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Dallas, Aug. 23 – The captain of an American Airlines jet that crashed inColombialast December entered an incorrect one-letter computer command that sent the plane into a mountain, the airline said today.
The crash killed all but four of the 163 people aboard.
American’s investigators concluded that the captain of the Boeing 757 apparently thought he had entered the coordinates for the intended destination,Cali.
But on most South American aeronautical charts, the one-letter code forCaliis the same as the one forBogota, 132 miles in the opposite direction.
The coordinates forBogotadirected the plane toward the mountain, according to a letter by Cecil Ewell,America’s chief pilot and vice president for flight. The codes forBogotaandCaliare different in most computer databases, Ewell said.
American spokesman John Hotard confirmed that Ewell’s letter, first reported in the Dallas Morning News, is being delivered this week to all of the airline’s pilots to warn them of the coding problem.
American’s discovery also prompted the Federal Aviation Administration to issue a bulletin to all airlines, warning them of inconsistencies between some computer databases and aeronautical charts, the newspaper said.
The computer error is not the final word on what caused the crash. The Colombian government is investigating and is expected to release its findings by October.
Pat Cariseo, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said Colombian investigators also are examining factors such as flight crew training and air traffic control.
The computer mistake was found by investigators for American when they compared data from the jet’s navigation computer with information from the wreckage, Ewell said.
The data showed the mistake went undetected for 66 seconds while the crew scrambled to follow and air traffic controller’s orders to take a more direct approach to theCaliairport.
Three minutes later, while the plane still as descending and the crew trying to figure out why the plane had turned, it crashed.
Ewell said the crash presented two important lessons for pilots.

                “First of all, no matter how many times you go toSouth Americaor any other place-The Rocky Mountains- you can never, never, never assume anything.” He told the newspaper. Second, he said, pilots must understand they can’t let automation take over responsibility for flying the airplane.

1. Is this article evidence that we have a software crisis? How is aviation better off because of software engineering? What issues should be addresses during software development so that problems like this will be prevented in the future?

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