August 01, 2018

On July 31, 2018, an AeroMexico Connect (5D) Embraer E190 operating AeroMexico (AM) Flight AM 2431 from Durango, Mexico (DGO) to Mexico City (MEX) crashed shortly after takeoff from DGO. The crash and subsequent fire destroyed the aircraft, but all 103 people onboard survived.

What We Know

Despite conflicting accounts of Flight AM 2431’s crash from sources from Mexico, several facts have been established. The aircraft crashed onto or just to the left of the runway just after takeoff, then ran off the end of the runway and came to rest approximately 300 meters (330 yards) away. Most reports indicate that the aircraft fuselage was largely intact and upright when the aircraft stopped, and the fire did not consume the fuselage until 3-4 minutes after the accident. There were thunderstorms in the area at the time of the accident.

A video posted online claims to show the crash of Flight AM 2431 from inside the cabin. Markings on the aircraft in the video and exclamations made in Spanish after the aircraft crashes suggest that the video is genuine. The video shows the aircraft taking off in heavy rain, becoming airborne, then gradually sinking back onto the runway before a crunching sound is heard and the camera is jolted.

Some sources initially reported that the aircraft had taken off, experienced a problem, returned to the airport five minutes later, and crashed while landing. Other sources, meanwhile, indicate that the aircraft never became airborne. The video of the crash appears to contradict the latter reports.

Potential Causes

Media outlets and local officials have been quick to blame Flight AM 2431’s crash on the weather, due to the thunderstorms in the area at the time of the crash. Some initial reports from passengers and the video of the crash are consistent with the aircraft encountering wind shear, also known as a downburst, a weather phenomenon that occurs during severe thunderstorms. Wind shear has long been among the most common causes of aircraft accidents and remains a major threat to any aircraft that encounter it, especially at low altitude. Since the mid-1990s, however, the frequency of wind shear-induced crashes has decreased, as improved detection systems and understandings of the phenomenon have helped pilots to avoid exposing their aircraft to the threat.

Despite their consistency with a wind shear-induced accident, reports blaming the crash on weather conditions should be treated with caution. Early media speculation after a plane crash often focuses on the weather as a potential cause, as it is one of the few known issues in the hours immediately following a crash, but in many such cases, the final investigation determines that another issue caused the crash. Other sources have also suggested that Flight AM 2431 experienced an engine failure during takeoff, or was struck by lightning. The true cause of Flight AM 2431’s crash will likely not be known until investigators release their final report, which will likely be several months from now.

Airline and Aircraft

Flight AM 2431 was operated by AeroMexico Connect (5D), AeroMexico’s wholly-owned regional subsidiary. Both AeroMexico and AeroMexico Connect have strong recent safety records. According to data from the Aviation Safety Network, AeroMexico Connect has not had any fatal crashes and only two serious incidents in its 30-year history. AeroMexico’s last accident that caused passenger fatalities occurred in 1986, though a crash of one of the airline’s planes in 2000 killed four people on the ground. The airline has had some minor incidents in the past several years, but none that meet WorldAware’s threshold of a major incident.

WorldAware lists both AeroMexico and AeroMexico Connect as Preferred in the Worldcue Airline Monitor. WorldAware has re-evaluated both carriers since Flight AM 2431’s crash and has not discovered any reason to downgrade either carrier. WorldAware will continue to monitor the investigation into the accident and will re-evaluate the carriers if the investigation uncovers systemic safety shortcomings in either carrier’s operations.

Flight AM 2431 was operated by an Embraer 190 aircraft. The Embraer E190 is part of Embraer’s E-Jet family, which is among the most modern airliner designs currently in service. The E-Jet family does not have any known serious safety shortcomings, and has a very strong safety record, with only two fatal crashes among over 1,400 aircraft built. Both of these crashes were caused by pilot actions; one was a pilot error and the other was allegedly a deliberate pilot action.

Survival Factors

Contrary to popular perception, most plane crashes are survivable. Several factors likely played a role in the high survival rate on Flight AM 2431, including the relatively low speed of the impact, the reported delay between the initial crash and the fire, and the ample empty ground north of the airport. Similar crashes in more built-up areas have had much higher fatality rates; the crash of TAM (JJ) Flight 3054 at Sao Paulo, Brazil’s Congonhas Airport (CGH) in 2007 is a notable example. Nonetheless, it appears that Flight AM 2431’s passengers and crew conducted an effective evacuation after the plane crashed, allowing everybody onboard to escape before the fire consumed the aircraft.

Passengers can take several steps before a flight, after boarding, and during an emergency to increase their chances of survival. I discuss these safety tips and other advice in this Access these tips and more advice in this Security Today article.

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