Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Aviation Update

The reporting on the crash of the Dassault Falcon 50 in Moscow carrying French oil giant Total's CEO has become typically weird.  Not to say there is a giant conspiracy, but not to say one should be ruled out.

As usual there are conflicting reports.  Some examples are shown below, with items of note in bold.  First, here's something from an AP wire report:
The crash occurred at 11.57 p.m. Monday local time when the French-made Dassault Falcon 50 burst into flames after hitting the snowplow during takeoff from Vnukovo airport, which is used by Russian government officials, including President Vladimir Putin, and visiting foreign leaders.
So AP says it was during "takeoff". Makes sense when considering the destruction of the aircraft, which apparently inverted before its tragic end. But here's the press spokeslady from the Vnukovo airport (the government facility Putin uses to fly in and out):
During the taxiing before take-off, at around 0:10 am Moscow time on Tuesday, the light aircraft hit a snow-clearing machine, the head of Vnukovo’s press service, Elena Krylova, told the media. “A Falcon airplane that was en route from Moscow to Paris collided with a snowplow while the jet was preparing to take off. The plane caught fire after the collision and all the people onboard – including a passenger and three crew members - died,” Krylova said.
The aircraft did not leave the ground after hitting the vehicle, she added, refuting earlier reports that the plane did eventually take off but then the pilot made a decision to turn back and land. The investigators have already found the aircraft’s black boxes while the airport staff were writing explanatory reports, she added.
So we're being asked to believe the Falcon jet slammed the plow as it was lining up for takeoff?  With debris strewn hundreds of meters and the aircraft being inverted?  But despite the widespread debris the plow driver survived and amazingly, the airport was cleared to reopen only 2 hours later:
Vnukovo Airport temporarily suspended all flights following the incident, but by 2 am all operations were restored.
Perhaps at this juncture it would help to show a picture of the airport..

Two main runways, lots of taxiways, more than enough potential confusion with low visibility.  And they could have resumed operations with only one runway, it appears.  So what about the weather? According to this report the temperature at crash time was 34F with humidity at 100 percent with a light southeast wind--all conducive to fog formation, and indeed the weather observation mentioned visibility at only 1/4 mile in light drizzle. So, why was a snow plow on the runway?  Were they releasing urea or some other substance to melt possible slush and ice?  Maybe--Moscow was expecting snow.  And it's entirely conceivable the allegedly drunken plow driver got lost in the mist and took the wrong taxiway or crossed an active runway and nobody in the tower could see it.  But we're back to the plow driver surviving, which sounds like a miracle. 

By the way, here's another story that described the crash this way:
"During run-up at 11:57 pm (1957 GMT), there was a collision with the airport's snowplough...
Misinformation after crashes is as predictable as sunrise, especially with the clown car media involved, but this report was from the airport PR person, not the media.  And she claims the plane wasn't taking off, because if it was taking off it wouldn't be 'running up'. 

But here's a presumed eyewitness report of airport operations this morning--only hours after the crash:
I was in Vnukovo today. I couldn't find any rests of the aircraft. Last night, at 12.15, I was returning home, driving through eastern Moscow. Heavy rains after a snowy sunday. It wasn't snowing at all. It was just raining. As I got to my house, 8nm from Vnukovo, around 12.35, there was almost no rain left. Flights today were mostly in order, no big delays. Heavy winds in the West-East direction. Lately, runway 24 is mostly used for take offs while runway 01 for landings. Anyone knows where was the crash? I saw nothing, although it was a 4 minutes drop off visit to Vnukovo, but i deeply checked in the around and couldn't find a single piece of aircraft, smoke, nothing. I was there at 11am.
Hard to believe there would be no sign of some debris there the morning after.  And it would be nice to see what the plow looks like now.

In other words, we getting some conflicting information. Sorting out the factual information from the misinformation, or possible disinformation, is the key. There is a difference. Proving 'disinformation' is always the hardest.

One way to guess is an analysis of where stories about the event are taking viewers/readers.  Right now almost all the stories are blaming a drunken cartoonish Russian plow driver.  They are also keying on the notion that de Margerie was against isolating Russia with punishing sanctions due to Ukraine, ie, why would a friend of Pooty Poot get rubbed out in Moscow?  But there's also this:
Total is a major shareholder in Novatek, Russia's largest independent natural gas producer. The two companies were planning to develop a massive liquified natural gas reserve in Siberia.
But the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over eastern Ukraine in July prompted Total to suspend buying additional shares in Novatek.
So as oil prices crater (less cash for Russia and the Middle East) perhaps Vlad couldn't twist his arm into more positive action.  Things are getting strange out there.

Speaking of oil, a few stories are also mentioning de Margerie and Total Oil's roles in the Iraq "Oil for Food" program where he was suspected of helping the Saddam regime sell oil on the underground markets to get around UN/US sanctions, charges of which the company was only recently cleared.  But take a look at this from the OFF memory hole and it gets weirder (added emphasis):
Thirty percent of the oil vouchers were issued to beneficiaries in Russia, including individual officials in the president’s office, the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Russian Communist Party, members of the Russian parliament, and the oil firms Lukoil, Gazprom, Zarubezhneft, Sibneft, Rosneft, and Tatneft.
Fifteen percent of the beneficiaries were French, including a former interior minister, the Iraqi-French Friendship Society, and the oil company Total.
Yes, both the Russians and French were helping Saddam back in the day so combined with the abovementioned bits of history it would seem to make the West, and not Russia, prime suspects for sabotage.  Then again, if something nefarious is up in Russia it doesn't necessarily always have to originate in Putin's office.  Their investigations committee is already laying blame!  But sometimes accidents just happen--even in Russia. 

MORE  10/23/14

More details are coming from Russia regarding the fallout from the crash.  Seems the plow driver has been arrested and detained.  His lawyer claims he wasn't drunk at the time and that tests to confirm his blood-alcohol will take 5-7 days rather than within 1 day as is usual, however this report claims it was released today and measured 0.06. That's below US standards for drunk driving, but airport operations require zero point zero.  Russian authorities have also picked up a couple of air traffic controllers, a maintenance supervisor, and a 'flights director', while the top two airport officials have resigned.    

Still no pictures of the plow.  The driver claims he was part of a convoy of plows heading across the airport grounds when something happened to his truck and he stopped to get out and look.  He claims he couldn't hear anything due to the roar of his plow engine and didn't realize he was on the active runway.  He claims he tried to contact his foreman on radio (which would probably not be on the same frequency as ATC ground, but one that ATC should monitor). Then the crash.

He seems to have been driving when the crash occurred, as there are indications he got back in the truck to start again but couldn't see the other trucks.  Based on the photo of the aircraft wreckage the plane had obviously taken off and perhaps gotten slightly airborne, since it somehow ended up inverted, therefore the plow driver was on the active runway.  Since he was completely unharmed it's likely the impact was a glancing blow, perhaps to a wing or the tail, since pictures show the Falcon jet's nose landing gear extended as normal and largely undamaged.  That scenario would explain the final resting position better than the airport PR director's initial remarks.

Still, we have a situation where a 10 year veteran airport maintenance operator was bumbling around on an active runway and nobody noticed.  That's where the notion of alcohol comes in--it could be used to explain the driver's actions quite well.  Of course it's Russia, don't people get up in the morning blowing a point six?  

Even with some booze it's hard to imagine that a plow driver could be that stupid and wouldn't have been monitoring ground frequencies to know whether there was any air traffic around.  Then again, one can imagine a haphazard operation where a fleet of plows were cleared to cross, the last driver was a bit loopy and stopped after hearing a sound--not knowing where he was because he was only following the truck in front of him because it was foggy, then getting back in and driving fast trying to catch back up but not wanting to talk on the radio then getting clipped by the departing aircraft before catching up to his comrades. He could have also been outside the truck when ATC gave the Falcon jet clearance, which was possibly given by an ATC trainee.  Most accidents are caused by a compounding of separate errors.

So, while conspiracies can never be totally dismissed in a country run by a former KGB officer the theory of negligence must first be eliminated, and right now it's looking pretty strong.

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