Flash Airlines Flight 604

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Flash Airlines Flight 604
174ak - Flash Airlines Boeing 737-3Q8, SU-ZCF@ZRH,30.03.2002 - Flickr - Aero Icarus.jpg
SU-ZCF, the aircraft involved, at Zurich Airport in March 2002
Accident summary
Date 3 January 2004 (2004-01-03)
Summary Unresolved (dispute between investigators)
Site Red Sea
near Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
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Passengers 135
Crew 13
Fatalities 148 (all)
Survivors 0
Aircraft type Boeing 737-3Q8
Aircraft name Noar
Operator Flash Airlines
Registration SU-ZCF
Flight origin Sharm el-Sheikh Int'l Airport
Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt
Stopover Cairo International Airport
Cairo, Egypt
Destination Charles de Gaulle Airport
Paris, France

Flash Airlines Flight 604 was a charter flight operated by Egyptian charter company Flash Airlines. On 3 January 2004, the Boeing 737-300 crashed into the Red Sea shortly after takeoff from Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, killing all 135 passengers, most of them French tourists, and all 13 crew members. The findings of the crash investigation are controversial, with accident investigators from the different countries involved not agreeing on the cause.

Flight 604's death toll was the highest of any aviation accident in Egypt until Metrojet Flight 9268 crashed more than ten years later. It remains the deadliest accident involving a Boeing 737-300, and the deadliest involving the Boeing 737 classic series.[1]

History of the flight

The aircraft, a Boeing 737-3Q8, had originally been delivered to TACA Airlines in 1992. Other operators included Color Air, Egypt-based Mediterranean Airlines, and the prior corporate identity of Flash Airlines, Heliopolis Airlines.

Passengers and crew

Passenger and crew countries of origin
Country Passengers Crew Total
 Egypt 0 13 13
 France 132 0 132
 United States 1 0 1
 Morocco 2 0 2
Total 135 13 148

Khadr Abdullah[2] (referred to as Mohammed Khedr in a Times Online article[3]) was the captain. He was 53 years of age and was a highly respected pilot with almost 7,500 flight hours under his belt. Amr Shaafei served as the first officer.[4][5] He was 25 years old with fewer than 800 hours of flying experience. Ashraf Abdelhamid, who also held Canadian and US citizenship,[6][7] was training as a first officer and had experience flying corporate jets; he sat in the cockpit with the pilot and copilot.[4]

Most of the passengers were French tourists who originated from the Paris metropolitan area. FRAM (FR), a French travel agency, sold most of the tickets to the flight.[8] A provisional passenger list dated 5 January 2004 stated that twelve entire French families had boarded the flight.[9] Members of seventeen families appeared at Charles de Gaulle Airport to take passengers from the flight; this fact gave the airport staff indication that entire families died on Flight 604.[8][10]

One of the passengers that was supposed to be on the flight was French citizen Pascal Mercier and his family. He cancelled their reservation because he didn't like the early departure time since he had young children.[4]


Initially, it was thought that terrorists might have been involved, as fear of aviation terrorism was high (with several major airlines in previous days cancelling flights on short notice). The British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, was also vacationing in the Sharm el-Sheikh area. A group in Yemen said that it destroyed the aircraft as a protest against a new law in France banning headscarves in schools. Accident investigators dismissed terrorism when they discovered that the wreckage was in a tight debris field, indicating that the aircraft crashed in one piece; a bombed aircraft would disintegrate and leave a large debris field.[4]

The wreckage sank to a depth of 1,000 m (3,300 ft), making recovery of the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder difficult. However two weeks after the accident, both devices were located by a French salvage vessel and recovered by a ROV. The accident investigators examined the recorders while in Cairo. The maintenance records of the aircraft had not been duplicated; they were destroyed in the crash and no backup copies existed.[4]

The Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) investigated the accident, with assistance from the American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)[11] and the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la Sécurité de l'Aviation Civile (BEA).[12]

The MCA released its final report into the accident on 25 March 2006.[11] The report did not conclude with a probable cause, listing instead four "possible causes".[13]

The NTSB and the BEA concluded that the pilot suffered spatial disorientation, and the copilot was unwilling to challenge his more experienced superior. Furthermore, according to the NTSB and BEA, both officers were insufficiently trained. The NTSB stated that the cockpit voice recorder showed that 24 seconds passed after the airliner banked before the pilot began corrective manoeuvres. Egyptian authorities disagreed with this assessment, instead blaming mechanical issues.[14] Shaker Kelada, the lead Egyptian investigator, said that if Hamid, who had more experience than the copilot, detected any problems with the flight, he would have raised objections.[4] Some media reports suggest that the plane crashed due to technical problems, possibly a result of the apparently questionable safety record of the airline. This attitude was shown in a press briefing given by the BEA chief, who was berated by the first officer's mother during a press conference, and demanded that the crew be absolved of fault prior to the completion of the investigation. Two months after the crash Flash Airlines went bankrupt.[14]

US Summary Comments on Draft Final Report of Aircraft Accident Flash Airlines flight 604, Boeing 737-300, SU-ZCF 3 January 2004, Red Sea near Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Quote from page 5 of 7:

"Distraction. A few seconds before the captain called for the autopilot to be engaged, the aircraft's pitch began increasing and airspeed began decreasing. These deviations continued during and after the autopilot engagement/disengagement sequence. The captain ultimately allowed the airspeed to decrease to 35 knots below his commanded target airspeed of 220 knots and the climb pitch to reach 22°, which is 10° more than the standard climb pitch of about 12°. During this time, the captain also allowed the aircraft to enter a gradually steepening right bank, which was inconsistent with the flight crew's departure clearance to perform a climbing left turn. These pitch, airspeed and bank angle deviations indicated that the captain directed his attention away from monitoring the attitude indications during and after the autopilot disengagement process. Changes in the autoflight system's mode status offer the best explanation for the captain's distraction. The following changes occurred in the autoflight system's mode status shortly before the initiation of the right roll: (1) manual engagement of the autopilot, (2) automatic transition of roll guidance from heading select to control wheel steering-roll (CWS-R), (3) manual disengagement of the autopilot, and (4) manual reengagement of heading select for roll guidance. The transition to the CWS-R mode occurred in accordance with nominal system operation because the captain was not closely following the flight director guidance at the time of the autopilot engagement. The captain might not have expected the transition, and he might not have understood why it occurred. The captain was probably referring to the mode change from command mode to CWS-R when he stated, “see what the aircraft did?,” shortly after it occurred. The available evidence indicates that the unexpected mode change and the flight crew’s subsequent focus of attention on reestablishing roll guidance for the autoflight system were the most likely reasons for the captain’s distraction from monitoring the attitude".[15][clarification needed]

Problems associated with the complexity of autopilot systems were documented in the June 2008 issue of Aero Safety World.[16] Before the completion of the investigation, Avionics writer David Evans suggested that differences in instrumentation between the MiG-21 (with which the captain had experience) and the Boeing 737 may have contributed to the crash.[17]

See also


  1. "Accident description". Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved 12 August 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Report blames technical failure for 2004 Flash Airlines crash". Daily News Egypt. 27 March 2006. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Bremmer, Charles (27 March 2006). "Investigators dispute crash finding". The Times. London. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 "Desperate Dive". Mayday [documentary TV series].<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "Peace for victims brings no solace". Al-Ahram Weekly (752). 21–27 July 2005. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "Crews find Egyptian plane crash 'black box'". CTV.ca. Associated Press, Canadian Press. 6 January 2004. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. McDonald, Jeff (8 January 2004). "Local victim in Red Sea crash a man of mystery". San Diego Union-Tribune. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Websterm, Paul (4 January 2004). "Families of air crash victims fly to Egypt". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 June 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Lichfield, John (5 January 2004). "Twelve entire families named among Red Sea crash victims as Swiss reveal airline safety fears". The Independent. Retrieved 14 January 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Des familles entières ont péri dans le crash de l'avion égyptien". CAMEROUN LINK: Le portail du Cameroun (in French). 5 January 2004. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Flash Airlines flight 604". National Transportation Safety Board.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Accident on 3 January 2004 off the coast of Sharm el-Sheikh". BEA.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Final Report of the Accident Investigation: Flash Airlines flight 604". Ministry of Civil Aviation: 1171.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Sparaco, P. (10 April 2006). "Safety First, Always". Aviation Week & Space Technology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "NTSB comments on ECAA Draft Final Report – Summary Letter" (PDF). National Transportation Safety Board.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Rosenkrans, Wayne (June 2008). "Autoflight Audit" (PDF). AeroSafety World. Flight Safety Foundation. 3 (6): 30–35.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Evans, David (1 July 2005). "Safety: Mode Confusion, Timidity Factors". Avionics Magazine.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links