The Tragic Mistake the Pilots of the TransAsia Flight Made Shortly Before Crash

Days ago we learned of the crash of a TransAsia flight from Taipei to Kinmen which hit a bridge and landed in the water.

This was a horrible event, and it’s tough to shake the images we saw caught on a dashcam.

Since the aircraft and its recorders were recoverable, we already know much of what happened.

With the caveat that there are still unanswered questions, and a final report will ultimately likely explain even those, it appears that:

  • There was a malfunction with the aircraft’s right engine.
  • The pilots shut down the left engine.

So they were essentially operating without either engine. One presumes they intended to shut down the right engine, which was neither necessary nor desirable to do in any case.

Data from the ATR 72-600’s flight data recorder (FDR) and cockpit voice recorder (CVR) indicates that a right engine flameout warning sounded in the cockpit shortly after takeoff… data indicates that the engine didn’t actually flame out, but went into auto-feather mode, which means it was operating at a reduced level and not producing thrust.

For unexplained reasons, the pilots then set the left engine—which data indicates was not malfunctioning—“to fuel shutoff position resulting in left engine shutdown,” according to ASC. Investigators said they did not know why the flight deck crew shut off the left engine, which should have provided enough thrust to keep the ATR 72-600 flying even with the right engine experiencing problems.

The right engine shouldn’t have been shut down under basic procedures. Of course, there could be more information still to come out about this incident, and not yet revealed by voice and data recorders.

My thoughts remain with the 35 people who lost their lives in this crash, their families, and with the airline.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Gary,

    It’s a terrible accident but all signs point to another Asiana-like pilot skills screwup. You missed or omitted the part where TransAsia suspended 29 pilots for failing simulator checks (or refusing to fly in the simulator). Also unique here is the release of the black box data so early – normally investigators don’t release that sort of thing immediately but in this case they did it to get out ahead of the curve should it have leaked.

    Anyway, a truly terrible accident. I hope there’s not an ATR-72 design issue (controls are too difficult to understand?). But with almost 800 planes, I doubt it. I’m no pilot but I am absolutely certain that “engine failure” is something US pilots train for in the simulator all the time. I am sure if you asked Patrick Smith he’d do a Picard facepalm and say the profession let him down (and say it’s too early for speculation) – this should probably not have been the result.

  2. @bode i neither missed nor ‘omitted’ the simulator check issue, it’s beyond the scope of this particular crash and the specific decisions made. Related to safety, skills, etc of course. And no doubt lots of learning do be done. But it’s a separate issue although may point in the direction of explaining *why*.

  3. I’m a type rated pilot on an ATR, albeit a long time ago, and have been flying jets, turboprops, and piston since. If you are not a pilot, as neither of the above are, trust me you don’t know what you are talking about. Sorry… Actually not meant to put you down, you have a right to an opinion just like I have over brain surgery or anything, but its a fact., you don’t know what you are talking about. When bloggers think they can comment on piloting aircraft as experts… Sigh…never mind.

  4. Ummm not gonna pick it to pieces, because I don’t have the time or inclination, but briefly you stated it went into auto feather mode which is a reduced level, that is not an appropriate statement in accuracy. It would only auto feather in the event of a flameout or seizure I.e complete lack of thrust due to failure of the engine for those two (main) reasons. Also, not defending negligence or lack of performance in my profession (as you know most accident are indeed pilot error) but there has been many incidences of highly experienced, well trained crews shutting down the wrong engine. Whether this crew was highly trained is of course in question, but we don’t know that either. In the very unlikely event of an engine failure in a turbine powered transport category aircraft however shutting down the “good engine” shouldn’t happen and wouldn’t happen in the vast majority of cases. There are a lot of flights every second of the day and night and sometimes the stars align in the tragic direction I guess. Other inaccuracies also

  5. @Andy Both in your comments and in the percentage of Gary’s post that is either quoting or playing back the news report he cites, I think your issue is with the news report itself. I think Gary’s most profound original comment is that when one engine is good, you shouldn’t turn it off. Gary, my 7-year old, and I agree with this…but no, we are not a “well” trained crew who turn off the wrong engine.

  6. This is not limited to other parts of the world.

    Remember the Colgan Air operating as Continental from NYC to Buffalo? Onboard was a 9/11 survivor going to speak about her efforts.

    The young 20-something pilots had both flown in from Seattle overnight and slept in the pilots lounge for only 2-3 hours. Other pilots saw this and said nothing. They were paid nothing to relocate for two whole days to fly this flight.

    The pilot had failed simulator training repeatedly, as had the co-pilot. When apparent icing caused sluggish control, he climbed radically against all known procedure. When he lost control he became hysterical screaming “We’re going to crash!” so obviously had no ability to regain control even if he’d not failed simulator training repeatedly on these same methods.

    A completely unavoidable crash, after which we only hear passing rumours that changes were made, still see pimply faced kids flying the regional carriers. Can anyone say for sure what needed rules changes were made?

  7. Obviously mean “avoidable” sorry.

    Another recent experience I had with children flying CRJ was into SGF where I asked the pilot afterwards if this CRJ200 had had the fix where ice on cockpit floor was melting and running into electronic bay, causing flare up and fire. A NYT story the day before had detailed the fix. Pilot knew nothing about this and didn’t even know there was an electronics bay under his feet.

  8. @Andy Just because I’m not a pilot doesn’t mean I’ve not read thousands of NTSB reports. Releasing the data they did was not normal – they had a reason. I am happy to be proven wrong when the report is released – but I fully expect (and you do too) that this is another Asiana (pilot turned off wrong engine, maybe for a reason but probably not). I appreciate pilots don’t want other pilots to be wrong – not in their nature, no different than surgeons or anyone else. But this one will be written in black and white in the next year and we’ll simply know the answer. No sense is arguing now – we will have an answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *