On Wednesday 16 October 2013 a Lao Airlines twin engine turbo prop aircraft crashed during its approach to Pakse in the nation’s south, near the Thailand border. The aircraft was confirmed by the French manufacturer, Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) to be a new Lao registered (RDPL-34233) ATR-72 600 model which was delivered in March 2013. Flight number QV 301 from Vientiane to Pakse carried 44 passengers and 5 crew who all died in the accident. The airline released a list of passengers which will not be reproduced here out of respect for the families involved.
Laos Authorities are leading the investigation, but both ATR and the French Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses pour la sécurité de l'aviation civile (BEA- the French authority responsible for investigations into civil aviation accidents) are joining. Initial investigations and preliminary reports point to the weather being a factor. Remnants of a typhoon which hit Vietnam and Laos delayed the tragic flight (tropical storm “Nari”). It would be likely that investigators will consider the bad weather and events such as windshear or microburst activity as possible triggers for the accident.
The aircraft in the Lao accident was new, and out of nearly 600 built of its type was the sixteenth ever lost. The causes of previous accidents with ATR aircraft have been numerous and varied. These include flight into unknown icing conditions (eg, American Eagle Flight 4184) which crashed on 31 October 1994. The United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation report considered the communication of hazardous weather information to flight crews as a factor, as well as monitoring of aircraft airworthiness, and flight crew training for unusual attitudes (aircraft orientations which are at the limits for flight safety). That aircraft crashed while in a holding pattern and descending to a newly assigned altitude.
The Lao Airlines aircraft was very close to touchdown when the accident occurred, with initial reports saying the distance was about 4 nautical miles (roughly 8 km). This would make the aircraft approximately 2 minutes away from the destination runway at Pakse Airport. It is unknown whether a precision approach was available but this is considered unlikely, meaning that all that may have been available was GPS. Some of the same factors as American Eagle Flight 4184 may be implicated, but only time will tell, once more is known from the flight data recorder.
The accident initially bears resemblance to the crash of a Transair Metroliner, registration VH-TFU operated by Aero Tropics on approach at Lockhart River, on 7 May 2005. This is considered one of Australia’s worst air crashes as 2 pilots and 13 passengers perished when the plane crashed into mountainous terrain in bad weather, north east of Lockhart River, Queensland. Shine Lawyers Aviation Lawyer Pat Nunan acted for 5 families in Queensland and Commonwealth litigation.
In related legal action pursued by US legal partners of Shine Lawyers on behalf of the families, proceedings were commenced in the US, claiming that the Ground Proximity Warning System manufactured by the Defendant was defective. The case against the manufacturers of the allegedly defective components is expected to be listed for trial in the US in 2014 following. The US cases for the families, unlike the Queensland and Commonwealth litigation, are not limited by a statutory ceiling on the compensation available to the families.
The Lao Airlines accident involved a similar class of twin propeller commuter aircraft to the one involved in many of the recent twin engine turbo prop accidents worldwide. As the recent crash involved events close to touchdown in bad weather, like the Lockhart River crash, Shine Lawyers’ Aviation Team will continue to monitor and report its own and official investigations.
Update 18 October 2013: last night and this morning online news services have been quoting an airline ratings website which considers that Lao Airlines may be relatively unsafe due to it not having had an IATA safety audit.
While that website aims to take a holistic view of any particular airlines' overall level of safety, it would be inaccurate to conclude that lack of an audit itself would have been be a major contributor to the tragic accident in Laos. The comments must be put into context.
An examination of airlines which have had audits, but have since crashed anyway causing death and injury, brings this into perspective. The list of airlines which have had safety audits include a major flag carrier, Thai Airways. Thai suffered a recent accident causing injury and thereafter worldwide consternation, just last month: see http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/sep/09/thai-airways-logo-crash-etiquette/
In that instance a plane crash landed at Bangkok International airport. People will recall that painters blacked out the airlines' name on the aircraft to reduce the publicity of the crash.
Both of these airlines had completed IATA safety audits.
Only time and thorough investigation by the Lao authorities, the French BEA with the assistance of the aircraft manufacturer will uncover the true safety factors involved in this tragic crash.
As the crash of American Eagle 4184 in 1994 in the US teaches us, it is never one factor alone which brings down commercial airliners.
Update 3 November 2013: The flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR), otherwise known as "black boxes" from the Lao Airlines ATR72 which crashed on 16 October, have now been located.
Lao authorities and the BEA will download and analyse the data to determine the aircraft's actual last movements. This process is expected to take up to a month.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: April 17, 2019.