Fire aboard doomed UPS plane started in cargo area

Crew reported smoke in the cockpit shortly after flight took off.

DUBAI // The investigation into the UPS plane crash in Dubai is focusing on the aircraft's cargo area, where a fire started that created so much smoke that the pilots could not see their instruments. The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) yesterday released new information retrieved from the plane's black boxes, indicating there was smoke or fire on the main deck and "lower aft cargo compartment", towards the back of the aircraft.
Saif al Suwaidi, the director-general of the GCAA, had previously said the plane was transporting cargo including children's toys and computer items. Mr al Suwaidi confirmed yesterday that a fire started in the plane's cargo area, but said it was still too early to determine its exact cause. "The fire started in the cargo compartment, which gives us an indication that maybe the fire came from the cargo or a part of the plane near that area," he said. "Of course if it came from the cargo, we have to determine which cargo started this fire."
He stressed that investigators were still not certain that a fire caused the plane to crash. "This will be a really long process, but the sooner we get answers, the sooner we'll be able to prevent something similar from happening again," Mr al Suwaidi said. Information released by the GCAA indicated that the two crew on board, Capt Doug Lampe and First Officer Matthew Bell, reported smoke in the cockpit 28 minutes after taking off from Dubai International Airport en route to Germany on September 3.
As the Boeing 747-400 was approaching the "top of its climb" at around 7.12 pm, an alarm, known as the Main Deck Fire Warning, went off. The two pilots were in contact with Bahraini air traffic controllers, who indicated they could land at Doha. The pilots, however, chose to return to Dubai and maintained communication through Bahraini air traffic control. UPS Flight 6 was unable to change radio frequency after entering Bahraini airspace, making it impossible to communicate directly with Dubai air traffic control.
Information from the two flight data recorders, which had been sent to the US for analysis, showed the pilots had difficulty seeing the flight instruments because of thick smoke in the cockpit during their descent. The pilots attempted to land at Dubai International Airport, but the aircraft overflew the runway at around 4,000ft, then turned right. Five minutes later, emergency services were alerted when the plane crashed inside Nad Al Sheba Military Base, close to the junction of Emirates Road and the Al Ain highway.
The GCAA said yesterday the information contained in both the voice and data recording devices was still being analysed. The GCAA expects it will take several months before investigators will be able to determine the cause of the crash, which killed both Capt Lampe and First Officer Bell.