The Story Of Southwest Flight 1455’s Runway Overrun

22 years ago this month, a 15-year-old Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-300 with the registration number N668SW overran the runway coming to rest on a city street adjacent to a gas station. Delayed more than two hours due to bad weather, Southwest Airlines flight 1455 was a regularly scheduled flight between McCarran International Airport (LAS) and Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport (BUR) Burbank, California.

At 6:04 PM PST, the aircraft was 19 miles north of BUR’s outer marker when Air Traffic Control (ATC) instructed the pilot to maintain an airspeed of 230 knots or greater until being told otherwise. Some moments later the controller told the captain that he placed flight 1455 into final approach between two other aircraft. The captain of the flight, 52-year-old Howard Peterson, acknowledged the instructions and continued his approach.


The pilot never reduced the planes speed

Seconds later, first officer Jeffrey D. Erwin informed the captain that the target airspeed for landing would be 138 knots as laid out in Southwest’s Flight Operations Manual (FOM). The captain then told the first officer that the ATC controller had requested they maintain an airspeed of 239 knots or greater until told otherwise.

At 6:05 PM, flight 1455 was cleared by ATC to descend to 3,000 feet. At 18:07, ATC then cleared flight 1455 to make a visual approach on runway 8 with instructions to remain at 3,000 feet until they passed the Van Nuys VOR beacon. The Van Nuys VHF Omni Directional Radio Range beacon is located around six miles from runway 8. Radar tracking the flight shows that flight 1455 began its descent about four miles away from the runway. According to standard operating procedures, all previous speed assignments are canceled once an approach is cleared. However, the ATC controller did not verbally tell the captain that he could reduce the aircraft’s speed.

The captain failed to follow procedures

Southwest Airlines procedures dictate that the pilot not flying the aircraft make altitude call-outs at 1000, 500, 400, 300, 200, 100, 50, 30, and 10 feet. Additionally, call-outs are required if specific parameters are not met. In the case of flight 1455, this would be airspeed and sink rate. One minute and 30 seconds after having been permitted land and at an altitude of 3,000 feet, the captain slowed the aircraft down by deploying the flaps.

Southwest Airlines operates a fleet of 735 Boeing 737s. Photo: Aero Icarus via Wikipedia Commons

At 18:10, the ground proximity warning system (GPWS) began to sound a warning in the cockpit as the aircraft approached the runway at a 7-degree angle. The regular angle rate for approaching aircraft was 3 or 4 degrees. The captain responded to the GPWS warnings by saying, “that’s all right.” When the aircraft touched down on the wet runway, it was traveling at speed over what would be considered normal and 2,150 feet by the runway threshold.

The aircraft touched down well beyond the runway threshold

The Southwest Airlines FOM stipulates that 1,000 to 1,500 feet beyond the threshold is where the plane should touch down. Now firmly on the ground, the captain deployed the thrust reversers while he and the first officer hit the brakes. Despite their best efforts, the aircraft overran the runway, careering through a metal perimeter fence before coming to rest on a four-lane city street next to a Chevron gas station.

Southwest has to scrap the aircraft. Photo: NTSB

Of the 142 passengers and crew aboard the flight, only two suffered severe non-life-threatening injuries. However, the aircraft was not so lucky with the nose section and front landing gear sheared off. Further inspections later revealed that the plane had sustained structural damage and was scrapped.

When interviewed about the runway overrun, the captain said that at 500 feet, he knew he was not in the right place to land at the desired spot. Should this be the case, whoever is flying, the plane should abort the landing and perform a go-around. Moments after the accident, the cockpit voice recorder captures the captain saying, “Well, there goes my career.”

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