up to
investígate the causes of the accident on behalf of the Insurances Companies,
and Spanish " Subsecretaría de Aviación Civil
", Accident Report, 1978 ( ICAO circular 153-AN/56
), and the American Airline Pilot's Association (ALPA) Accident Report, 1978.
On 27 March 1977 the collisión
of the 747s the at
The report atributed
responsability in the following ways:
30 % to the Control Tower (
Spanisg Goverment ) and the remainíng 70 % between the Dutch and American aircrafts, the Dutch company paid more. It was rumoured the the Airtrafic controlers were watching a game of football on Spanish TV and this distracted their attention; needles to say the TV was switched off after the accident.
The most infortunate aspect of
this accident was the analysis published in the
local and Spanish Press. The analysis did not cover
or include a description of the events which
directly led to the tragedy. The only way to have
done this would have been to have waited to see what was recorded in the Blak boxes.
As this tragic accident took
This line of arguments is the same as that used to describe the Butterfly Effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings in
Tokio, can cause a hurricane in
American Airline Pilot's Association ( ALPA ), Accident Report, 1978.
Spanish " Subsecretaría de Aviación Civil "
Accident Report, 1978 (
Dialogue from the Black Box.
Stanley Stewart, 1986
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