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Last updated: 20 January 2019
Status:
Date:Sunday 6 March 2005
Time:03:15
Type:Silhouette image of generic A310 model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different
Airbus A310-308ET
Operator:Air Transat
Registration: C-GPAT
C/n / msn: 597
First flight:
Crew:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants:
Passengers:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants:
Total:Fatalities: 0 / Occupants: 271
Aircraft damage: Substantial
Aircraft fate: Repaired
Location:near Varadero (   Cuba)
Phase: En route (ENR)
Nature:International Scheduled Passenger
Departure airport:Varadero-Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport (VRA/MUVR), Cuba
Destination airport:Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, QC (YQB/CYQB), Canada
Narrative:
Air Transat flight 961 departed Varadero, Cuba at 02:48 in the early morning. The A310 climbed to its cruising altitude of 35000 feet.
At approximately 03:02 the flight crew heard a loud bang immediately followed by several seconds of vibration. Cabin crew members located in the back of the aircraft were thrown to the floor and unsecured galley carts moved freely. The aircraft started to Dutch roll, and the captain took control and disconnected the autopilot. The aircraft was difficult to control in the lateral axis. In an attempt to better manage the cockpit workload, the other autopilot system (No. 1) was engaged. As the Dutch roll movement started to intensify, autopilot No. 1 was disengaged and the aircraft was hand-flown.
During these actions, the aircraft climbed to about FL 359. The flight crew requested a descent and informed air traffic control that they had experienced an autopilot problem and had reverted to flying manually. While descending, the crew cycled through the electronic centralized aircraft monitor (ECAM) system pages in an attempt to diagnose the problem. Throughout the event, there was no ECAM message relating to the control problem that the aircraft had experienced, and there were no warning lights or cockpit indications of an aircraft malfunction. Even with limited clues as to the cause of the Dutch roll, the crew knew that descending to a lower altitude might lessen or stop the Dutch roll motion. Initial indications led to the possibility of the loss of both yaw dampers (YD) but both YD switches were engaged. Had a dual YD failure occurred, the flight warning computer would have triggered appropriate warnings and messages, and the autopilot would have disconnected.
The Dutch roll gradually decreased in the descent and ceased when the aircraft passed FL 280. The crew continued the descent to 10 000 feet above sea level in preparation for a landing in Fort Lauderdale. The captain returned control of the aircraft to the first officer and called the flight director to provide the standard briefing to the cabin crew for emergency or abnormal situations.
The crew contacted company dispatch to discuss the situation and elected to return to Varadero, where the company was better equipped to deal with the aircraft and the passengers. At 03:39, the flight was cleared to Varadero at FL190.
During the climb to FL190, the crew engaged autopilot No. 1 and disengaged it during the final portion of the visual approach to runway 06 at Varadero. During the landing flare, nose wheel steering was used for directional control on the runway. An uneventful landing was completed at 04:19.
The crew conducted a flight control check after landing and the ECAM indicated that everything was normal. The aircraft was taxied to the gate where the passengers were deplaned normally through the main door. After shutdown, a visual inspection revealed that the aircraft rudder had broken and most of it was missing.
FINDINGS AS TO CAUSES AND CONTRIBUTING FACTORS:
1. The aircraft took off from Varadero with a pre-existing disbond or an in-plane core fracture damage to the rudder, caused by either a discrete event, but not a blunt impact, or a weak bond at the z-section of the left side panel. This damage deteriorated in flight, ultimately resulting in the loss of the rudder.
2. The manufacturer's recommended inspection program for the aircraft was not adequate to detect all rudder defects; the damage may have been present for many flights before the occurrence flight.
3. This model of rudder does not include any design features in the sandwich panels to mechanically arrest the growth of disbond damage or in-plane core failure before the damaged area reaches critical size (such a feature was not specifically demanded for certification).

FINDINGS AS TO RISK:
1. A cockpit voice recorder with a 30-minute recording capacity was installed on the aircraft, and its length was insufficient to capture the rudder-loss event, resulting in critical information concerning the rudder failure not being avail

Classification:

Forced landing on runway

Sources:
» TSB Investigation Update Number A05F0047


Follow-up / safety actions

DGAC France issued 1 Airworthiness Directive
FAA issued 1 Airworthiness Directive
TSB issued 2 Safety Recommendations

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Map
This map shows the airport of departure and the intended destination of the flight. The line between the airports does not display the exact flight path.
Distance from Varadero-Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport to Québec City Jean Lesage International Airport, QC as the crow flies is 2774 km (1733 miles).

This information is not presented as the Flight Safety Foundation or the Aviation Safety Network’s opinion as to the cause of the accident. It is preliminary and is based on the facts as they are known at this time.
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