No Detail Is Too Small

For those of you on Netflix streaming….

This is a great series.

I started watching this about airline disasters (the causes)

To show you no detail is too insignificant – they were profiling a Turkish 757 in 1996 taking German tourists back from Santa Domingo.

The plane sat for 3 weeks there before flying – with the crew remaining there (waiting for business I guess).

On takeoff, a rainy night, at 80 kts the captain tells the first officer that his airspeed indicator isn’t working.

The captain decides to proceed having the First Officer calling out the decision speeds on his airspeed indicator.

5 minutes out – at 7,000 feet – they engage the autopilot and the “fun” starts (reminding me of Air France 447).

Plane is going into a steep pitch and while the FO is telling the captain to lower the nose, the captain isn’t listening.

It stalled and crashed into the ocean.

The ultimate cause?

At the time, the autopilot was using the left seat (captain’s) pitot tube (that takes the air outside and gives the airspeed) , and because it was getting false information, threw the plane into the high pitch. After this accident Boeing modified the planes to allow pitot tube selection for the auto pilot.

And why was the pitot tube blocked?

The NTSB ultimately determined that while the plane sat for 3 weeks, some wasps made a nest in the pitot tube.

By law the FAA mandates that any plane on the ground for an extended time should have a pitot cover. In interviews with the ground crew, they all stated that they had no pitot tube covers.

So 189 people were killed because of…some wasps.

And why didn’t the pilot abort the flight at 80 knts when he could have? They speculated “get home itis” after being there 3 weeks.

They also speculated that while the F.O. was advising the captain to lower the nose, culturally he was afraid to take the yoke.

No detail is too small…..





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2 responses to “No Detail Is Too Small

  1. Busbob

    Ruminating a bit here about things that happen in the aviation world that clearly reflect a lack of pilot training and abilities in the jet age. The Air France crash and the one just posted here are classic. Both aircraft had airspeed problems, the problem being a clogged pitot. When the pitot tube is clogged, the air inside the system expands as the aircraft gains altitude, the expanding air exerts more pressure and is read on the airspeed system as an increase in speed. Autopilots respond to unacceptable airspeed increases by either raising the nose of the aircraft to bleed off the speed or reducing engine power. Or both.
    The pilot must be able to look at pitch (attitude) and power, along with the other instruments, and sort out what is truth and what is fiction.
    I’m of the opinion that the automated age has degraded pilot skills greatly and the stick and rudder basics have suffered.
    By the way, been there and done that with the wasps in the pitot tube on a widebody jet. Obvious as could be that the jet wasn’t suddenly going 350 knots on one side of the cockpit and 210 knots on the other by just looking at the pitch of the aircraft and the power settings. Hardest part to deal with was the constant overspeed warning that couldn’t be silenced for the next 2 hours of flight!

    • Bill Brandt

      This is an interesting series, Busbob. Like most accidents it seems there is a chain of events, any one of which that would break and there would be no accident;

      To me, as an armchair investigator, their original sin was proceeding at 80 kts on the runway when it was the captain’s airspeed indicator was not working.

      How do you trust the other one?

      The captain relied on the F.O. to call out rotation speed. When the plane lifted at his indicated speed, that should have been a clue that at least one airspeed indicator was accurate.

      I guess it is easy to say when you are not faced with a plane going into a violent nose up attitude, with a wing dropping.

      I think you are right about a loss of basic stick and rudder skills. I remember reading while that commuter that iced up at Buffalo the captain and FO are nonchalantly talking about something silly as the wings were icing up. Then he pulls the nose up when it is about to stall.

      And then the Air France jet, as you mentioned. Too much reliance on computers and autopilots.

      Saw an equally interesting episode tonight – about the crash of a fully loaded Beech 1900-D commuter plane at Charlotte in 2003. They really did a good job in showing the methods the NTSB used when analyzing this crash.

      Turns out that there were several contributing factors – the plane was overloaded with an aft CG. Out of this, the FAA revised their “standard weight” of a passenger, in place since 1936, from 175 to 195.

      We are getting heavier.

      But the prime cause involved a subcontractor who, when needing to tighten the control cables to the elevator, skipped some steps and the “inspector”, who was also teaching some inexperienced A & Ps, then signs off on his own work.

      The pilot was to me an amazing young woman – 25 year old Katie Leslie already with 3,500 hours.

      As soon as the nose gear retracted the Beech went into an extreme pitch up, and there was really nothing that either Katie or her FO could do.

      That had to have been terrifying.

      But out of that accident, in 2003, the FAA revised their average weights, which might have saved others.

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