On July 26, 2002, about 0537 eastern daylight time, Federal Express flight 1478, a Boeing 727-232F, N497FE, struck trees on short final approach and crashed short of runway 9 at the Tallahassee Regional Airport (TLH), Tallahassee, Florida. The flight was operating under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 121 as a scheduled cargo flight from Memphis International Airport, in Memphis, Tennessee, to TLH. The captain, first officer, and flight engineer were seriously injured, and the airplane was destroyed by impact and resulting fire. Night visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, which operated on an instrument flight rules flight plan.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the accident was the captain's and first officer's failure to establish and maintain a proper glidepath during the night visual approach to landing. Contributing to the accident was a combination of the captain's and first officer's fatigue, the captain's and first officer's failure to adhere to company flight procedures, the captain's and flight engineer's failure to monitor the approach, and the first officer's color vision deficiency.
The safety issues in this report focus on flight crew performance, flight crew decision-making, pilot fatigue, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) certification of pilots with color vision deficiencies. Safety recommendations concerning these issues are addressed to the FAA.
As a result of the investigation of the FedEx flight 1478 accident, the National Transportation Safety Board makes the following recommendations to the Federal Aviation Administration:
Conduct research to determine the effectiveness of each of the current Federal Aviation Administration-approved color vision test protocols (including the color signal light test) at effectively screening out pilot applicants with color vision deficiencies that could impair their ability to perform color-related critical aviation tasks including (but not limited to) correct interpretation of glideslope information and in-cockpit displays that use color to convey information. The research should take into account the time typically available to perform each task, particularly under emergency conditions, and the potential effect of mild hypoxia (as might occur at typical cabin altitudes) on color vision deficiencies. (A-04-46)
Based on the results of the research requested in Safety Recommendation A-04-46, develop a standard battery of tests to be performed at least once on each applicant for a Class 1 or 2 medical certificate that would prevent applicants with color vision deficiencies that could impair their ability to perform color-related critical aviation tasks from being certificated without limitations. (A-04-47)