In their preliminary report into the Spanair crash that claimed 154 lives at Madrid-Barajas airport in August, investigators said last week that the plane’s wing flaps had been wrongly positioned, but a warning system failed to alert the pilots. They concluded that the wing flaps – which are designed to provide lift on take-off – appeared not to have been deployed. The MD-82 plane reached an altitude of just 12m on take-off, before crash-landing and bursting into flames as it careered off the runway. It is unclear why, but the error was compounded by the failure of the cockpit alert system, which should have sounded a warning to the pilots. The investigators, who studied voice and flight data recorders, found no evidence of prior engine problems, and concluded that the plane caught fire only after hitting the ground. The report does not apportion blame – and it stresses that the two Spanair pilots did carry out routine checks before take-off. A judge will now decide whether anyone can be held criminally responsible for western Europe’s worst air disaster in two decades.