Budget airline Ryanair has this week rejected accusations published in SPIEGEL that the crew of one of its aircraft almost caused an accident while landing at a German airport in September and said its pilots had reacted correctly, responding to "sudden unexpectedly strong tailwind."
Ryanair's account of the landing of a Boeing 737 traveling from Manchester with 141 people on board at Memmingen airport in southern Germany on Sept. 23 appears to conflict with information obtained by SPIEGEL that the pilots were trying to save time and make up a 30-minute delay.
According to SPIEGEL, the aircraft was seven kilometers (4.3 miles) away from the airport when the pilots noticed that the jet was descending way too fast. They managed to pull the plane up just in time.
The German Federal Bureau of Aircraft Accident Investigation described the event as a "serious incident," defined under German aviation accident rules as "an event in the operation of an aircraft whose circumstances indicate that an accident almost occurred."
'Terrain, Terrain. Pull Up'
According to flight recorder data, the automatic warning "Terrain, terrain. Pull up" sounded in the cockpit at 4:39 p.m. and 42 seconds. The pilots appear to have programmed the automatic pilot with the wrong altitude. The aircraft briefly fell at a rate of almost 1,000 meters per minute.
The pilot said he was under time pressure and had decided to approach the runway from a different direction than planned, SPIEGEL reported. However, wind conditions were unfavorable for the chosen approach.
A Ryanair spokesman said the crew had decided to perform a go-around, which was in line with Ryanair's guidelines.
One passenger on that flight told SPIEGEL that no onboard announcement was made by the pilot to explain the go-around. "The ground was close, I thought we'll touch down in five to 10 seconds," said the passenger, who had a window seat. But at that point the plane was still seven kilometers from the airport.
"All my organs were pushed into the sear. It was frightening, like on a rollercoaster." Many of the passengers were on the way to the Munich Oktoberfest. There was a general cry but no one complained."
Ryanair has frequently been accused of putting passengers at risk to save time and costs. A spokesman for German pilots union Cockpit, referring to the Sept. 23 incident, said: "It sounds as if the colleagues let themselves be put under time pressure too much."