September 30, 2020
[aircrash] In 2005, Helios flight 522 crashed into a Greek hillside. Was it because one man forgot to flip a switch?
… A powerful look at who is to blame for the crash of Helios Flight 522
. ‘After the disaster, Greek air investigators determined that flight 522 had crashed because it had failed to pressurise properly. As it climbed, the air in the cabin had become too thin to breathe, causing most people to lose consciousness. The investigation quickly focused on the theory that the pressurisation selector switch had been left in “manual” rather than “auto”, and attributed this to human error – principally that of Irwin who, they said, had not returned the switch to its correct position after a safety check; and of incompetent pilots who had failed to spot the error. This narrative was soon leaked to the press…’
October 4, 2019
[aircrash] What Really Brought Down the Boeing 737 Max
… William Langewiesche on the downfall of Boeing’s 737 MAX aircraft.
All signs are that the reintroduction of the 737 Max will be exceedingly difficult because of political and bureaucratic obstacles that are formidable and widespread. Who in a position of authority will say to the public that the airplane is safe?
I would if I were in such a position. What we had in the two downed airplanes was a textbook failure of airmanship. In broad daylight, these pilots couldn’t decipher a variant of a simple runaway trim, and they ended up flying too fast at low altitude, neglecting to throttle back and leading their passengers over an aerodynamic edge into oblivion. They were the deciding factor here — not the MCAS, not the Max. Furthermore, it is certain that thousands of similar crews are at work around the world, enduring as rote pilots and apparently safe, but only so long as conditions are routine.
June 20, 2019
[aircrash] Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370: Where Is It?
… William Langewiesche on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370
. ‘By the time the airplane dropped from the view of secondary—transponder-enhanced—radar, it is likely, given the implausibility of two pilots acting in concert, that one of them was incapacitated or dead, or had been locked out of the cockpit. Primary-radar records—both military and civilian—later indicated that whoever was flying MH370 must have switched off the autopilot, because the turn the airplane then made to the southwest was so tight that it had to have been flown by hand. Circumstances suggest that whoever was at the controls deliberately depressurized the airplane. At about the same time, much if not all of the electrical system was deliberately shut down. The reasons for that shutdown are not known. But one of its effects was to temporarily sever the satellite link.’
November 8, 2016
[aircrash] What Happened to Eastern Airlines Flight 980
… fascinating aircrash cold case – about a 1985 crash into a Bolivian mountain … ‘We see an astonishing number of contraband crocodile and snakeskins, which were probably being smuggled to Miami to be made into black-market goods like shoes and handbags. Dan gets on the radio to tell us that he found a roll of magnetic tape. “This is either from one of the black boxes,” he says, “or it has a great 1985 movie on it.” Isaac and Dan also both find a few chunks of orange metal, which is exciting because—despite the name—flight recorders are painted international orange to help investigators locate them. But the pieces seem too trashed to have come from supposedly indestructible boxes…’
January 6, 2016
[mh370] MH370 Was Crippled by Sudden Electrical Failure
… another theory on missing Flight MH370…
In a Daily Beast special report, I examined a scenario in which a fire in the forward cargo hold of the 777, originating in a consignment of lithium-ion batteries that were being shipped on the airplane, could have breached a wall and reached the Main Equipment Center, seriously degrading the airplane’s avionics and leading to the incapacitation of the crew and passengers.
However, the avionics for the Satellite Data Unit, sending the pings, was located not in the Main Equipment Center but well clear of it, in the roof of the cabin behind the wings, because that is where the antenna to access the satellite is best positioned.
The picture in the Australian report of an airplane stricken by a sudden and extensive loss of electrical power, while in no way definitive, is entirely consistent with this scenario.
Indeed, the report gives dramatic new clarity to the “zombie flight” version of events in which the airplane, by then fatally crippled, makes one final change of course and then flies into the vast emptiness of the southern Indian Ocean without any sign of human direction or control.
March 6, 2015
[aircrash] How Crazy Am I to Think I Know Where MH370 Is?
… well-written alternative theory on what might have happened to missing flight MH370
I realized that I already had a clue that hijackers had been in the E/E bay. Remember the satcom system disconnected and then rebooted three minutes after the plane left military radar behind. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how a person could physically turn the satcom off and on. The only way, apart from turning off half the entire electrical system, would be to go into the E/E bay and pull three particular circuit breakers. It is a maneuver that only a sophisticated operator would know how to execute, and the only reason I could think for wanting to do this was so that Inmarsat would find the records and misinterpret them. They turned on the satcom in order to provide a false trail of bread crumbs leading away from the plane’s true route.
It’s not possible to spoof the BFO data on just any plane. The plane must be of a certain make and model, 17equipped with a certain make and model of satellite-communications equipment,18 and flying a certain kind of route19 in a region covered by a certain kind of Inmarsat satellite.20 If you put all the conditions together, it seemed unlikely that any aircraft would satisfy them. Yet MH370 did.
I imagine everyone who comes up with a new theory, even a complicated one, must experience one particularly delicious moment, like a perfect chord change, when disorder gives way to order. This was that moment for me. Once I threw out the troublesome BFO data, all the inexplicable coincidences and mismatched data went away. The answer became wonderfully simple. The plane must have gone north.
October 8, 2014
[planes] The Human Factor
… long-read on the crash of Air France Flight 447 in 2009 by William Langewiesche … ‘Bonin continued to pull back on the stick, jerkily pitching the nose higher. Was he yearning for the clear sky he believed was just above? Was he remembering an “unreliable airspeed” procedure that is meant for low altitude, where power is ample and the biggest concern is to climb away from the ground? Did he think that the airplane was going too fast? Evidence emerged later that he may have, but if so, why? Even if he did not hear the stall warning, the nose was up, the available thrust was low, and with or without valid indications, high-speed flight in those conditions was physically impossible. A renowned cockpit designer at Boeing—himself a transport pilot—once said to me, “We don’t believe there are any bad pilots. We believe there are average pilots who have bad days.” He called this a principle that underlies Boeing’s cockpit designs. But if Bonin was an average pilot, what does that say about the average?’
May 31, 2011
[flight] What Happened to Air France Flight 447?
… a report from the NYT from before the missing flight’s black box recorder was analysed
… ‘On the Alucia this spring, as Woods Hole scientists scanned the first photos of Flight 447, they saw more than just landing gear, engines and wings. They also saw the bodies of at least 50 passengers sprawled across an abyssal plain at the base of the mountains. As they continued searching the area, they found a section of damaged fuselage not far away, large enough to contain more passengers. Members of the crew told me that a grim silence descended on the ship…’
August 2, 2010
[disasters] The Crash of EgyptAir 990
… fascinating report on the last flight of a Boeing 767 in 1999 which was probably deliberately brought down by one of it’s pilots in an act of suicide … ‘The pilots were left to the darkness of the sky, whether to work together or to fight. I’ve often wondered what happened between those two men during the 114 seconds that remained of their lives. We’ll never know. Radar reconstruction showed that the 767 recovered from the dive at 16,000 feet and, like a great wounded glider, soared steeply back to 24,000 feet, turned to the southeast while beginning to break apart, and shed its useless left engine and some of its skin before giving up for good and diving to its death at high speed.’