Last year’s crash of a Norwegian Hercules military cargo plane on its way to Kiruna in northern Sweden has been blamed on a combination of “poor routines and incorrect messages.” All five Norwegian officers on board the flight were killed when it crashed into Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise, in bad weather.
The flight, part of the “Cold Response” military exercises going on at the time, had taken off from Evenes in northern Norway on March 15, 2012. A Swedish commission investigating the cause of its subsequent crash as it approached the airport at Kiruna unveiled its conclusions on Tuesday, and found that both the Norwegian and Swedish Air Force and air traffic controllers were at fault.
The Norwegian Air Force, according to the Swedish accident investigation board (Havarikommisjonen), had poor routines in planning the flight, and the Hercules’ crew on board relied too heavily on air traffic controllers. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the latter was criticized for some of its messages to the crew, and that those on duty at the time lacked experience.
Even though the director general of the investigation board, Hans Ytterberg, said that “individual error” can’t explain the crash, he noted that the crew “wasn’t aware of how dangerous the landscape was that they were flying into.” That, however, was mostly because they hadn’t been properly prepared for the flight by the Air Force.
“It was these deficiencies, and not individual errors, that are behind the accident,” Ytterberg. Investigator Agne Widholm said there was “nothing to suggest they were aware of what danger they were in” as they approached the Kiruna airport. The tower at Kiruna told the crew to fly at an elevation lower than the top of the mountain Kebnekaise.
The families of the five officers killed in the crash were informed of the investigation’s conclusions last week. A Norwegian military commission, meanwhile, has agreed with the conclusions. There were no technical problems with the Hercules aircraft, according to the accident investigators.
They made 22 recommendations for improvements, including better flight preparation routines and measures to ensure competence among air traffic controllers. Those on duty at the time of the crash were said to be relatively new on the job and inexperienced.
“Letting employees with limited experience have responsibility for considerable traffic … can be a sign of underlying weakness in the systems for air traffic control in Sweden,” Widholm said.