Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Aviation Update

Another horrible crash this morning involving the loss of everyone on-board, and a not-so-horrible crash in Saudi Arabia yesterday involving a cargo jet. The Islamabad event has the initial appearance of a weather crash with heavy monsoon rains falling at the time. Once again the authorities ruled out terrorism before the investigators arrived, SOP with most recent events, but this one does feel more like an accident. They do occur in Pakistan, supposedly.

The Riyadh crash of a Lufthansa MD-11 cargo jet was a bit different--the weather was good with moderate winds blowing straight down the arrival runway (no crosswind) and clear skies. According to initial reports there was a fire on-board before touchdown, reported here, here, here, here, and here.

Later versions either attribute nothing or a 'hard landing', which might sound rather dumb and obvious to the layman, but sometimes the pilot just doesn't grease it in. An on-board fire could also cause a hard landing of course.

As to those reports, they were not coming from witnesses but reportedly from the pilot and/or the airline. The latter is usually more reliable than the former. Then again the media is hardly ever reliable within the first 24 hours, so adjustments should not be surprising.

At any rate, the NTSB and Boeing have already hurried a go-team over to the scene and the Germans are already there, so they seem to be interested in something other than a hard landing. Perhaps a preliminary finding will come out soon. Or not. To wit, the world is collecting a rather grisly list of officially unsolved air crashes. Strangely or coincidentally, the airliners involved come from countries cooperating with the US (some grudgingly) in fighting the war on terror (Kenya, France, Ethiopia, Yemen, Libya, India, Pakistan, Germany).

MORE 8/2/10

This is a very good summary. The Saudis are now going full out with the hard landing theory, despite this bit of eyewitness data:
According to airline sources, there were no hints of a malfunction, or even of an onboard fire, prior to landing. This contradicts earlier reports attributed to Saudi air traffic control officials, who said that the crew had declared an emergency just before touchdown and that the aircraft was trailing smoke even before landing, forcing them to land as quickly as possible. The key question is: Did the hard landing occur as a result of an emergency in which the crew intentionally focused on landing as quickly as possible, regardless of possible structural damage to the aircraft, or did a routine landing go wrong?
One interesting angle--the Aviation Week article is from several days ago and specifically states the main gear did not fail in the event, however some of the Saudi stories hitting the wire say:
Saudi authorities say landing gear on a Lufthansa cargo plane broke upon hitting the tarmac in Riyadh, causing the plane to split in half and catch on fire in an accident earlier this week.
They are basically saying the nose gear collapsed yet that seems like an after-effect, not the cause. What they are not saying is what caused the hard landing.

Then again, the MD-11 does have somewhat of a reputation as a difficult aircraft to land. The article lists several mishaps/accidents, but failed to list one that occurred here in Memphis several years ago that resulted in a fire. Leaning towards this being another such incident, with proper skepticism intact.

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