B-2610, the aircraft involved, in CAAC livery in 1988
|Date||June 6, 1994|
|Summary||Mechanical failure due to improper maintenance|
|Site||Near Xi'an, China |
|Aircraft type||Tupolev Tu-154M|
|Operator||China Northwest Airlines|
|IATA flight No.||WH2303|
|ICAO flight No.||CNW2303|
|Call sign||CHINA NORTHWEST 2303|
|Flight origin||Xianyang Airport (XIY/ZLXY), China|
|Destination||Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport (former) (CAN/ZGGG), China|
China Northwest Airlines Flight 2303 was a domestic flight from Xi'an to Guangzhou, People's Republic of China. On June 6, 1994, this aircraft, a Tupolev Tu-154M, broke up in-flight and crashed as a result of an autopilot malfunction which caused violent shaking and overstressed the airframe. All 160 people on board were killed. Faulty maintenance was believed to be the cause. As of 2019, it remains the deadliest airplane crash ever to occur in mainland China.
The aircraft was a Tupolev Tu-154M (registration B-2610, factory 86A740, serial no. 0740) was released by the Kuibyshev Aviation Plant (KuAPO) on December 22, 1986, and was immediately transferred to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). On July 1, 1988, due to reorganization, CAAC transferred the aircraft to China Northwest Airlines. The aircraft was powered with three turbojet Soloviev D-30KU-154-II engines from the Rybinsk Engine Plant. On the day of the accident, the aircraft had 12,507 flying hours and 6,651 takeoff and landing cycles.
The flight crew members were captain Li Gangqiang, faculty captain Xin Tiancai, first officer Yang Min, pilot Zhang Nanjing, and flight engineer Kang Youfa. There were also nine flight attendants on board.
Among the passengers, 133 were from mainland China, four were from Italy, three were from Hong Kong, two from the United States (Mark Woodrum of West Virginia and Mark Stole of Michigan), one from Taiwan, two from Indonesia, one from Singapore, one from Malaysia, three from France, one from Canada, three from South Korea, one from Vietnam, and five were from Russia.
The aircraft took off from Xi'an Xianyang International Airport at 8:13 on June 6, 1994. At that time, weather in Xi'an was raining, but it did not delay the flight. After the aircraft left the ground for 24 seconds, the crew reported that the aircraft was "floating" and had an abnormal sound, but still maintained at a speed of 400 kilometres per hour (250 mph) with the rated horsepower. Three minutes after take-off, the plane flew over Xi'an City and turned southeast. After that, the aircraft reported the wind at 20 and 30 degrees at 8:16:24 and 8:16:58, respectively. At 8:17:06, the aircraft unable to maintain its assigned attitude. At that point the aircraft was above Mingyu Township, Cheng'an County, Hebei Province. The crew then engaged the autopilot which unexpectedly caused the aircraft to turn right. At 8:22:27, the stall warning went off, with the aircraft travelling at 373 kilometres per hour (232 mph). The aircraft then banked dangerously to the left. The aircraft dropped from 4,717 metres (15,476 ft) feet to 2,884 metres (9,462 ft) in 12 seconds at a speed of 747 kilometres per hour (464 mph). At 8:22:42, the aircraft disintegrated in mid-air above the suburb of Tsuitou Village, Mingyu Township. All 146 passengers and 14 crew died.
Wreckage landed to the southeast of the airport, scattered over 18 miles (29 km) of farmland. The bodies of the victims were all found at 21:00, most of them having been killed on impact.
Flawed maintenance of the aircraft was the probable cause of the sequence of events. The previous evening, the autopilot yaw-channel had been erroneously connected to the bank control, and the bank-channel to the yaw controls while undergoing maintenance at an unapproved facility.
This and the crash of China Southwest Airlines Flight 4509 in 1999, both resulted in China's decision to retire the Tupolev Tu-154. All Tu-154's in China were removed from service on October 30, 2002. In 2003 China Northwest airlines merged into China Eastern Airlines. The flight number 2303 used by the accident flight is still in use, now by China Eastern Airlines, for their Xian-Guangzhou flight.