A Boeing 737-800 attempts to land in windy weather in the small hours of the morning at Rostov-on-Don, Russia on a runway approach notorious for its windshear .
The crew fails to stabilise the aircraft on its first approach either because of windshear, or because it fails to make visual contact with the runway lights in time for a safe landing, and decides to climb away and circle, waiting for an improvement in the weather.
On its second attempt to approach the same runway – 22 – using a category 1 instrument landing system for guidance, it crashes short of the runway. There was no emergency call.
But this is no ordinary crash of the type that would have occurred if the crew – now under pressure to land because fuel is getting low – had made the decision to continue the descent through decision height, despite not being able to see the runway. If that had been true large sections of the aircraft would have remained intact.
This aircraft hit the ground about 300m short of the runway 22 threshold with such force it was shattered into tiny pieces which were scattered across the airfield. How could that happen?
Information from flight tracking service FlightRadar 24 suggests that the crew also abandoned this second approach, climbing away, but then disappearing.
On 17 November 2013 a Tatarstan Airlines Boeing 737-500, en route from Moscow to Kazan, abandoned a poorly executed night approach at its destination airport, applying full power for a go-around. The nose pitched up to 25deg and the speed rapidly dropped because of the steep climb. The crew, becoming disorientated, pushed the nose down hard, putting the aircraft into a dive at an angle of 75deg just before impact. The aircraft was shattered.
On 12 May 2010 an Afriquiyah Airways Airbus A330-200 carried out a go-around from the approach to Tripoli airport’s runway 09 at dawn, the crew lost control because of disorientation and the aircraft crashed. There was one survivor among the 104 on board.
There have been many documented cases of crews nearly losing control when carrying out an all-engines-operating go-around.
This does not pretend to be the definitive answer to what happened to Flydubai flight FZ981 on 19 March, but it does pose the question as to what kind of event could cause the wreckage to be so badly fragmented.