Sunday, July 07, 2013

Observations on Asiana Flight 214


Briefly, I've made a life-long hobby of studying nearly every National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) report related to highway, rail, aircraft, and pipeline accidents. There are 5 pilots in my immediate family, two actively flying for major airlines and another very active commercial pilot. I passed the FAA private pilot's written exam and the control tower operator's exam, albeit many years ago. I recently worked as a training manager in airline cargo operations for two years. 

These are my initial 14 thoughts and observations:
  1. The plane was landing after a long flight from Seoul. It could not have been carrying very much fuel.
  2. The crew would also be very tired after such a long flight. They do switch crews and carry several pilots but the rest that pilots get in-flight cannot compare to a night's sleep in most hotel rooms. Pilot fatigue can quickly turn into pilot error.  
  3. An experienced, awake pilot at least would have aborted the landing and made a 2nd attempt. Then again, issues can arise at a point when it is too late to abort the landing. 
  4. There was no advance warning or concerns announced to passengers or air traffic controllers. That indicates that this whole thing turned sour very quickly. Landing short of the runway is an error any pilot can make but it would be more likely to happen with an inexperienced pilot. Glide slope indicators and warning klaxons must have been blaring in the cockpit.
  5. There are three people in the cockpit, it is unlikely that all three were so sleepy as to not notice any loud warnings.
  6. It is a very modern aircraft. Flammable materials in today's aircraft cabins have been significantly reduced.
  7. While it appears a botched landing, a failure of landing gear can cause a similar accident.
  8. The crash occurred in broad daylight in clear weather. This tends to rule out weather as a factor though some severe downdraft may have hit the plane at that final moment. The same incident at night or in foul weather would have presented a more confusing evacuation and subsequent fire fight. 
  9. All initial signs point to pilot error, though an unusual failure in some glide slope equipment and onboard computers certainly cannot be ruled out. 
  10. The Boeing 777 is typically controlled by a computer during most flight operations, including take-off and landing. Unlike the newer Airbus models, pilots can actually take full control at any time if needed. 
  11. The flight attendants do not sit back in the tail of this model. There are toilets back there. People would not have been in the toilets during landing.
  12. The passengers were mostly young Asian students. They would be nimble enough to dash off that plane quickly. The same plane full of mostly overweight, out-of-shape Westerners would have taken considerably more time to evacuate.
  13. The fuselage stayed mostly intact. Yes, the tail and possibly the gear was clipped off by the sea wall but the rest of the jet appeared intact. Every break in the fuselage puts passengers or crew at greater risk.
  14. The engines are mounted under the wings, they served to absorb the impact of this extremely heavy jet after the gear was sheared off. The B777's maximum landing weight is approximately 500,000 lbs!
Note: A Boeing 777 is a huge wide-body aircraft capable of carrying over 400 passengers.

7 More Ideas
  1. There were certainly cargo containers in the belly, very likely a full load of cargo containers since the flight originated in Shanghai and then stopped in Seoul. Those two cities place a huge of amount of air freight on U.S.-bound wide body jets. Passenger baggage would take up any other available space.
  2. The wreckage photos being displayed on most major news sites show extensive fire damage to the aircraft. That fire damage occurred after the passengers and crew were evacuated.
  3. The break point for the tail section that fell off must have been at the last row of seats. If the fuselage broke any further forward there would have been more deaths.
  4. The 777 is designed to be evacuated in less than two minutes. Double wide slides allow two people to slide down at a time. There are enough exits and slides on one side of the plane to accomplish the task in the time allowed. 
  5. The crash occurred at SFO. Like most major U.S. airports, San Francisco International airport would likely be staffed with well-trained aircraft firefighters and the best fire equipment. 
  6. The tower would have notified the fire crews upon initial observation of the plane striking the seawall. There other people looking at live video feeds from high-resolution cameras pointed at flight operations from many angles. 
  7. Those airport firetrucks drive rather fast though they must go around other aircraft and avoid becoming part of the accident itself. I believe the glass front windows in the trucks are somewhat blast resistant. Response time is measured in seconds. This is not the situation at every airport in the world.
Postscript: My sympathies and condolences to the crew, passengers and families of those that lost dear ones on Asiana Flight 214. The above observations and hypotheses are simply that, educated guesses.

No comments: