REPORT: Air Niugini jet damaged 4 months before deadly Chuuk crash

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Figure 2: Wings collision damage. Image source: eye witness, as provided in PRELIMINARY REPORT AIC 18-1001, Government of Papua New Guinea

Guam – Official investigation documents indicate the same Air Niugini Boeing 737-800 that crashed and killed a passenger in the Chuuk Lagoon in September of this year suffered substantial collision damage in Papua New Guinea four and a half months before it skidded off the runway and sank off the coast of Weno Island.

Although there is no mention of the earlier PNG mishap within the fatal accident’s preliminary report issued by Federated States of Micronesia aviation authorities, the Boeing 737-800 registration and serial numbers in separate accident reports are identical.

The FSM’s Oct. 28 preliminary report on the aircraft’s Sept. 28 runway overrun into surrounding reef waters refers to the passenger jet alternately as a Boeing 737-8BK and a Boeing 737-800 bearing registration number P2-PXE and serial number 33024. The summary was issued by the FSM Department of Transportation, Communications & Infrastructure’s Civil Aviation Division.

Similarly, a June 7 preliminary accident report issued by the Papua New Guinea Accident Investigation Commission details a May 12 incident in which a Boeing 737-800 with the same registration and serial numbers sustained “substantial damage” when the left wing of a taxiing Lockheed Martin Hercules charter plane collided with the right wing of the Air Niugini Boeing while pulling into a bay between the 737 and a Basler BT-67 aircraft at Jacksons International Airport, National Capital District, Papua New Guinea. No injuries or deaths were reported in this incident.

“The leading edge of the left wing of the Hercules impacted the right winglet of the Boeing 737 causing significant damage to both aircraft,” the illustrated AIC report reads on page 4.

“As both aircraft sustained significant damage to the wings, the occurrence was classified as an accident,” the report states on page 2.  “This Preliminary Report has been produced in accordance with the PNG Civil Aviation Act 2000 (as amended), ICAO Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation, and the PNG Accident Investigation Commission’s Policy and Procedures.

Pertinently, somewhere between the fatal air crash in Chuuk and the release of the official report from the Federated States’ Civil Aviation Division, FSM and PNG civil aviation investigation authorities reportedly “exchanged” a memorandum of understanding assuring the general public of both governments’ commitment to air safety in general and to compliance with the Convention on International Civil Aviation of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The spirit of the Convention’s Annex 13 upholds a pronounced spirit of accountability and communication in the prevention of air accidents.

“In signing this formal MoU[,] Mr. Massy Halbert, Assistant Secretary TC&I[,] assure[s] the people of FSM and PNG that their safety is paramount whether they are travelling in FSM, PNG, or flying beyond our borders. Our respective Nations’ resources are finite, so it is important that small countries such as PNG and FSM share resources and cooperate in the interest of safety improvement,” said Mr. Hubert Namani, Chief Commissioner of the PNG’s AIC, in an Oct. 12 media release from the same organization.

“I endorse and fully support this important MoU initiative and I know that Mr. Lukner Weilbacher, Secretary (Minister) TC&I shares with me this desire to cooperate with and assist each other in the common cause of aviation safety,” said Hon. Alfred Manase, MP, PNG Minister for Civil Aviation, in the media release.

The media release did not call attention to the 737’s prior accident at Jacksons International in PNG.

Meanwhile, the AIC has prompted Air Niugini to improve safety standards in the wake of the fatal accident in Chuuk, which also countenanced six serious passenger injuries, as evinced by the FSM Civil Aviation Division’s preliminary report.

According to a Dec. 6 article appearing in the PNG’s The National online news source, Air Niugini has replaced its onboard safety card after the old card was identified as a safety deficiency during investigations into the 737’s Chuuk crash. The old card apparently showed a wrong emergency evacuation path to the jet’s doors.