After building a plastic model airplane I used to fantasize about what it would look like crashing. This urge became overwhelming when my best friend was over at my house trying to annoy me to death. So I sent a B-52 across my bedroom for a bombing run.
The end result was a crash that was a bit of a let down.
Someone at the Discovery Channel recently had a similar idea, albeit on a more grand scale. Back in March, Kate Nixon, a producer working for Discovery, emailed me looking for a ’727 guru.’ She told me that they had purchased a Boeing 727 that they would be crashing in April for a scientific study. I’m sure the fact that it would make for some great T.V. was also part of the plan.
I explained that I was hardly a guru on the old three-engine Boeing, but that I might be able to put her in touch with someone. At the end of the exchange, I asked her what the “N” number was of the airplane to be crashed.
“Our aircraft is a 727-212 built in 1978 registration N293AS,” She said.
A quick check revealed I had flown that exact airplane when working for ExpressOne International (pic), a passenger charter airline. In fact, my sister Kim had flown it as a flight attendant at Alaska Airlines (pic), the original operator of the doomed airplane.
Kate swore me to secrecy and explained that the planned crash that would be extensively filmed for an upcoming special. They were mounting cameras inside and outside to capture the event. I suggested testing some AmSafe airbag seat belts that I had recently seen while sitting on a 737 at a bulkhead seat.
Of course I wanted to share it with all my friends at those two companies. But I had to keep quiet, at least until now.
They apparently used a pilot and some form of radio control device operated by a chase plane to guide it during the final moments. The pilot jumped out (D. B. Cooper style?) before the final descent into the ground.
And of course, in this day of cell phone cameras everywhere, someone managed to capture the crash, and it looks like the results for the Discovery Channel are far from a let down:
Here’s the full press release from the Discovery Channel:
DISCOVERY CHANNEL CRASHES A PASSENGER JET FOR SCIENCE DOCUMENTARY
A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crash-landed in a remote and uninhabited Mexican desert as part of a scientific experiment for an unprecedented international television documentary for Discovery Channel, Channel 4 in the UK, plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The pilot ejected the 170-seat aircraft just minutes before the collision after setting it on a crash course, it was then flown remotely from a chase plane. The crash went according to plan and there were no injuries or damage to property.
Rather than carrying passengers, the plane was packed with scientific experiments, including crash test dummies. Dozens of cameras recorded the crash from inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and even on the ejecting pilot’s helmet. The program is being made by award-winning British production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.
The project aims to recreate a serious, but survivable, passenger jet crash landing with a real aircraft in order to allow an international team of experts to study the crashworthiness of the aircraft’s airframe and cabin as well as the impact of crashes on the human body, plus possible means of increasing passenger survivability and evaluating new ‘black box’ crash-recording technology.
The plane was crashed in a remote and unpopulated part of the Sonoran Desert of Baja California, Mexico. The location was chosen after an extensive international search to find a suitable location offering the perfect conditions for this groundbreaking scientific project.
For safety reasons, an exclusion zone at the crash site was manned by security teams, as well as the Mexican military and police. Ahead of the crash, a full safety review of the project was undertaken by the highly-qualified pilots and commanders as well as the Mexican authorities who concluded that it was safe for all concerned.
Following the crash, the aircraft will be salvaged and an extensive environmental clean-up operation is being carried out by a reputable agency with the full co-operation of the Mexican authorities.
“This ground breaking project features an actual crash of a passenger jet and explores the big questions about how to make plane crashes more survivable; it’s the ideal premiere episode for our CURIOSITY series that stirs the imagination of our audience, bravely asking questions and fearlessly seeking answers. This latest production captures that audaciousness perfectly and I can’t wait to share it,” said Eileen O’Neill, Group President of Discovery and TLC Networks.
“For the first time, leading scientists and veteran crash investigators, who have been enthusiastic supporters of this project, witness a plane crash in real time and explore what happens to the airframe and cabin, as well as the effects on the human body during a catastrophe of this magnitude. We hope to provide new information about how to improve the chances of survival while providing scientific results on passenger safety and new technologies, including new ‘black box’ flight data recording systems.”
Executive Producer, Sanjay Singhal, from Dragonfly Film and Television Productions, said: “NASA were the last people to attempt a crash test of a full passenger jet three decades ago. Now, with the improvements in filming and remote control technology we felt that the time was right to do it again. It’s never been safer to fly, but we want to use this as an opportunity to provide scientific data that might help to improve passenger safety in those extremely rare cases when a catastrophic aircraft accident does occur.
“This has been an extraordinary feat of organization, involving up to 300 people on location, including the production team, pilots, experts, risk management, plus local crew, military, fire teams and police. This is the culmination of four years of planning and hard work. We’re particularly grateful to the Mexican authorities for their assistance and support.”
The crash and the results of the accompanying research will be shown later this year in a feature-length documentary on Discovery Channel in the United States, Channel 4 in the UK plus Pro Sieben in Germany. The program is made by award-winning production company Dragonfly Film and Television Productions.