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Down with a Crash

The three most useless things to a pilot are the altitude above you, the runway behind you and a tenth of a second ago.

"Ma, I love yah."

- last recorded words from PSA 182, after a fatal mid-air with a Cessna over San Diego, 25 September 1978.
The unidentified voice was one of the pilots, the flight engineer, or a company pilot riding the jumpseat.

Excerpts from the Online Crash Database

Date: 31 October 1999
Location: Nantucket Island, Massachusetts
Airline: EgyptAir
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300ER
Registration: SU-GAP
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 217/217
Details: The plane took off from JFK at 1:19am bound for Cairo, Egypt.  Thirty-three minutes later, after attaining an altitude of 33,000 feet, it was observed on radar in an extremely rapid descent and crashed seconds later into the Atlantic Ocean, 60 miles southeast of Nantucket Island.  The aircraft was named Thutmosis III.  There are strong indications one of the co-pilots committed suicide.

Date: 22 August 1999
Location: Hong Kong, China
Airline: China Airlines
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas MD-11
Registration: B-150
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 3/315
Details: While making a landing in strong winds and rain the pilot-in-command disconnected the autopilot but left the autothrottle engaged.  The aircraft, with a weight close to the maximum landing weight permitted, stabilised slightly low on the glideslope.  An attempt was made to flare but the aircraft landed hard on its right landing gear and the #3 engine touched the runway.  The right main landing gear and right wing separated.  The MD-11 then inverted and skidded off the runway in flames.

"Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for choosing to fly with Mandarin Airlines.  As we taxi out, please make yourselves comfortable.
For those of you sitting on the right side of the plane, please ignore our other... um ... airliner.  Please enjoy your flight..."

Date: 23 July 1999
Location: Tokyo, Japan
Airline: All Nippon Airways
Aircraft: Boeing 747-400
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 1/517
Details: Two minutes after taking off Haneda Airport, a man carrying a knife forced a flight attendant to take him in the cockpit of the plane.  A fan of computer flight-simulation games, he stated he just wanted to fly a real plane.  After forcing the co-pilot out of the cockpit he ordered the captain to fly to a US Air Force base in western Tokyo.  When he refused, he stabbed the captain and seized the controls.  After a sudden drop in altitude, the co-pilot and an off duty crew member entered the cockpit and overpowered the hijacker.  The plane landed safely but the captain died.

I wanted to soar through the air.

- Yuji Nishizawa after hijacking All Nippon Airways flight 61
and stabbing the Captain to death in order to try and fly the B-747 himself

Date: 01 June 1999
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas
Airline: American Airlines
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas Super MD-80 (MD-82)
Registration: N215AA
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 11:145
Details: The plane was on a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas.  While attemping to land at Little Rock Airport, the flight encountered heavy thunderstorms, rain and strong winds.  The aircraft landed fast and hard, skidded off the end of the runway and struck a landing light tower, breaking into three parts and bursting into flames.

Pilots' Error Blamed in Fatal Plane Crash

Washington - The pilots' decision to land in a severe thunderstorm and their failure to set wing panels that would have helped slow the plane on the slick Little Rock, Arkansas runway caused a fatal airplane crash in 1999, a federal agency said yesterday.

The National Transportation Safety Board said the pilots' actions aboard American Airlines Flight 1420 were not up to their usual standards and blamed the accident on their 14-hour workday and the stress they faced trying to land the plane in severe weather.  The plane, heading from Dallas to Little Rock, crashed after overrunning the runway, killing 11 people, including the pilot.  Another 105 people were hurt.

The pilots decided to try to land in the thunderstorm, though they could have either waited out the severe weather, since they had enough fuel, or flown to another airport, the NTSB found.

Source: The Star-Ledger Wednesday 24 October 2001

Date: 16 February 1998
Location: Taipei, Taiwan
Airline: China Airlines
Aircraft: Airbus A300-600R
Registration: B-1814
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 196/196 +7
Details: The aircraft was attempting to land at Taipei's international airport in rain and fog when the crew requested a go-around.  The plane crashed into a residential neighborhood, ripping the roofs off several structures, skidding into a rice paddy and bursting in flames.  DFDR data showed complete autopilot disengagement just after landing clearance.  This was followed by an attempted manually flown go-around with falling airspeed and a pitch-up of 40 degrees followed by a gain of 1,000 feet in altitude, total stall and a dive resulting in impact with the ground.

Date: 19 December 1997
Location: Palembang, Indonesia
Airline: SilkAir
Aircraft: Boeing 737-300
Registration: 9V-TRF
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 104/104
Details: The aircraft was on a flight from Jakarta to Singapore.  The plane disappeared off radar screens and shortly after, crashed into the Musi River.  The plane, almost brand-new, cruising in good weather and with an experienced crew suddenly left normal flight from 35,000 feet and crashed at a high rate of speed into the Sumatran jungle.  The right wing and parts of the rudder separated from the aircraft before it crashed.  The Indonesian National Transportation Committee found that there was insufficient evidence to find a cause for the accident.  The US National Transportation Safety Board strongly disagreed and stated the jet's cockpit voice recorder was intentionally disconnected and its flight controls placed in a nose-down position most likely by the captain.  While the US NTSB stopped short of using the term suicide, its dissenting report made it clear it believed the crash was the result of actions by the captain.

No Evidence Pilot Crashed SilkAir Plane - Lawyers

Singapore - A Singapore court hearing into an unexplained 1997 crash of a SilkAir plane resumed yesterday with the airline's lawyers maintaining there was no evidence to show that the pilot crashed the plane either intentionally or as a result of recklessness.

Two New Zealanders, Duncan Ward, 23, the jet's co-pilot and Kenneth Wilson, 43, a passenger, were among the 104 who died in the crash.

Families of six of the victims are suing the regional carrier for damages over the crash of Flight MI 185, which plunged into the Musi River on the Indonesian island of Sumatra en route from Jakarta to Singapore on 19 December 1997.  The case was adjourned on 18 July so that both sides could prepare final written submissions.  SilkAir's lawyer Lok Vi Ming told Supreme Court Justice Tan Lee Meng that the plaintiffs had not been able to prove the pilot or co-pilot had intended to commit suicide or had been reckless with the Boeing 737-300 knowing that it would cause damage.  "The plaintiffs have not proved ... any factual evidence that would entitle either of these contentions to be maintained," Lok said.  Lok said legal actions brought by some of the plaintiffs against Boeing and other aircraft parts manufacturers in the United States were "alternative contradictory allegations" to their case in Singapore.

The plaintiffs' lawyer Michael Khoo painted a picture during an earlier hearing of an aircraft that was deliberately put into a nosedive by the pilot, Captain Tsu Way Ming.  Air traffic controllers did not receive a distress call and investigators found that the plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder had stopped recording minutes before the plane went down - prompting rumours of pilot suicide.

Indonesia's National Transportation Safety Committee said in its official crash report in December the highly fragmented wreckage "yielded no evidence to explain the cause of the accident".  The plaintiffs are seeking a higher level of compensation from SilkAir, a regional carrier belonging to Singapore Airlines.  Most families of the crash victims have already accepted compensation from SilkAir amounting to $US200,000 ($462,000) per victim which bars them from further legal action.

Source: from Reuters September 2001; photo is of co-pilot New Zealander Duncan Ward, who died in the crash

Date: 7 November 1996
Location: Lagos, Nigeria
Airline: Aviation Development Corporation
Aircraft: Boeing 727-200
Registration: 5N-BBF
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 143/143
Details: The plane crashed mid-way along its scheduled 50 minute route.  The aircraft went into a roll and lost control after taking evasive action to avoid another aircraft.  The plane was flying almost at the speed of sound when it crashed and disintegrated.  ATC error.

Date: 2 October 1996
Location: Pasamayo, Peru
Airline: Aeroperu
Aircraft: Boeing 757-200
Registration: N52AW
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 70/70
Details: The aircraft crashed into the ocean 28 minutes after taking off from Lima, Peru.  Pieces of adhesive tape were found covering the static ports, placed there by personnel during aircraft maintenance and cleaning, causing the malfunction of the airspeed indicators and altimeters.  The crew was not able to correctly determine their altitude and airspeed and with no ground reference over water and at night, crashed into the ocean.  An employee did not remove the adhesive tape from the static ports, nor was it detected by any number of people, including the captain, during the preflight inspection.  A maintenance worker was tried and convicted of negligent homicide for failing to remove the adhesive tape and received 2 years in jail.

Date: 6 July 1996
Location: Pensacola, Florida
Airline: Delta Air Lines
Aircraft: McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (MD-88)
Registration: N927DA
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 2/146
Details: Fan disk separation in the left engine.  Pieces of the engine penetrated the passenger cabin killing two passengers.  The fan hub for the left engine was found to be fractured.

Date: 11 January 1995
Location: Cartagena, Colombia
Airline: Intercontinental de Aviacion
Aircraft: Douglas DC-9-14
Registration: HK-3839X
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 52/53
Details: While descending from FL 190, ground witnesses saw fire and sparks aboard the plane before it crashed.  One nine-year-old girl survived.  Local media reported that she fell from the plane and landed in some soft water lilies.   Possible electrical fire.  Possible faulty altimeter.

Date: 26 April 1994
Location: Komaki, Aichi, Japan
Airline: China Airlines
Aircraft: Airbus A300-600R
Registration: B-1816
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 264/271
Details: While on ILS approach to Nagoya Airport, at an altitude of 1,000 feet, the first officer inadvertently triggered the TOGA (take-off-go-around) lever.  The crew tried to override this situation by turning off the autothrottle and reducing air speed.  The aircraft stalled, hit the runway tail first and burst into flames.  The plane crashed because of an extreme out of trim configuration brought about by the fact that the tailplane setting had moved automatically and undetected to a maximum nose-up position.  The plane climbed at a steep angle until it stalled.  The crew could have saved the aircraft even in the final seconds had they reverted to basic flight procedures and switched off the autopilot.

Date: 23 March 1994
Location: Mezhdurechensk, Russia
Airline: Aeroflot
Aircraft: Airbus A310-300
Registration: F-OGQS
Fatalities/No. Aboard: 75/75
Details: The aircraft crashed after a captain allowed his child to manipulate the controls of the plane.  The pilot's 11 year old daughter and 16 year old son were taking turns in the pilot's seat.  While the boy was flying, he inadvertently disengaged the autopilot linkage to the ailerons and put the airliner in a bank of 90 degrees which caused the nose to drop sharply.  The co-pilot pulled back on the yoke to obtain level flight but the plane stalled.  With his seat pulled all the way back, the co-pilot in the right hand seat could not properly control the aircraft.  After several stalls and rapid pull-ups the plane went into a spiral descent.  In the end the co-pilot initiated a 4.8g pull-up and nearly regained a stable flight path but the aircraft struck the ground in an almost level attitude killing all aboard.  The aircraft was named Glinka, after Mikhail Glinka, the father of Russian music.


Prisoner Leaps from Police Plane at 4,200 Feet

A prisoner being transferred from court to jail leapt 4,200 feet from a police plane into the icy waters off Canada.

Donald Bigg, 46, was being taken from a court appearance on the Queen Charlotte Islands to a mainland jail when he grappled with a guard, opened an emergency door and plunged into the Hecate Strait.  Canadian police said they did not believe he had taken a parachute with him and were treating the incident as a suicide.

The coastguard service has been searching for his body, reports APB News.

Source: Saturday 9th December 2000

Pilot Knew Jet Landed Too Fast, Cockpit Transcript Indicates

The most frequent last words I have heard on cockpit voice recorder tapes are, "Oh, shit," said about that much emotion.
There's no panic, no scream, it's a sort of resignation, we've done everything we can, I can't think of anything else to do and this is it.

- Frank McDermott, partner in McDermott Associates, specialists in cockpit voice recorders

5 March 2000: This Southwest 737 came to rest at a Burbank, California gas
station after skidding through an airport fence and across a street.

by Alan Levin

Documents Detail Errors

Washington - The pilot of a Southwest Airlines flight into Burbank, California last year knew he had messed up.  He had landed his 737 too fast, crashing through a fence at the end of the runway and skidding into a nearby gas station.

"Well, there goes my career," Captain Howard Peterson said.  Then, apparently speaking to himself, he said, "You stupid (expletive)."

Tuesday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released the cockpit voice recorder from the flight on 5 March 2000.  The transcript indicates the pilots made numerous errors on their descent into Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport near Los Angeles.  None of the 142 passengers and crew aboard the flight from Las Vegas was killed.  Seven people suffered minor injuries.  Aviation experts, however, say the incident could easily have turned tragic.

The pilots failed to perform mandated checklists and did not break off the landing, as their high speed and unstable descent required, according to NTSB documents released with the transcript.  They also ignored a series of warning horns and sirens that sounded for 35 seconds before the landing.  Just before touchdown at 6:11pm, a siren sounded and a mechanised voice commanded the pilots to pull up.  At the same time, Peterson said, "That's all right."

The jet's flight data recorder indicated the jet was travelling 209 mph at touchdown.  A fully loaded 737-300 should land at about 160 mph, pilots say.  Peterson, 53, and co-pilot J D Erwin, 44, could not stop the jet on the 6,032-foot runway.  It tore through a fence, continued across a road and came to rest within feet of the gas pumps.

As the jet skidded down the runway, Peterson cursed himself.  Seconds later, after crashing though the fence, he said, "My fault.  My fault."  Four seconds later, he announced to the passengers, "Folks, remain seated, remain seated, we're all right."  In Interviews with investigators, the pilots admitted making mistakes but said they believed they could slow the jet and land safely.  Both pilots said that a 23-mph tail wind as they descended contributed to their high speed.

Southwest fired Peterson and Erwin last July.  But the airline relaxed the penalties after an internal grievance process, company spokesman Ed Stewart said.  The airline allowed Peterson to retire without penalty.  Erwin resumed flying after additional training and a one-month period in which a management pilot observed his flights.

In Tuesday's release, the NTSB made public the factual reports of its investigative teams.  The agency now begins work on concluding the cause of the accident.

The agency raised other issues:

bulletAn emergency exit slide inflated inside the cabin and pinned a flight attendant in her seat.
bulletAir traffic controllers had requested that the pilots fly faster than normal as they approached the airport.  Though such requests are a common way to keep planes separated and pilots should be able to recover, the request might have contributed to the accident.

"Well, There Goes My Career"

As Southwest Flight 1455 descended toward Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport on the evening of 5 March 2000, warnings began sounding, according to transcripts released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board.  Captain Howard Peterson, who was flying the jet, and co-pilot J D Erwin continued to descend.

6:10:47 pm Warning: "Whoop, whoop, pull up, whoop, whoop, pull up, whoop, whoop, pull up, whoop, whoop, pull up."
6:10:53 Peterson: "That's all right."
6:10:59 Jet touches down.
6:11:15 Erwin: "Need any help?"
6:11:18 Peterson: "(Expletive), Howard.  You (expletive)."
6:11:20 Sound of impacts.
6:11:28 Peterson: "My fault."
6:11:32 Peterson: "My fault."
6:11:37 Peterson (over PA): "And folks, remain seated, remain seated, we're all right."
6:11:42 Air traffic controller: "Response coming now."
6:11:46 Peterson: "Well, there goes my career."
6:11:58 Peterson: "You stupid (expletive)."
6:14:09 Peterson (to controllers): "Yeah, you better send the emergency equipment over, uh, uh, we went through the barrier."
6:14:15 Controller: "Affirmative, they should be over there already."

Source: USA Today 11 July 2001; photo credit Kevork Djansezian, Associated Press

Dead Pilot Cleared of Blame

There are no new types of air crashes - only people with short memories.
Every accident has its own forerunners, and every one happens either
because somebody did not know where to draw the vital dividing line
between the unforeseen and the unforeseeable
or because well-meaning people deemed the risk acceptable.

If politics is the art of the possible, then air safety must be the art of the economically viable.
At a time of crowded skies and sharpening competition, it is a daunting task
not to let the art of the acceptable deteriorate into the dodgers' art of what you can get away with.

- Stephen Barlay, The Final Call: Why Airline Disasters Continue to Happen March 1990

The skills of a 21-year-old pilot whose plane crashed in eastern Taranaki two years ago were praised in New Plymouth Coroners Court this week.  Gerard Paul Child, 21, the pilot, and Shane Robert Alan Thompson, 22, his passenger, died in the crash early on Christmas Day 1999 near the Te Wera camp.  The two friends were returning from Wellington to Rotorua after visiting Mr Thompson's father for Christmas.  The plane burst into flames after the early morning impact.

Coroner Roger Mori ruled that Mr Child and Mr Thompson died from injuries caused by the crash of the single-engined Cessna 172 at 2:50am on 25 December 1999.  Despite Mr Child's youth, he had been thoroughly professional in handling the emergency, said Mr Mori.

"A significant number of air accidents both in this country and overseas are caused in whole or in part by pilot error and I want to make it clear there was not the slightest hint of pilot error in this tragedy," he said.  "He was faced with what must be a pilot's worst nightmare, namely the loss of an engine in a single-engined plane at night.  It was clear he followed correct procedures, complied with the radio controller's request and dealt with the plane as best he could in a terrible emergency situation."

A Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) investigation found the crash was caused by a broken connecting rod.  Connecting rods join the piston to the crankshaft.  Part of the broken rod was never found.

Mr Thompson's mother, Roberta Booth, said on Monday that the family was not happy with the cause of the crash and believed there was sufficient evidence to sue.  "We have made contact with Paul Davison, QC, in Auckland," she said.  "We want to ensure that the safety precautions were taken."

Mr Mori said the plane had been hired from an operator for whom Mr Childs was to start work as a pilot.  It was clear from the CAA investigation that the failure of the plane was caused by the #6 connecting rod fracturing half way along the shank due to a pre-existing indentation, he said.  How and when the indentation occurred could not be established.  The plane had undergone a maintenance check just three days before the accident.  The engine had been overhauled in September 1999.

The crack in the rod appeared to have developed in the 59 hours of use since then, the CAA inspector said.  The investigation led to a directive to the aviation industry to ensure inspection with a magnifying glass of the surface of each rod before reassembly and the rejection of any rod with nicks or dents and to take particular care not to damage surfaces, the court was told. - NZPA

Source: The Dominion Wednesday 7 March 2001

One Way to Slow Your Speed

A "good" landing is one from which you can walk away.  A "great" landing is one after which they can use the plane again.

See also:

bulletGliding into Infamy (the previous page in this section) - for more...

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