Plane hits pig on runway and passengers panic

It wasn’t a wolf’s huffing and puffing that led to the demise of a pig on the runway at the Harare International Airport in Zimbabwe last Tuesday. Nope, it was a MA60 60-seater attempting to take off. The wild bush pig may or may not have seen the Air Zimbabwe plane coming. But, come it did.

Poor pig. Poor plane. Poor passengers–and poor flight attendant who had to yell, “‘Evacuate!'” after the damaged plane ended up off the runway with dust and smoke filling the cabin.

That’s not the worst of it.

When the panicked passengers and crew tried to escape using the plane’s emergency exit doors, they couldn’t go out one of them. It was jammed. As if that wasn’t bad enough, once they managed to wrestle the plane’s main door open with a mighty effort, two passengers were hurt when they fell into a ditch as they scrambled away from the plane. Because this mishap happened at night, the ditch wasn’t easily visible in the dark.

There’s more. The emergency rescue team didn’t show up for five minutes after the crash because the secret police beat them to the plane. Instead of offering assistance, the police’s main concern was arresting two passengers who were taking pictures.

That’s not all. It took an hour for the 37 passengers to be given water and five hours for them to be allowed to leave the airport. Friends and relatives, who came to the airport after finding out about the accident via cell phone calls from people on the plane, were not told any details about what had happened or given access to the passengers.

Along with reading like a bizarre slapstick story, this pig-on-the-runway-makes-mayhem tale is a good reminder that no matter how bad a flight might seem, it could be worse. [The Times]

Hawaii safer than ever (in the sky)

Air tour accidents are down according to a bizarre measurement. For the current decade, crashes are down from the 1990s. However you stack it up, though, this can only be seen as a positive development. For the past 10 years, there has been an average of 2.5 accidents per year. The decade before, it was 3.6 a year.

Last year was a below-average year (a good thing), with only two accidents. A plane crash on Mauna Loa killed three, and a forced helicopter landing in Hilo in February 2008 led to five minor injuries.

The improvement shows that a solid track record can still get better. Hawaii‘s 2.5 accidents/year is well below the national average 13 (down from 18). Stricter FAA rules, technological advancements and a “better dialogue between tour firms and regulators” are credited with the success.


Cause for Turkish Airlines flight known: Dutch Safety Board issues warning

Last Wednesday, a Turkish Airlines flight crashed in a field just 1 kilometer short of the runway at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. The report as to what caused the accident has been released. After reading through it myself, and thanks to the paired down version of Gadling’s own Kent Wien, pilot and writer of Cockpit Chronicles, here are the details.

According to the report, there was a malfunction of one of the radio altimeters, the device that displays the distance of the airplane from the ground. The left altimeter, instead of reading the Boeing 737’s actual height at 1950 feet when the plane was descending, it read 8 feet.

At the point of the glitch, the auto-throttles went to idle because the reading said the plane was just above the runway thus about to land. This caused the plane to slow down more than it should have. The pilots didn’t have enough time to recover the speed needed to pull the plane out of a stall to a higher altitude in order to achieve a safe landing.

Along with determining the malfunction in the radio altimeter, the investigation also found out what happened to the plane upon impact. The tail of the plane hit first, then the undercarriage. When the plane hit the ground it was going at 150 kph. A normal landing speed is 260. Because the ground was soft, the plane had a “rapid halt” within 150 meters.

During landing, the tail broke off and the plane ruptured at the business class section which is where most of the fatalities and injuries occurred. Eighty passengers in all were injured and nine people died (4 crew, including the pilots and five passengers). The area of the plane around the wings was the most intact.

There are still investigations being made surrounding the altimeter’s malfunction and the Dutch Safety Board has issued a warning to Boeing.

For the report, click here. Prior to these findings, one theory about the cause of the crash was wake turbulence caused by a larger plane landing right before this plane’s attempt. (See article.)

Plane crashes and traffic accidents

The first thing I read this morning was the news about the plane crash of Flight 3047, a stark contrast to the landing of Flight 1549 into the Hudson. Perhaps, this is why Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III has down played his role as a hero. One different step and the outcome could have been the terrible version. The version that makes someone’s heart stop for a second and think, “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Tom wrote about Beverly Eckert’s death in Flight 3047’s crash which adds more drama to an already over the top story. When I read the news story, I flashed to all the times I’ve heard planes when visiting my aunt who lives in Florence, Kentucky right under the flight pattern of the Greater Cincinnati Airport. At certain times of the day, if you’re in the backyard, you have to pause a conversation because the noise is so loud. My in laws who live near Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland have a bit of the same problem, but not quite as bad.

If you think about all the planes that fly low over buildings every day, making smooth landings or taking off with ease, it’s astounding. The principles of physics and our abilities to ward off disasters mostly work like clockwork. Still, when one reads about an accident such as Flight 3047, all the safe flights seem diminished somehow.

We wonder if we’ll be lucky enough to have a Chesley B. “Sully” Sullenberger III piloting the plane, or someone else, even if the someone else was just at the wrong place at the wrong time, just like a traffic accident where the road was unexpectedly slick and a car slid through an intersection to plow into oncoming traffic. Car crashes, much more common, barely last in our thoughts past the few minutes we saw them, unless we recount the tale when we arrive at our destination.

Plane crashes have a way of sticking with us. Maybe that’s why there’s a higher anxiety when people fly. Heavy people, whiny children, crowded overhead bins, no snacks, a delay–all add to feelings that something awful could happen. It’s easier to transfer our feelings of a lack of control to the people who are sitting next to us than wondering what might come next. I’m just musing here. But, it’s a thought. Still it is safer to fly–and most car accidents happen closer to home. Like everyone else, I’m wondering what could have possibly happened to cause such a tragedy.