American Airlines flight AA956 , also known as the Calì accident , was a regularly scheduled passenger flight operated with a Boeing 757-223, N651AA, from Miami International Airport (MIA), Florida, U.S.A., to Alfonso Bonilla Aragon International Airport (SKCL), in Cali, Colombia.
American Airlines flight AA956 crashed into mountainous terrain during a descent from cruise altitude in visual meteorological conditions (VMC).
The accident site was near the town of Buga, 33 miles northeast of the Cali VOR (CLO). The airplane impacted at about 8,900 feet mean sea level (msl), near the summit of El Deluvio and approximately 10 miles east of Airway W3.
Of the 155 passengers, 2 flightcrew members, and 6 cabincrew members on board, 4 passengers survived the accident.
On the previous flight under a different crew, the airplane arrived at MIA from Guayaquil, Equador, at 1438, on December 20, 1996. The Guayaquil to MIA flightcrew reported that there were no significant maintenance or operations-related discrepancies on the airplane.
The captain and first officer of AA965 (MIA to SKCL) arrived at the airline’s MIA operations office about 1 hour before the proposed departure time of 1640.
The operations base manager later stated that both the captain and first officer were in his office about 40 minutes before the required check-in time, and appeared to be in good spirits.
According to the dispatcher at MIA, American Airlines flight AA956 was delayed about 34 minutes, waiting for the arrival of connecting passengers and baggage.
The flight departed the gate at 1714, and then experienced another ground delay of 1 hour 21 minutes that the flight dispatcher stated was related to gate congestion due to airport traffic.
American Airlines flight AA956 departed MIA at 1835, with an estimated time enroute to Cali of 3 hour 12 minutes.
The flight was cleared to climb to flight level (FL) 370. The route of flight was from MIA through Cuban airspace, then through Jamaican airspace, and into Colombian airspace, where the flight was recleared by Barranquilla Air Traffic Control Center (Barranquilla Center) to proceed from KILER Intersection direct to BUTAL Intersection.
The flight then passed abeam Cartegena (CTG). Bogota Center subsequently cleared the flight to fly direct from BUTAL to the Tulua VOR (ULQ)
At 2103 American Airlines flight AA956 estimated to Bogota Center that they would cross BUTAL at 2107.
As the flight passed BUTAL, Bogota Center again cleared the flight from its present position to ULQ, and told the flight to report when they were ready to descend.
At 2110, AA965 communicated via ACARS with American Airlines’ System Operations Control (SOC) center, asking for weather information at Cali.
At 2111, Cali weather was reported as clear, visibility greater than 10 kilometers, and scattered clouds. At 2126:16, AA965 requested descent clearance. The flight was initially cleared to FL 240 and then to FL 200.
At 2134:04, the flight was instructed to contact Cali Approach Control (Approach).
American Airlines flight AA956 contacted Approach at 2134:40. The captain, making the radio transmissions said, “Cali approach, American nine six five.”
The approach controller replied, “American niner six five, good evening. go ahead.” The captain stated, “ah, buenos noches senor, American nine six five leaving two three zero, descending to two zero zero. go ahead sir.
” The controller asked, “the uh, distance DME from Cali?”
The captain of American Airlines flight AA956 replied, “the DME is six three.”
The controller then stated, “roger, is cleared to Cali VOR, uh, descend and maintain one, five thousand feet. altimeter three zero zero two…. no delay expect for approach. report uh, Tulua VOR.”
The captain replied, “OK, understood. cleared direct to Cali VOR. uh, report Tulua and altitude one five, that’s fifteen thousand three zero.. zero.. two. is that all correct sir?”
The controller stated, “affirmative.” The captain replied at 2135:27, “Thank you. At 2135:28, the captain informed the first officer that he had “…put direct Cali for you in there.”
At 2136:31, Approach asked AA965, “sir the wind is calm. are you able to [execute the] approach [to] runway one niner ? ”
The captain responded, “uh yes sir, we’ll need a lower altitude right away though.”
The approach controller then stated, “roger. American nine six five is cleared to VOR DME approach runway one niner, Rozo number one, arrival. Report Tulua VOR.”
The captain, replied, “cleared the VOR DME to one nine, Rozo one arrival. will report the VOR, thank you sir.” The controller stated, “report uh, Tulua VOR.” The captain replied, “report Tulua.”
At 2137:29, AMERICAN AIRLINES flight AA956 asked Approach, “can American airlines uh, nine six five go direct to Rozo and then do the Rozo arrival sir?”
The Cali approach controller replied, “affirmative. take the Rozo one and runway one niner, the wind is calm.”
The captain responded, “alright Rozo, the Rozo one to one nine, thank you, American nine six five.”
The controller stated, “(thank you very much) …. report Tulua and e’eh, twenty one miles ah, five thousand feet.”
The captain responded, “OK, report Tulua twenty one miles and five thousand feet, American nine uh, sixfive.”
At 2137, after passing ULQ , during the descent, the airplane began to turn to the left of the cleared course and flew on an easterly heading for approximately one minute. Then the airplane turned to the right, while still in the descent.
At 2139:25, Morse code for the letters “VC” was recorded by navigation radio onto the airplane’s CVR.
At 2139:29, Morse code similar to the letters “ULQ” was recorded.
At 2140:01, the captain asked Approach, “and American uh, thirty eight miles north of Cali, and you want us to go Tulua and then do the Rozo uh, to uh, the runway, right to runway one nine?”
The controller answered, “…you can [unintelligible word] landed, runway one niner, you can use runway one niner. what is (you) altitude and (the) DME from Cali?”
The flight responded, “OK, we’re thirty seven DME at ten thousand feet.” The controller stated at 2140:25, “roger. report (uh) five thousand and uh, final to one one, runway one niner.”
The CVR recorded the flightcrew’s conversations as well as radio transmissions.
At 2140:40, the captain stated, “it’s that [expletive] Tulua I’m not getting for some reason. see I can’t get. OK now, no. Tulua’s [expletive] up.”
At 2140:49 the captain said, “but I can put it in the box if you want it.” The first officer replied, “I don’t want Tulua. let’s just go to the extended centerline of uh….”
The captain stated, “which is Rozo.” At 2140:56, the captain stated, “why don’t you just go direct to Rozo then, alright?” The first officer replied, “OK, let’s…The captain said, “I’m goin’ to put that over you.” The first officer replied, “…get some altimeters, we’er out of uh, ten now.”
At 2141:02, Cali Approach requested the flight’s altitude. The flight replied, “nine six five, nine thousand feet.” The controller then asked at 2141: 10, “roger, distance now?” The flightcrew did not respond to the controller.
At 2141:15, the CVR recorded from the cockpit area microphone the mechanical voice and sounds of the airplane’s ground proximity warning system (GPWS), “terrain, terrain, whoop, whoop.”
The captain stated, “Oh [expletive],” and a sound similar to autopilot disconnect warning began. The captain said, “…pull up baby.” The mechanical voice and sound continued, “…pull up, whoop, whoop, pull up.”
The FDR showed that the flightcrew added full power and raised the nose of the airplane, the spoilers (speedbrakes) that had been extended during the descent were not retracted. The airplane entered into the regime of stick shaker stall warning, nose up attitude was lowered slightly, the airplane came out of stick shaker warning, nose up attitude then increased and stick shaker was reentered. The CVR ended at 2141 :28.
The wreckage path and FDR data evidenced that the airplane was on a magnetic heading of 223 degrees, nose up, and wings approximately level, as it struck trees at about 8,900 feet msl on the east side of El Deluvio.
The airplane continued over a ridge near the summit and impacted and burned on the west side of the mountain, at 3 degrees 50 minutes 45.2 seconds north latitude and 76 degrees 6 minutes 17.1 seconds west longitude.
Approach unsuccessfully attempted to contact AA965 several times after the time of impact (see appendix D, two photographs of the accident site).
Aeronautica Civil determines that the probable causes of this accident were:
- The flightcrew’s failure to adequately plan and execute the approach to runway 19 at SKCL and their inadequate use of automation
- Failure of the flightcrew to discontinue the approach into Cali, despite numerous cues alerting them of the inadvisability of continuing the approach.
- The lack of situational awareness of the flightcrew regarding vertical navigation, proximity to terrain, and the relative location of critical radio aids.
- Failure of the flight crew to revert to basic radio navigation at the time when the FMS-assisted navigation became confusing and demanded an excessive workload in a critical phase of the flight