By Ben Harding

PALMA
ONE engine on a Spanair plane that crashed in Madrid last week killing 154 people may have had a fault that rammed it into reverse, causing the plane to veer off the runway, Spanish newspapers reported yesterday.

Spanair flight JK5022, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, crashed into a ravine at the side of the runway moments after takeoff last Wednesday.
Only 18 people survived the crash, Spain's worst in 25 years.

Newspapers quoted sources involved in the accident investigation as saying they had found that a flap inside the left engine, designed to reverse thrust to help brake after landing, was in the engaged position at the time of the crash.

Air crash investigators were unavailable for comment on the reports as was engine-maker Pratt and Whitney, while Spanair, owned by Scandinavia's SAS airline, declined to comment.

El Pais quoted sources at Spanair as saying mechanics had detected the fault in the engine three days before the crash.

However, instead of repairing the fault, mechanics used wire to block the sheet which directs the air flow until the problem could be definitively fixed at a later date, other papers reported, citing sources inside the investigation. This was in line with Spanish air safety regulations, the newspapers said.

In 1991, a malfunctioning thrust reverser was blamed for the crash of a Lauda Air Boeing 767 in Thailand which killed all 223 on board.

The same problem was cited for the downing of a TAM Airlines Fokker 100 in Sao Paulo in 1996, which killed 98.

The Spanair plane, bound for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, was originally due to take off at 1 p.m.
But after moving away from the terminal and approaching the runway it returned because of a problem with a temperature gauge.

Witnesses to the crash said they saw the left engine on fire.
Other lines of investigation into the disaster include the possibility that a gust of wind blew the 15-year-old plane off course or that there was a sudden loss of speed as it was about to take off.

The in-flight black box recorders have been sent to London for analysis and American investigators are also involved, but the pilots union SEPLA has said an explanation for the crash will probably not be found for three months.

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