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Trojan-ridden warning system implicated in Spanair crash

Cascading fail

Malware may have been a contributory cause of a fatal Spanair crash that killed 154 people two years ago.

Spanair flight number JK 5022 crashed with 172 on board moments after taking off from Madrid's Barajas Airport on a scheduled flight to Las Palmas on 20 August 2008. Just 18 survived the crash and subsequent fire aboard the McDonnell Douglas MD-82 aircraft.

The airline's central computer which registered technical problems on planes was infected by Trojans at the time of the fatal crash and this resulted in a failure to raise an alarm over multiple problems with the plane, according to Spanish daily El Pais (report here). The plane took off with flaps and slats retracted, something that should in any case have been picked up by the pilots during pre-flight checks or triggered an internal warning on the plane. Neither happened, with tragic consequences, according to a report by independent crash investigators.

The accident on take-off happened after pilots had abandoned an earlier take-off attempt and a day after two other reported problems on board. If the airlines' central computer was working properly a take-off after three warnings would not have been allowed, thereby averting the tragedy.

A mechanic who checked the plane before take-off and an airport maintenance chief are under investigation and face possible manslaughter charges. Investigating judge Juan David Perez has ordered Spanair to supply data on the state of its systems at the time of the crash. An investigation commission is due to report on the case by December. ®

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