In Summary
  • According to the investigators, the crew failed to apply the TOGA (take-off/go around switch) thrust, as recommended by the flight crew operating manual. 
  • Had they activated this, they would have pulled in full power from the engines to ensure maximum thrust from the engines. 
  • Investigators attributed the crash to pilot error.

On Sunday, January 30, 2000, Kenya Airways Flight 431, an Airbus 310-304 registered 5Y−BEN and tagged "The Harambee Star", was undertaking a scheduled international flight KQ431 from Abidjan to Nairobi via Lagos.

The flight took off from Abidjan en-route to Lagos. Hours later, and after holding for about 30 minutes over Lagos airspace, the plane was unable to make a landing because of haze and poor visibility, caused by the ''harmattan'', a seasonal wind from the deserts of North Africa.

The 14-year-old plane landed at Félix Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in Abidjan at 3.15pm.

The relief crew, which had arrived two days previously on flight KQ 430 on Friday, January 28 at 3.44pm, took over on board 5Y-BEN, to undertake flight KQ 431 from Abidjan to Nairobi via Lagos.

The new 10-person crew and the aircraft took on several passengers bound for Nairobi via Lagos, putting the total on board at 169 passengers. The departure was scheduled for 9pm on a clear moon sky, in accordance with the initial programme. At exactly 20:55:22, the crew established contact with Abidjan Airport control tower and asked for start-up clearance. This was granted.

According to the audio transcript of the pilot communication provided through the accident report prepared for the Ivory Coast National Civil Aviation Agency (ANAC), at 21:01:07, the crew of 5Y-BEN asked for clearance to taxi. The tower controller put them on standby. A few seconds later, he cleared them to taxi.

The airplane began to taxi at 21:07:35 as the tower controller informed the crew of the latest wind, cleared them to take off and asked the crew to call back when they reached flight level 40.

At 21:07:45, the co-pilot read back the clearance. This was the last communication between the crew and the control tower.

At 21:08:50, the audio recording captured the pilot announcing "V1 and Rotate (4)", then two seconds later "Positive". The airplane took off. It would only be airborne for a minute and 34 seconds before it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, some 2.7 kilometres off the runway, killing all but 10 passengers. This would be the first KQ crash to record fatalities.

According to the accident report, out of its 179 passengers, 146 bodies were recovered and 23 were never found. Twelve survivors, who were all passengers, were found on the night of the accident. Unfortunately, two later succumbed.

Despite the Ivory Coast emergency teams, including the French military, scrambling search and rescue teams in the dead of the night, the crash site was located at exactly midnight, when “one of the pleasure boats signalled a strong odour of kerosene in the east of the extended runway centre line area.” The rescue ships then manoeuvred in that direction.

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