DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Pilots aboard a UPS cargo plane faced radio problems and smoke in the cockpit as they struggled to maintain altitude before crashing into the desert outside Dubai last week, investigators said Sunday.
What exactly caused Friday's crash remains under investigation. The UAE's General Civil Aviation Authority said in a preliminary report that the Boeing 747-400's two-man crew was trying to return to Dubai's main airport — the Mideast's busiest — when the plane went down. Both crew members, including the pilot from Louisville, were killed.
UPS, the Atlanta-based company formally known as United Parcel Service Inc., has identified the crew members as Capt. Doug Lampe, 48, of Louisville, and First Officer Matthew Bell, 38, of Sanford, Fla. Lampe had been with UPS since 1995. Bell had been with the company since 2006. Both flew out of UPS's Anchorage, Alaska, pilot base.
A little more than 20 minutes into the flight, air traffic controllers in Dubai received word from officials in the nearby Gulf nation of Bahrain that the plane was on its way back after reporting smoke in the cockpit. The jet was "unable to maintain altitude," the report said.
Crew members were unable to speak directly with air traffic controllers in Dubai as they tried to land, however, because the pilot had switched his radio to a different frequency and for some reason couldn't switch it back, said Saif al-Suwaidi, director-general of UAE's aviation authority
The plane came in "too high and too fast," al-Suwaidi said. It passed over the airport before making a right turn toward the desert, then rapidly lost altitude and disappeared from the radar.
Al-Suwaidi also said it was unclear why the plane turned back toward Dubai rather than heading toward an airport in Bahrain, which was responsible for the plane's flight path when crew reported smoke in the cockpit.
The plane's cockpit voice recorder was recovered about six hours after the crash
Al-Suwaidi ruled out terrorism or other foul play as possible causes.
A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board team is scheduled to help with the investigation.