Investigation continues at UPS plane crash site - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Investigation continues at UPS plane crash site

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Crews roll over the cockpit portion of the plane onto its site. Source: WBRC video Crews roll over the cockpit portion of the plane onto its site. Source: WBRC video
Crews are in the process of removing the debris from the field near Runway 18. Source: WBRC video Crews are in the process of removing the debris from the field near Runway 18. Source: WBRC video
A close-up of the underside of what appears to be the plane's cockpit area. Source: WBRC video A close-up of the underside of what appears to be the plane's cockpit area. Source: WBRC video
A portion of Airport Road has re-opened, allowing FOX6 News to capture this image of the wreckage. Source: WBRC video A portion of Airport Road has re-opened, allowing FOX6 News to capture this image of the wreckage. Source: WBRC video
This graphic shows the location of Runway 18 in comparison with the Birmingham airport's main runway, which was closed for construction. Source: WBRC weather blog/J-P Dice This graphic shows the location of Runway 18 in comparison with the Birmingham airport's main runway, which was closed for construction. Source: WBRC weather blog/J-P Dice
BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -

Five days after a UPS aircraft crashed short of the runway at the Birmingham airport, investigators still aren't sure what happened.

Pilot Captain Cerea Beal and co-pilot Shanda Fanning were the only people on board the UPS cargo plane and both lost their lives in the crash.

It may take "months" before the National Transportation Safety Board releases their analysis of what exactly went wrong on board Flight 1354, spokesman Robert Sumwalt said this weekend.

On Sunday, dozens of people were out at the crash site as crews began to remove the pieces of debris scattered across the hillside near Runway 18. At one point, the cockpit portion of the plane was rolled over on its side.

Officials say it may take about a week to clear all of the wreckage from the crash site. Runway 18 is temporarily shut down but will be re-opened for landings once the debris is cleared from the scene.

NTSB spokesman Eric Weiss did not give any details about today's activity at the crash site, but said the investigation is continuing.

The NTSB held their last press conference in Birmingham on Saturday, but some members of the NTSB Go-Team will remain in Birmingham to continue the investigation at the scene of the crash, collecting evidence and writing field notes. Other investigators will pour over the flight data information and follow up on leads from Washington, D.C.

Weiss said no one else can comment on what the NTSB investigators are doing at this time, but they will provide news updates from D.C. as needed.

The information recovered from the flight recorders on board the plane has already given NTSB investigators a lot of clues about the early morning flight from Louisville to Birmingham, including the last few seconds before the crash.

So far, there have been no signs of any mechanical malfunctions. On Saturday, the NTSB tried to test out Runway 18 but due to the weather, they could only complete about half of the test.

They did determine the PAPI lights, or the Precision Approach Path Indicator lights that guide planes on the runway, were working fine.

In a few weeks, the NTSB plans to fly a UPS A300 plane, the same type of plane as the one involved in the crash, to see how the approach on Runway 18 would have been flown and to learn more about UPS approach procedures.

But even with all of the viable information released in the preliminary stages of the investigation, several questions surrounding the possible causes of the crash remain.

As both a meteorologist and a licensed pilot, FOX6 Meteorologist J-P Dice has a unique perspective on the plane crash. In a recent blog post, he brought up several questions that are still unanswered and may be for months.

"This should have been a simple 45 minute flight from Louisville to Birmingham. With no bad weather and an airplane that appears at this point to be operating perfectly - the crash is a mystery," Dice wrote.

Dice explains several factors from the crash, including the details of Runway 18, the weather, the size of the aircraft and the landing approach.

"Was it a more challenging landing because of the shorter runway with no precision approach that was a contributing factor? Were there human performance issues? Was it Controlled Flight into Terrain? There are many possibilities and the NTSB will not rule anything out. The investigation will take months to figure out. As in most tragedies, we will learn something that will likely save lives in the future," Dice said.

[Read his full blog post here.]

The longer runway at the airport was closed for construction on Wednesday, and Runway 18 was the only option. Some Birmingham residents are questioning why the flight wasn't canceled.

FOX6 Reporter Christy Hutchings learned that there is no mandate at the Birmingham airport restricting pilots from landing on Runway 18.

Hutchings also spoke with a pilot who said it is possible to land a cargo plane on 18, but it is "tight."

Southwest Airlines regularly uses Runway 18 and will continue to use it once the debris has been cleared. Typically, their planes are much smaller than the UPS A300.

Concerned homeowners in the nearby neighborhoods are banding together to make sure a crash like this doesn't happen again. Organizers are handing out flyers for a meeting at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Patton Park. They've invited the Birmingham mayor, Birmingham Airport Authority and NTSB.

The funeral service for Shanda Fanning, the co-pilot killed in the crash, will be held on Monday. Her funeral will take place in her hometown of Shelbyville, Tenn. at 2 p.m. Following the funeral, a celebration of life service will be held at Fair Haven Baptist Church in Shelbyville at 4 p.m.

The funeral for the pilot, Captain Cerea Beal, Jr. has been set for Tuesday, Aug. 20 at 1 p.m. It will be held at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C., according to his obituary.

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