Recordings document response to Spanair crash

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Audio and video recordings document the initial response to August’s crash at Madrid’s Barajas airport.

19 September 2008

MADRID -- Video and audio recordings obtained by El Pais document the confusion of air traffic controllers and emergency response coordinators at Madrid's Barajas airport in the minutes after the crash of Spanair flight JK5022 on 20 August 2008 in which 154 people died.

The first person to raise alarm was a female air traffic controller, two minutes after the MD-82 plane veered off the end of the runway and exploded, killing all but 19 of the passengers and crew. In one recording, she is heard talking with the Barajas airport operations centre, still uncertain about what has actually occurred or the incident's precise location.

"There has been an accident at the head of runway emm... 33 left, sorry, 36...," she says.

"A plane?" asks the person on the other end of the line.

"We think so."

"36 left?"

"Yes because we can see the fire and the smoke. We can't see anything else," says the air traffic controller.

The operations centre official asks for a camera to be turned on to the reported location of the incident. "Fire and smoke, Christ!" she exclaims.

In another call between the control tower and the operations centre, one of the speakers says: "The firemen say that there are survivors, that there are people walking around in the fire."

The audio and video recordings, available on the El Pais website at, detail the first stages of the response to the crash.

The operations centre official then alerted the airport fire department, which in turn called for help from the Madrid fire department. That alert was issued four minutes after the crash, according to aviation authority records.

The emergence of the recordings comes just days after a preliminary report into causes of the crash by civil aviation investigators was leaked to the media, triggering the resignation of one member of the investigating committee and potentially delaying the formal publication of the findings.

The draft report stated that an alarm had failed to warn the pilot that the aircraft's flaps were not extended.

[El Pais / Francisco Mercado / Expatica]

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