Air China Flight 129

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Air China Flight 129
Boeing 767-2J6-ER, Air China AN0669948.jpg
The aircraft involved in the accident in 1997
DateApril 15, 2002 (2002-04-15)
SummaryControlled flight into terrain due to pilot error
SiteMount Dotdae, Busan, South Korea[1]
Coordinates: 35°13′58″N 128°55′41″E / 35.2327°N 128.9280°E / 35.2327; 128.9280
Aircraft typeBoeing 767-2J6ER
OperatorAir China
Flight originBeijing International Airport, Beijing, China
DestinationGimhae International Airport, Busan, South Korea

Air China Flight 129 (CCA129/CA129) was a scheduled international passenger flight, operated by Chinese flag carrier Air China, from Beijing Capital International Airport, Beijing, China to Gimhae International Airport, Busan, South Korea. On April 15, 2002, the aircraft on this route, a Boeing 767-200ER, crashed into a hill near Busan, killing 129 of the 166 people on board.

The Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board published the final report in March 2005 and concluded that the crash was due to pilot error. The final report stated that the crew was inadvertently flying below the minimum safe altitude. Detailed information from the report also revealed that the pilots were trained to conduct the circling approach in the airline's simulator only for Beijing International Airport and never conducted a simulation for the circling approach to Gimhae Airport's runway 18R. Subsequently, the report also blamed the tower controllers in Gimhae Airport for not using the tower BRITE and MSAW systems when losing visual contact with the flight 129 aircraft.

Flight 129 is Air China's only fatal accident,[2] and is currently recorded as the deadliest aviation accident in South Korea.


Seating plan

The flight took off at 08:37 local time (0037 UTC). After nearly 2 hours in flight, it arrived near Gimhae Airport in light rain and mist. At 11:16 local time (0216UTC), CA129 received clearance to use ILS approach to runway 36L then circle to runway 18R (the same runway from the opposite direction) from Gimhae tower. During the circling approach to land on runway 18R, the crew exercised poor crew resource management and lost sight of the runway while delaying the base turn and flying outside of the circling approach area, and crashed into a hill at 11:21 local time (02:21UTC). The aircraft made an initial contact with terrain when its right wing clipped a tree. It then impacted the ground, and the force of the impact broke the airplane apart. The right wing, empennage, left wing, parts of the fuselage and two engines separated. The plane then burst into flames, engulfing the cockpit and forward fuselage. The aircraft slid and destroyed several trees and 12 graves. 37 of those on-board survived, including the Captain. The post impact fire was so hot that it melted the aluminum and other metals of the fuselage. The front part of the fuselage was completely destroyed, making it difficult for investigators to recognize it.


The aircraft was Boeing 767-200ER registered in China as B-2552. It was delivered in 1985 and had Boeing Serial Number 23308 and Line Number 127. It was previously operated by Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and then transferred to Air China after CAAC's split. It had accumulated more than 40,000 hours of flying and about 14,500 flights.[3]

Passengers and crews[edit]

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
 China 19 11 30
 South Korea 135 0 135
 Uzbekistan 1 0 1
Total 155 11 166

Among the 155 passengers, 135 were from South Korea, 19 were from China, and one was from Uzbekistan.[4]

The flight deck crew were:

  • Captain: Wu Xinlu, [a] Captain Wu Xinlu entered the Civil Aviation Flying University of China in September 1990 and graduated in 1994. He then joined Air China, and in 2001 he was upgraded to be a Captain and after 26 November 2001, he officially flew as a Captain. He had a total flying experience of 6000 hours on the Boeing 767 and had flown 5 times to Busan.
  • First Officer: Gao Lijie ;[b] First Officer (Co-Pilot) Gao Lijie entered the Airforce Academy in August 1989 and graduated in September 1993. He joined Air China and completed his first flight as First Officer on 23 February 2002. Prior to becoming a First Officer, he had flown twice to Busan. He had accumulated a total of 5,295 hours of flying experience.
  • First Officer: Hou Xiangning ;[c] First Officer (Third Pilot) Hou Xiangning entered the Civil Aviation Flying University of China from September 1993 to June 1997 and was hired by Air China in August 1997. First Officer Hou had no experience of landing in Busan. He had accumulated a total flight hours of 1,775 flying experience.

The captain and two of the flight attendants survived, while the copilots and the rest of the flight attendants died.[5]



At Gimhae Airport, during autumn and winter, the winds come from the north. However, during the summer, the winds come from the south. Visibility is often partially poor due to sea fog, since the southern part of the airport is located close to the sea. Mountainous terrain in the north with southerly winds prevailing may cause a mass of low clouds and fog to occur along the mountainous area north of Runway 18R, with a probability of increased precipitation in the area.

Weather at the time of crash was poor. Satellite imagery retrieved from the Korea Meteorological Administration radar showed that a large, wide area of rain clouds could be seen, starting from Busan to the southeast as far as Japan, and moving slowly to the east. The clouds moved very slowly, and heavy clouds were seen lying in the sea south of Gimhae. Gusts of up to 16 knots were also observed. Rescue squads at the crash site also reported that it was covered with thick fog, with the precipitation heavier than a drizzle.[6]

Airport lighting[edit]

Investigators interviewed Captain Wu. Captain Wu Xinlu stated that as he observed the lights on the final approach course to Runway 36L, he saw that neither the runway approach lights on the downwind leg nor the circling guidance lights during the circling approach were on. According to the record of the automatic aeronautical light switching system, and the testimony from the Gimhae Tower duty chief, the runway, approach lights and circling guidance lights were on at the time of the accident.[7]

Survivors' statements[edit]

There was a total of 166 occupants on board, composed of 11 crew members and 155 passengers, including 5 children with ages ranging from 3 to 9 years old. On the day of the accident, 39 people survived the crash with serious injuries. A passenger died the following day and 16 days later another passenger died.[8]

Based on interviews of the survivors on board Flight 129, it was revealed that the accident occurred suddenly, with loud noise and violent shaking of the aircraft at the point of impact. All items inside the aircraft fell down, seats were thrust forward, and all lights went out, making it dark inside the aircraft. The fire filled the cabin with heavy smoke, which made it difficult to breathe. Most of the passengers briefly lost consciousness during impact, with the feet and legs of some passengers forced under the seats in front of them. A flight attendant who was seated at the aft right position stated that his body was crushed underneath something. He reached to open the door but could not find the handle. He crawled out of the cabin and evacuated the survivors. The survivors then escaped by walking or crawling through the gaps in the broken fuselage. As they escaped, several large explosions were heard, with pillars of fire shooting up high into the sky.[9]

Some of the Korean passengers stated that they did not understand any of the in-flight announcements, including the pre-departure passenger safety briefing, as they were made only in Chinese and English.[10]

Final report[edit]

Both the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder were retrieved from the crash site and examined by investigators. The FDR data did not show any defect in the aircraft's controls and instruments.

The official accident report by the Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board was released on 4 March 2005. The Probable Cause read:

  1. The flight crew of flight 129 performed the circling approach, not being aware of the weather minima of wide-body aircraft (B767-200) for landing, and in the approach briefing, did not include the missed approach, etc., among the items specified in Air China’s operations and training manuals.
  2. The flight crew exercised poor crew resource management and lost situational awareness during the circling approach to runway 18R, which led them to fly outside of the circling approach area, delaying the base turn, contrary to the captain’s intention to make a timely base turn.
  3. The flight crew did not execute a missed approach when they lost sight of the runway during the circling approach to runway 18R, which led them to strike high terrain (mountain) near the airport.
  4. When the first officer advised the captain to execute a missed approach, about 5 seconds before impact, the captain did not react, nor did the first officer initiate the missed approach himself.

During the flight the airline made the pre-flight safety demonstration and announcements in Chinese and English, but not in Korean, while 135 of 155 of the passengers were Korean. The Korean investigation board recommended that Air China add announcements in Korean to flights to and from South Korea.[11]

Other than the report released by the Korean Aviation Accident Investigation Board, Liu Yajun, the head of the Chinese investigation team, stated,[12]

  1. An ATC official in the airport, Park Junyong, did not own a license for air traffic control issued by the South Korean Construction and Transportation Ministry.
  2. Park did not know the properties of the aircraft, a Boeing 767, and mistakenly directed the airliner to descend to an altitude of 700 feet (213.5m) instead of 1,100 feet (335.5m).
  3. The airport did not inform the crew of the weather conditions at the time. Eight flights before CA129 were directed to land at other airports because of bad weather.
  4. There were also problems with the radar system and lighting at Gimhae Airport.

Television portrayal[edit]

The investigation was covered in "Turning Point", a 2017 episode of Mayday, a Canadian documentary television series about air crashes.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wu Xinlu S: 吴新禄, T: 吳新祿, P: Wú Xīnlù
  2. ^ Gao Lijie S: 高立杰, T: 高立傑, P: Gāo Lìjié
  3. ^ Hou Xiangning S: 侯向宁, T: 侯向寧, P: Hóu Xiàngníng


  1. ^ Official Aircraft Accident Report, Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board, 2005, KAIB/AAR F0201, archived from the original on October 17, 2006
  2. ^ "Chinese jet hits foggy mountain." TVNZ. Monday April 15, 2002. Retrieved on October 25, 2010.
  3. ^ "Air China 767 Statement." Boeing. April 14, 2002. Retrieved on June 10, 2009.
  4. ^ Grace, Francie. " Search Continues At Korean Crash Site" (Archive). CBS News. April 15, 2002. Retrieved on February 18, 2009.
  5. ^ "KAIB/AAR F0201." Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board. 1 (15/168). Retrieved on June 18, 2009.
  6. ^ Official Aircraft Accident Report, Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board, 2005, KAIB/AAR F0201, archived from the original on October 17, 2006
  7. ^ Official Aircraft Accident Report, Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board, 2005, KAIB/AAR F0201, archived from the original on October 17, 2006
  8. ^ Official Aircraft Accident Report, Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board, 2005, KAIB/AAR F0201, archived from the original on October 17, 2006
  9. ^ Official Aircraft Accident Report, Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board, 2005, KAIB/AAR F0201, archived from the original on October 17, 2006
  10. ^ Official Aircraft Accident Report, Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board, 2005, KAIB/AAR F0201, archived from the original on October 17, 2006
  11. ^ "KAIB/AAR F0201." Korea Aviation Accident Investigation Board. 138 (152/168). Retrieved on June 18, 2009.
  12. ^ "South Korean Airport has Responsibility for Air China Crash Archived 2014-08-26 at WebCite". Xinhua. November 27, 2002. Retrieved on July 30, 2011.

External links[edit]