Pilot error by the captain and first officer was the "probable cause" of the aborted takeoff and subsequent nose-gear collapse of US Airways Flight 1702 in March 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board said Thursday.
None of the 149 passengers and five crew headed to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., just before 6 p.m. March 13 was injured. All were evacuated on emergency slides at Philadelphia International Airport.
"The flight crew members exhibited a self-induced pressure to continue the takeoff, rather than taking the time to ensure the airplane was properly configured," the NTSB said in a final report.
"The captain initiated a rejected takeoff after the airplane's speed was beyond V1" - the plane's proper liftoff speed - "and the nose wheel was off the runway when he should have been committed to the takeoff," investigators said.
"The flight crew members' performance was indicative of poor crew resource management in that they failed to assess their situation when an error was discovered, to request a delayed takeoff, to communicate effectively, and to follow standard operating procedures."
US Airways removed the flight crew from flying status immediately after the incident. "This is standard practice when these events occur," said Ross Feinstein, spokesman for American Airlines, which merged with US Airways. "Neither pilot has returned to flying for the airline, and we are not going to comment further on their employment status as they are entitled to their privacy."
Feinstein said US Airways "thoroughly reviewed this incident" and as a result "made several changes to our procedures, manuals, and training programs to mitigate risk, while we also supported design changes to certain onboard systems. All of our flights operate today with the benefit of these."
The Airbus A320 was totaled in the incident, which was problem-plagued from the outset.
Before the plane pushed back from the gate, first officer Lynda Fleming mistakenly entered the wrong departure runway - 27R instead of 27L at Philadelphia airport - into the flight computer, investigators found.
As Capt. Dave Powell taxied onto Runway 27L for departure, he noticed that the wrong runway was entered and asked Fleming to correct the entry, which she did about 27 seconds before beginning takeoff.
But Fleming failed to reenter all the takeoff data, including FLEX temperature, to calibrate a new V1 speed, the investigation concluded.
As a result, the flight computer system did not have the proper temperature and takeoff speed for the new runway.
Runway length is one factor, along with a plane's weight and balance and the temperature, that flight computers use to calculate a plane's proper liftoff speed, known as V1.
Before reaching V1, a pilot can abort because there is enough runway to safely stop. After attaining V1, pilots must take off - except in catastrophic circumstances such as both engines blowing out - then alert the airport tower, and circle back to safely land.
"What did you do?" Powell was recorded as saying after a chime indicated that the throttle was "not set" when he thought it was. "You didn't load. We lost everything," he said, referring to V1.
Still, Powell proceeded with takeoff. The plane accelerated past 100 m.p.h., and performance and acceleration were "spot on," the captain told NTSB investigators.
But soon, a "retard, retard, retard" warning sounded in the cockpit. Powell said he had never heard that warning on takeoff, only on landing, and did not know what it meant.
"We'll get that straight when we get airborne," he told the copilot.
Once the wheels lifted off, Powell said, he "felt like the airplane was totally unsafe to fly" and not responding to his controls.
He told Fleming that they needed to get back on the ground or "the result was going to be 'catastrophic.' "
When Flight 1702 was aborted about 6:30 p.m., the plane hit the runway twice, striking the tail, and then the nose gear collapsed. Pilots and passengers smelled smoke. The tower confirmed that smoke was coming from the left engine.
After passengers were evacuated, some waited nearly 45 minutes in the cold for buses to take them to the terminal.
It was the fourth flight that day for Powell, 61, and the third for Fleming, 62. Both were experienced pilots, based in Charlotte, N.C. Neither had a previous aviation accident.
On the day of the incident, Powell left his home in Fort Lauderdale at 5:15 a.m., and hopped a 6:39 a.m. flight to Charlotte, where he joined Fleming. They flew as pilots on flights to Tampa and then to Philadelphia.