- Associated Press - Sunday, April 3, 2011

UPS Inc. is re-examining safety in its planes after the Dubai government’s civil aviation authority released a report Sunday on the crash of a UPS Boeing 747 last year.

The cargo that caught fire and crashed the plane near the Dubai airport on Sept. 3 included lithium batteries that should have been declared as hazardous cargo, but weren’t, the accident report said.

The report also paints a harrowing picture of two pilots struggling desperately to navigate their plane to an emergency landing while running low on oxygen and fighting smoke so thick they couldn’t see their flight instruments or change radio frequencies. Both pilots were killed.

The report, which doesn’t identify the cause of the fire, is expected to raise questions about shipments of the batteries. The batteries can short-circuit and cause fires that burn hot enough to melt an airplane.

UPS spokesman Mike Mangeot said the company is evaluating about 40 safety technologies in response to the accident, including some that would help protect pilots’ ability to see in smoke.

He said the company is also re-evaluating cockpit emergency oxygen systems on their planes.

The UPS plane arrived in Dubai from Hong Kong with cargo identified as “lithium batteries and electronic equipment containing or packed with lithium batteries,” which were distributed throughout the cargo compartments, the report said.

No hazardous cargo declarations were on the flight’s manifest, but at least three of the shipments contained rechargeable lithium battery packs that should have been treated as hazardous cargo under international shipping regulations, the report said.

Twenty-one minutes into the flight from Dubai to Germany, as the plane was approaching 32,000 feet, a fire alarm sounded. Captain Doug Lampe radioed Bahrain air traffic control that there was a fire on the plane’s main deck, which is the same as a passenger cabin on an airliner. He said the plane needed to land as soon as possible.

Even though Doha International Airport was closer, Mr. Lampe requested to return to Dubai — a decision that isn’t explained in the report. Three minutes after the first alarm, more alarms began to sound.

The pilots donned oxygen masks and goggles, which interfered with their ability to talk to each other. About five minutes after first alarm, Mr. Lampe reported that the cockpit was “full of smoke.” He told co-pilot Matthew Bell that he was having difficulty seeing his instruments.

About two minutes later, Mr. Lampe “declared a lack of oxygen supply,” turned control of the flight over to Mr. Bell and left his seat, presumably to find portable oxygen canisters, the report said. There is no indication on either the cockpit voice recorder or the flight data recorder that he ever returned, it said.