Crossair Flight 498 was a commuter flight from Zurich, Switzerland, to Dresden, Germany, that crashed two minutes after takeoff in the Swiss municipality of Niederhasli on 10 January 2000. The seven passengers and three crew members aboard the two-turboprop engine Saab 340B aircraft all died on impact. It was the first fatal crash for the Swiss regional airline Crossair in its 25-year history.
The official report into the disaster found that the crash was due to a loss of control resulting from multiple human failures.
The 33-seat Saab 340B airplane used for Crossair Flight LX498 had been leased to Crossair from Moldavian Airlines since 1 October 1999. The plane was scheduled to depart from Zurich Airport on Monday, 10 January 2000, at around 6:00 p.m. and arrive at Dresden Airport a few hours later. The cold, drizzly weather was normal for the area, there were no indications that anything was wrong with the aircraft, and, although this particular aircraft had 24,000 flying hours since its November 1990 delivery, this type of airplane had a very good safety record. Captain Pavel Gruzin, 41, had 8,100 hours of flying time, with 1,900 in the Saab 340 type. Co-pilot Rastislav Kolesár, 35, had about 1,800 total hours, with 1,100 hours in the Saab 340 type. The plane was carrying no unusual payload such as freight or mail and the plane was not due for its next regular maintenance check for another 21 days, on 31 January 2000.
After the seven passengers and three crew members boarded, the plane was cleared for takeoff on time at 5:54 p.m. (16:54 UTC). The aircraft departed Runway 28 heading west. From takeoff, the plane climbed normally. But after 7.2 kilometers (4.5 mi) the plane suddenly started to lose altitude and turn to the right instead of following the approved flight path to the left. When air traffic controllers asked the pilot if he meant to turn right, they were answered with "Stand by," followed by a loss of radio contact.
At 5:56 p.m. (16:56 UTC), one minute and 56 seconds into the flight, the plane disappeared from radar screens. Officials later determined that the plane went into a diving right turn before vanishing from radar screens. Burning wreckage was scattered for 200 to 300 metres near houses in Niederhasli, some 5 kilometres (3 mi) northwest of the runway at Zurich's Kloten airport. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered from the accident scene, both heavily damaged.
Four of the passengers were Germans, the other three passengers were French, Swiss and Spanish. The three-person crew included Moldovan pilot Pavel Gruzin, Slovak copilot Rastislav Kolesár, and a French flight attendant. There were no survivors.
At the time of the crash, Crossair was a majority owned subsidiary of SAirGroup. The crash of Crossair Flight LX498 was the first time in Crossair's 25-year history that the regional airline had lost an aircraft, and was the deadliest accident to hit the SAirGroup since the crash of Swissair Flight 111, an MD-11 flying from New York to Geneva that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off Nova Scotia on 2 September 1998, killing all 229 aboard.
At the time, Crossair operated 17 Saab-340 type planes, but eventually phased them out with Embraer ERJ-145 regional jets. The crash came about in the midst of a bitter labor-management dispute between Crossair and its pilots over a possible pay raise and work rules changes. The pilots' union had just canceled pay agreements with Crossair in December 1999, with a termination effective in summer 2000. In addition, and prior to the accident, two Crossair pilots told Swiss media that some foreign pilots employed by Crossair posed a safety risk because of an insufficient knowledge of English. These two pilots were fired by Crossair, but were then elected to head the pilots' union, "Crossair Cockpit Personnel (CCP)". An investigation of the accident later revealed that the pilot Gruzin and copilot Kolesár were only able to communicate with each other in English, but Gruzin's ability to speak English was too limited to hold more than a basic conversation.
After the crash, both Crossair and CCP, including the pilots who had previously spoken to the media and been fired, publicly stated that the coincidence between the accident and the dispute was very unfortunate and that reports about pilot error being involved in the crash were speculation, although this conclusion was later established to be the probable cause of the accident.
The Saab 340 is widely used in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere as a commuter plane. Before the hull loss of Crossair Flight LX498, there had been only four crashes worldwide of the 400 Saab-340 plane types since 1984 and only two of those were hull losses. The two hull losses were a 1994 KLM Cityhopper crash that killed three in the Netherlands and a 1998 Formosa Airlines crash that killed 13 in Taiwan.
An examination of pilot Pavel Gruzin's body revealed traces of the drug Phenazepam (A benzodiazepine-class sedative) in his muscle tissue. Investigators also found an open packet of the Russian-made drug in baggage belonging to Gruzin.
According to the Investigation Report of the Swiss Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, the accident was attributable to the flight crew losing control of the aircraft for the following reasons:The flight crew reacted inappropriately when departure clearance was ordered by ATC.
The co-pilot made an entry without being instructed to do so by the commander, which related to the change to the SID ZUE 1 standard instrument departure. In doing so, he omitted to select a turn direction.
The commander dispensed with use of the autopilot under instrument flight conditions and during the work-intensive climb phase of the flight.
The commander took the aircraft into a spiral dive to the right because, with a probability bordering on certainty, he had lost spatial orientation.
The first officer took only inadequate measures to prevent or recover from the spiral dive.
According to this same Investigation Report, the following factors may have contributed to the accident:The commander remained unilaterally firm in perceptions which suggested a left turn direction to him.
When interpreting the attitude display instruments under stress, the commander resorted to a reaction pattern (heuristics) which he had learned earlier.
The commander's capacity for analysis and critical assessment of the situation were possibly limited as a result of the effects of the benzodiazepine drug Phenazepam found in his muscle tissue.
After the change to standard instrument departure SID ZUE 1Y the crew set inappropriate priorities for their tasks and their concentration remained one-sided.
The commander was not systematically acquainted by Crossair with the specific features of western systems and cockpit procedures.
The investigation did look at the possibility of electromagnetic interference and tested a similar aircraft using mobile phones. It concluded that there were "no indications that aircraft systems were negatively affected by electromagnetic interference (EMI)".