Monday, August 16, 2010

Aires 8250

Big media is making hay with the 'miracle' crash of a Colombian airliner at San Andres island in the Caribbean early this morning; only one passenger was lost, which is being attributed to a heart attack, with the aircraft ending up in chunks. Some are mentioning this alongside Captain Sully's name but it seems a bit early for that.

According to CNN there were thunderstorms in the area on landing, which the press is more than happy to blame sans formal investigation, including people talking seriously about lightning bringing down the plane. Here's what Scientific American has said on that subject (posted here after lightning was blamed on the crash of Ethiopian 409).

The pictures released by the Colombian National Police do not clearly show the wings or engines, although reports said they were sheared off as the plane hit short of the threshold. Perhaps the loss of both wings and engines save them from a fuel fire, saving lives. Seeing the wings/engines would provide a few more clues, though.

So OK, speculation being what it is, this looks and feels like a wind shear and/or hard landing in weather event with the pilots doing a great job of recovery at some point (assuming they weren't initially responsible somehow). A NY Times report claims the aircraft landed in a "downpour", bringing downdrafts/wind shear into play, but pilots have learned a lot about wind shear avoidance since Delta 191 in 1985.

Similar to other recent crashes this one was at night--pretty much on a midnight shift--so fatigue has to also be considered. Likewise, terrorism should never be ruled out right off the bat without cause, although this seems an unlikely target unless it was drug-related. One might wonder why a group of Colombian police/military officers were waiting on the plane and whether that was in any way unusual.

Whatever the cause, further investigation should not be hampered by access--the black boxes are right there, so this one may be wrapped up a lot quicker than all the other mysterious mishaps. Surely.

MORE 8/17/10

Witness statements are coming in, and they mostly point to a hard landing in weather--and what better witness than one of the pilots...
"We were caught in a great sinking as we reached the runway, as our wheels touched down," said the unnamed pilot, his face bloodied. "It threw us out. It threw us out. Nature is very strong."

The pilot paced back and forth before the camera, recounting his ordeal as crews worked on the plane just a few yards away.

"It grabbed us with everything it had," the pilot said. "I said, 'Landing' and cut, and when I was cutting, I started to level off, and I felt that the plane was going straight (down).

"I pulled [on the stick]. I pulled. I pulled. And the plane kept on going, kept on going. It was when we said, 'Landing.' When there's nothing left to do."
Sounds like classic wind shear. Thankfully we have avoidance systems at most major US airports now. BTW, here's a video of a hard landing whereupon an MD-80 was intentionally landed with a higher than normal sink rate to determine certification..

Searching for that video I came across this one of the new A380 monster, making one of the most crabbed landings imaginable..

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