Plane crash caused by crocodile?

Any time I fly an African carrier my friends get worried. While some have good safety records like the ten safest airlines in Africa, others show an abysmal lack of basic care. Such was the case of the ill-fated Filair flight on August 25 that crashed into a house as it approached Bandundu city airport in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Twenty people were killed. Authorities claimed the airplane ran out of fuel, but the company said it was a technical problem.

The lone survivor of the crash tells a different tale, Juene Afrique reports. The unnamed survivor says a crocodile slipped out of a sports bag someone had brought as a carry on. The passengers panicked and rushed to the front of the plane, causing a weight imbalance that put the aircraft into a nosedive. The crocodile reportedly survived the crash only to be killed by a machete-wielding local when it emerged from the wreckage.

Whether this is true are not is hard to say. Juene Afrique is a respected news source, but eyewitness testimony can be unreliable, especially when it’s anonymous. The plane was a Soviet-era Let-410 like the one shown here. It only seats 19 passengers so it’s small enough that if everyone ran to one end it would have weight balance issues. Plus the pilot reportedly complained it was in bad condition. Congolese company Filair is one of many airlines banned from flying into the European Union thanks to its poor track record.

Yet if the crocodile tale is true it wouldn’t be one of a kind. An eerily similar incident of a crocodile in a plane happened on an EgyptAir flight last year. Luckily nobody was hurt that time.

[Image courtesy Mottld via Wikimedia Commons. Note that this is not a Filair plane but a Russian carrier]

Smaller planes are a growing trend. How safe is that for passengers?

With the crash of Continental Connection Flight 3407 comes questions. Along with the question about whether the plane had gathered enough ice to make it crash is the question– how safe are smaller jets and turboprops? Because flight demand is down, airlines have switched out some of their larger jets for smaller ones. Those, along with turboprop planes, are often used to connect people to smaller regional airports.

In this New York Times article, the issues surrounding smaller jets and prop planes are examined. Because of the increase of their use–regional aircraft use is up 40% since 2003–looking at their safety records is important.

Here are the positives:

  • Pilots of smaller planes receive as rigorous training as those who pilot larger jets
  • Many smaller planes are new and have the latest equipment.
  • Regional airports and larger airlines have the same safety standards.

Here are the negatives:

  • Since 2000, there have been eight crashes at regional airports. (However, think about the number of traffic accidents you hear about where you live.)
  • Airplanes flying into regional airports often are flown by pilots with less experience.

Another negative about the smaller airplanes is one my mother experienced on her last flight from Columbus to LaGuardia. Because she was on a small plane, she had to carry her carry-on luggage up and down the stairs, and walk outside in order to get into and out of the airport, something that is hard for her to do when it’s cold. Luckily, one of the flight attendant’s helped her.

This photo by jsbarrie is of a prop plane going from Flores to Guatemala City. According to the description, there were boxes of baby chicks among the cargo.

Airplane safety: Is globalization a bad thing?

Still catching up on the Sunday papers, I just stumbled onto a piece in the Washington Post’s business section reporting that the U.S. Dept. of Transportation is taking the Federal Aviation Administration to task for using shoddy parts in some of today’s biggest plane models.

The folks over at Transportation are taking umbrage with the fact that many of these parts used to be made exclusively in the U.S., but now happen to be made overseas, since – ah, the fact of globalization – it is often cheaper to make things in foreign countries than at home.

The government says the FAA “lacks an adequate system for checking the quality of airplane components,” the Post reports.

What are the plane models in question? Parts of Boeing’s 777 (and its planned 787) are made abroad, in places like China, Brazil and Australia.

The Post quotes from the report: “Neither manufacturers nor FAA inspectors have provided effective oversight of suppliers; this has allowed substandard parts to enter the aviation supply chain.”

Apparently the report is citing engine failures in 2003 – a total of four, including one in flight – that can be traced back to questionable, foreign-manufactured parts.

It is of course ironic when you consider the role the airplane has played in making this world a smaller (not to say, pace Thomas Friedman, flatter) place and how the free flow of goods and services from one corner of the globe to the other wouldn’t be possible without them. Globalization owes a lot to the airplane (among other things), and now the very phenomenon planes helped wrought might be undermining their safety (and ours)?

FAA spokeswoman Alison Duquette tells the Post, “There are absolutely no imminent safety issues raised by the report.”

But we’ve been warned…

Escaping down an airplane slide: Handy tips

Sliding down an airplane slide looks a bit to me like sliding down one of those inflatable slide rides you see at a fair, amusement park or a carnival. Apparently, it’s not the easiest way to depart an airplane, even if it’s a more common occurrence than one thinks. According the this article, every 11 days in the U.S. people yell, “Whee!” or “Bombs away!” or “@#$%##$!” as they swing onto the inflated rubber for a ride to the ground. I jazzed it up with the dialog, but those are the statistics reported by the National Transportation Safety Board in 2000.

If the accident rate of the carnival rides was the same as an airplane slide, I’d say that ride would be shut down–or maybe kids and adolescents are just better at sliding than adults. When airplanes are tested, escape drills are part of the process. When the Airbus A 380 was tested, 33 out of 873 people got hurt. Only one person actually broke something–an arm. The others got a slide burn. If you’ve ever had someone drag you across a carpet with your skin making contact, you’ll know what that’s like.

To prevent injuries, know what to do in case you have a trip down an inflatable airplane slide in your future. Here are the tips in summary, although, for some reason, I’ve ended up with more numbered points and added some embellishment. For more detailed instructions, read the article.

1. Figure out your escape route when you first sit down. Exactly how many rows are you away from an exit?

2. Read the emergency card, even if you’ve flown five billion times.

3. Leave the luggage behind.

4. Help others get the airplane door open if they are in a panic and fumbling.

5. If you can’t get out one exit, look for another

6. Jump onto the slide, don’t try to sit down. Yell, “Whee!” for extra fun. (I added that just in case jumping makes you nervous. The whee might distract you.)

7. Cross your hands over your chest and put your heels up to avoid “unintentional cartwheels” as Amanda Ripley, the article’s author writes. She says this also helps control the impact when you meet the ground.

8. Women should not fly wearing spiked heels and pantyhose. Pantyhose can melt right on you. Gad!

9. When you reach the ground, hustle out of the way so there’s not some pile up at the bottom and someones foot doesn’t whack you in the head.

10 tips for smarter flying

Want to smell a new plane? It might be awhile if it’s American

I’ve bought new cars and I’ve bought used. My last used car smelled lovely. The friend of mine who sold it too me must have either used wonderful soap daily —or wore a light, fabulous perfume. New cars don’t have to work hard to smell special. Smelling new like the grown up version of a fresh, just taken out of the box vinyl toy is enough–unless it’s brand new leather shoes, and then double yum.

A brand new airplane must really smell fantastic. I have no idea, though, since I’ve never been on a brand new airplane that I can recall. According to the latest news on U.S. carriers, it might be awhile before anyone will get the experience–at least if one is getting from here to there on an airplane from an American company.

These days, frugality is in–new planes are out. The airlines want to beef up their coffers in order to make up for the post 9/11 shortfalls that had them tumbling towards bankruptcy. Okay, so new is not an option, and according to the New York Times article that outlined all the reasons why new airplanes aren’t on the horizon, giving the airplanes a through cleaning is not a priority either. One guy who was quoted used words like “grimy” to describe the problem.

According to the airlines, older planes are safe so there really isn’t anything to worry about. I do admit when I was flying Delta round-trip from Columbus to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, when I rested my head against the seat, I wondered about the upholstery.