Monday, June 04, 2012

Aviation Update

Brutal, two accidents involving Nigerian aircraft this past weekend, killing over 170 people.  Related?

Early speculation would say no.  The Allied Air 727-200 that overshot the runway on a scheduled cargo flight from Lagos to Accra, Ghana, was by all reports landing during intermittent thunderstorms.  The runway was long--over 11,000 feet--plenty of stopping room for a 727 (can handle less than half that length under normal conditions).  The crew is still alive so they'll have a lot to work with in completing an investigation.

The Dana Air flight 992 MD83 crash at Lagos Sunday appears more complicated.  Weather conditions were reportedly benign. Initial reports say pilots radioed they were having engine trouble on final approach and the aircraft struck the ground about 5 miles short of the runway.  

Reports vary; some today put the accident site 11 miles from the airport--this one says 4 miles.  The confusion probably comes from the fact the crew reported Mayday 11 miles out, allegedly reporting a loss of power of both engines.  This kind of confusion is common in crashes, especially in the third world.  Here's a local media report heralding fresh information that says the plane actually took off from Lagos and was trying to return to the airport, which has already been eclipsed by events.

Pictures from the scene indicate the tailplane of the MD83 remained relatively intact, to the point where locals were walking across the horizontal stabilizer taking cellphone pictures.  An AFP video features a witness who described the aircraft wobbling as it descended.  This, along with other witness accounts saying the aircraft impacted the ground with a nose-up attitude suggests the plane didn't drop out of the sky but was stalling while proceeding laterally. 

So far no witnesses have mentioned the aircraft being on fire before colliding with the ground, which seems to work against a terrorist missile or bomb.  Such a crash would likely have occurred in Detroit had Abdulmuttalob been successful in igniting his underwear but the difference here is the Mayday call; onboard bombs tend to be catastrophic. Nigeria is home to AQ faction Boko Haram  and they've taken credit for an attack on a Christian church Sunday in northern Nigeria killing at least 12, but so far no terrorists have claimed responsibility for flight 992.  Not that their silence lessens the overall fears.

Both the CVR and FDR have been found, which will go a long way towards solving the mystery--if the mystery is allowed to be solved.  Boeing has dispatched some personnel working through the NTSB so the right players are in position for an honest and thorough investigation.  It won't take away the grief, but a real inquest may save more grief for others down the line.

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