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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

14 February 2009

Snap Judgments Falling Flat

First of all, I hate the media. Second, I hate politicians who just have to say something…anything…after a tragedy. Finally, I hate the society we’ve become – always needing instant answers and solutions to everything. Whenever anything happens, we want to know the cause right now, right now, RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT!

A plane crashed in upstate New York the other night. A terrible tragedy, all 49 people on board the plane perished, as well as one person on the ground. Very sad. We hate hearing about things like this.

These things happen. We wish they didn’t. Those of us in aviation try very, very hard to make sure they don’t happen. But they do. Not very often, thank God. But you know, as much as we try to kid ourselves that flying is…or that we can even make it…100% “safe” it’s just not true. Airplanes still crash.

In this case it was a twin-engine turboprop called the “Dash-8.” It was manufactured by Bombardier of Canada and operated by Colgan Airways on contract to and in the colors of Continental Airlines. The plane crashed on approach to the airport in Buffalo, New York. It was at a navigation beacon called the “outer marker,” which tells us that it was about five miles from the field, lined up for the runway. This also tells us that its altitude would have been about 2,000 feet or slightly less. The local weather was not terribly bad. No distress messages were broadcast to ATC by the crew prior to the crash; it simply disappeared from the controller’s radarscopes and crashed into a house.

Bombardier "Dash-8"

Right from the beginning it was clear that the general weather around that part of New York State was not great. Airplanes had reported “icing” conditions. Yeah okay, that happens a lot in the winter. But airplanes (especially airliners) are equipped with various devices to combat ice. They deal with it.

Now today, before the wreckage has even cooled, people are asking (demanding!) to know what happened?!

Well, you know… Who knows?

In typical fashion, the media is all over this crash, covering it from every angle, trying their best to figure out exactly how it happened. Because we’re all such experts at air crash investigations now. The focus is, of course, icing. Granted, bad weather can be a factor in any accident, and the investigators will explore that thoroughly.

In an Associated Press story, the reporter (by the name of John Curran) quotes the NTSB as saying that the airplane “fell flat” onto the ground. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, fell flat? This genius reporter comes to that amazing deduction because the NTSB released a preliminary report saying that the plane came to rest facing away from the airport. Oh. Well of course.

Then, part-time expert air crash investigator and full-time idiot Senator John Menendez from New Jersey chimes in, saying he was told by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the plane “…made a 180-degree turn at 5,000 feet.” Maybe so. When it was up at 5,000 feet it probably did make such a turn, perhaps when it was in a holding pattern or when it was being vectored by ATC to the final approach course. This would be completely normal. However, the plane did not crash from 5,000 feet. It crashed from about 2,000 feet. So this little tidbit of the supposed “180-degree turn” is meaningless at the moment.

Ray LaHood should keep his big, fat mouth shut, and the Senator from New Jersey should also shut the hell up. Both of them should keep quiet about things of which they have no fucking knowledge.

Oh, but when did that ever stop anyone? Especially nitwit news writers, ignorant government officials and moron politicians?

I do not know much about this crash, but I can tell you one thing for certain: IT DID NOT "FALL FLAT."

Airplanes do not just fall out of the sky. I know we all have that fear…that every airplane up there is just a second or two away from “falling out of the sky.” The wings will suddenly and inexplicably “lose lift” and it will crash to the ground. But it does not happen that way.

This particular airplane crashed in a very small area. In other words, it did not leave a big, long trail of wreckage. So we know that it came down fairly steeply. That being the case, it came down nose-first, in a nearly vertical dive. Not “flat.” We can assume that it…the term we use is, “departed controlled flight.” Airplanes that are not under control are generally banking or turning or pitching, or perhaps all three. Sure enough, the NTSB preliminary report indicates that the Dash-8 was behaving in just such a manner. We can also be sure that the pilots were doing their damnedest to get the plane back under control. Unfortunately, it looks like they didn't have enough altitude to do so.

After any accident, we pilots talk among ourselves, going over the details of what we know, and speculating generally on what might have caused it. We know how aircraft fly, and we know the various things that can go wrong. But we know better than to come to any snap-judgments or instantaneous conclusions. We know better than to latch onto one bit of “evidence” and go, ”AHA! THAT’S THE CAUSE!” as so many seem to want to do (Fox News, anyone?)

All right. Airplanes don’t just suddenly dive out of the sky. So why would this airplane do that? Good question. And it’s one that we currently do not know the answer to. Could it have been ice on the wings? Sure. Could it have been something else entirely? Sure. When the wreckage is recovered and analyzed by the NTSB, we’ll know more. That will probably take more than, oh, a day. Sorry news fans, but it might even take more than two days.

In the meantime, the wild, idiotic speculation by the media and anyone who can muscle their way in front of a microphone and a camera just pisses me off.


Anonymous said...

I particularly loved one reporter's comment about the "5,000 gallons of fuel" that burned. Let's see: 5,000 gal X 6.8 # per gal...34,000 lbs of fuel + empty weight of some 11,000 lbs + 49 people @ 160# each (7800 odd lbs) + baggage....yields at least 53,000 lbs; max gross wt = 43,000 lbs. No wonder they crashed.....or maybe the 5,000 gallons was wrong. Hmmmm.......MdeM

Bob said...

Agree on much of this but sympathize a bit with the Senator, I guess. He's expected to say something (although it doesn't give him license to say something stupid) and in his humanness, and because he's expected to say something, he ends up sounding a bit foolish talking about something he knows nothing about.

When I heard about this Friday morning I was at the gym on a treadmill with a TV and I had some of the same feelings you expressed. I switched to about 4 different channels and Fox News really gave the best account. Go figure.

I really appreciate your insight from a pilot's point of view.

Bob Barbanes said...

Bob, the crash happened in New York. Menendez is a senator from NEW JERSEY. Why did he have to say anything at all...other than, "Yes, it's very sad, a tragedy for all involved." And then SHUT UP. But no, everybody's an expert on flying nowadays, so he's got to add his two worthless cents, "Well, I'm so important and I have all these connections with people in high places and, why, just this morning the Transportation Secretary told me..." Told him something that was completely meaningless.

And MdeM, why should the media be concerned about getting any silly details right? Maximum gross weight (MGW)? What's that? I would suspect that the airplane had 5,000 pounds of fuel onboard (about 735 gallons) as they began their final approach. Which might make more sense.

What I get angry about is how pitiful and sensationalist the coverage of this story is. They do that with all stories these days. The smallest thing takes on National Significance! And it's all reported with the same grave, somber tones. It's as if they're reporting the end of the friggin' world. Fox News is the worst, with their silly "FOX NEWS ALERT!" and "BREAKING NEWS!" banners which are most often items of minimal importance. I read them and usually go, "That's what they consider breaking news?" But I guess when you've got 24 hours of air time to fill, any meaningless crap gets converted into "news."

And it's why I pretty much don't care about the mainstream media anymore. As far as I'm concerned their credibility is gone.

Bob said...

Good point. Senator from another state didn't really have a dog in the fight.

You're right about a lot of what's on the news . . . and TV . . . except for when our friend Billy Mays talks -- then we listen. :-0

Anonymous said...

With this Event, even the Weather Channel had wall to wall coverage, with their people on the scene. These folks are so busy trying to get something on the air, they sometimes aren't so generous with Facts. I spent over 23 years in the TV Biz. I'm a Videographer and have been there, done that. We still shot Film when I started.
Ron in New Bern, NC

Anonymous said...

The flight originated in New Jersey. Hence Menendez's uninformed comment

Bob Barbanes said...

Oh, well that makes more sense. Gee, the plane probably overflew parts of Pennsylvania. I wonder what the Governor of Pennsylvania had to say about it?? In fact, I can't wait to hear. SOMEONE SEND A FOX NEWS TRUCK AND GET A DAMN QUOTE!

Mike said...

Bob, you make me feel better about giving up television oh so many years ago. Blood pressure problem solved!

Anonymous said...

We are screwed! We are flying continental to Vegas. Maybe we should drive...

3 days before we are in Sin City!!!