TACA Flight 390: More than 15 years later in Toncontín

On May 30, 2008, TACA Flight 390, an apparently routine passenger flight from San Salvador, El Salvador, to Miami, Florida, with stops in Honduras, took a tragic turn in Toncontín.

An Airbus A320, carrying 124 passengers and crew, overshot the runway at its stopover in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and crashed into a nearby street and embankment.

While not a complete disaster, this incident resulted in the loss of five lives and highlighted the dangers of challenging airport approaches.

A difficult landing in Toncontín

TACA Flight 390: More than 15 years later in Toncontín
André Du-pont (Mexico Air Spotters) (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 licenses/fdl-1.2.html), via Wikimedia Commons

TACA Flight 390 departed San Salvador without incident and continued to its first Honduran stop, Toncontín International Airport in Tegucigalpa.

However, Toncontín has a reputation for being a difficult airport to land at.

Located in a mountainous area, the runway is relatively short (about 6,900 feet) and has a significant slope.

Additionally, the approach path takes pilots over mountainous terrain, leaving little room for error.

The weather conditions on the day of the accident also did not help.

The remnants of Tropical Storm Alma had brought rain and wind to the area, further complicating the landing.

Despite these challenges, the pilots of TACA Flight 390 attempted to land on runway 02 in Toncontín.

The landing itself initially seemed to go according to plan.

The plane landed and the pilots deployed the thrust reversers and activated the spoilers to slow down.

However, the aircraft continued to fly over the runway at high speed.

With only a limited runway left, the pilots were unable to stop the plane before it reached the end.

Crash and aftermath

TACA Flight 390: More than 15 years later in Toncontín
Radoslaw Idaszak (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 ), via Wikimedia Commons

TACA Flight 390 overshot the runway embankment at a speed of approximately 54 knots (62 mph).

The plane then plunged down a 65-foot embankment and collided with a nearby street, hitting several vehicles.

The impact caused significant damage to the aircraft and resulted in a chaotic scene on the ground.

The ambulance crew quickly arrived on the scene and a rescue operation was started.

Fortunately, the majority of passengers and crew on board survived the crash.

However, the incident resulted in the tragic loss of three people on board the aircraft.

In addition, two people on the ground were killed when their vehicles were struck by the aircraft.

Investigation and cause

Konstantin von Wedelstaedt (GFDL 1.2 or GFDL 1.2 html), via Wikimedia Commons

In the aftermath of the crash of TACA Flight 390, an investigation was quickly launched by El Salvador’s Civil Aviation Authority.

The research focused on a number of key factors, including:

  • Pilot error: Investigators examined the pilots’ actions during the landing and determined that they may not have adequately taken into account the challenging conditions at Toncontín. High speed landings and failure to initiate a go-around when necessary were cited as possible contributing factors.
  • Weather conditions: The presence of rain and wind due to Tropical Storm Alma was also taken into account. Although not the main cause, the weather may have further complicated the landing.
  • Airport Restrictions: The limitations of Toncontín International Airport, particularly its short runway and challenging approach, were also highlighted by the study.

The final report concluded that the crash of TACA Flight 390 was the result of pilot error combined with the challenging landing conditions at Toncontín Airport.

Legacy of TACA Flight 390

The TACA Flight 390 incident was a stark reminder of the dangers of difficult airport approaches.

In the aftermath of the crash, there were calls for improved safety measures in Toncontín, including possible extensions of the runway or even the construction of a new airport in a more suitable location.

While Toncontín remains operational, the incident led to increased scrutiny of airports with challenging layouts and approaches.

Airlines and pilots are now required to undergo additional training for landings at such airports, and improved landing procedures have been implemented to minimize the risk of similar accidents.

The story of TACA Flight 390 serves as a tragic reminder of the importance of aviation safety.

It emphasizes the need for continuous improvement in pilot training, aircraft maintenance and airport infrastructure to ensure the safety of passengers and crew.

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