Tag Archives: Aviation Safety

Spanair 5022 crash video published by Elpais.com

The Spanish newspaper El Paìs has just published on his website a video of the Spanair 5022 crash, recorded by the airport’ surveillance camera. Unfortunately the video is not clear as it shows the aircraft rotating after a long take off roll, then, the next frames show the aircraft already skidding next to the runway; the footage doesn’t show the MD-82 reaching a few hundred feet and falling, possibly because of a lack of lift.
The video has been already uploaded to youtube:

Varazze Airshow

A few days ago I discussed about airshows performed above the surface of the water (see Air displays above the water: a “risky business”?). A really interesting air display is scheduled for Sept. 20 in Varazze, a village located on the sea about 30 chilometers to the West of Genoa and some 11 chilometers to the Northeast of Savona. The Cdr of the local harbour is the M.llo 2^ Cl. Np Roberto FERRARI of the Capitanerie di Porto (Italian Coast Guard), who’s an expert in maritime navigation safety and NBC defence. Since he’s responsible for the harbour security during the airshow, he’s part of the team that has organized the show. The airshow is going to be attended by an Alenia M346, an Ericcson S-64 Skycrane, a Coast Guard AB.412, a P180 of the Piaggio company, a SOREM C:415 and by the Frecce Tricolori display team. Rehearsals will take place on Sept. 18. Roberto provided a lot of information and documents about the airshow and he granted me the permission to publish them, along with the (provisional) programme.

Spanair 5022: flaps theory confirmed

I’m now pretty sure that one of the best techniques to be used to analyse the aviation crashes is to think to the “deadly precedents”.
On Aug 23 I provided in this article Spanair 5022: a video doesn’t show any explosion. Did the MD82 stall before hitting the ground? my opinion about the Spanair 5022 crash that had occurred 3 days before. This is an excerpt of what I wrote:

“In my opinion, according to the few details already available and to what the witnesses recounted, the cause of the stall could be that slats and flaps were not properly positioned for departure. Why? Simply, because something similar happened at least twice in the history of aviation. Both Northwest 285 from Detroit on 16 Aug. 1987 and Delta 1141 taking off from Dallas Fort Worth on 31 Aug. 1988 crashed in similar accidents because the crew had not ensured that the flaps and slats were properly positioned for take-off. Even if there’s a checklist and various warnings designed to alert the crew if the flaps and slats are not correctly set before take off, it is possible that the system wasn’t working or the crew did not take care of the warnings or they were distracted by the first attempted departure. It must be remembered that the JK5022 left the gate at 13:05LT and returned to the ramp due to a technical problem at 13:42LT and then departed again at 14:25LT. The return to the ramp could have resulted in a checklist being discontinued and not repeated again later, when the aircraft was departing again with 1 hour of delay”.

Now just read the following article published today by the BBC news site. It was written 4 weeks later and according to it, the preliminary report draws more or less the same scenario I had hypothesized. Flaps not configured for take-off. This is important for one reason: each time an aviation accident occurs, just think to the precedents, they might immediately point at the right path to the root cause of the crash.

Wing flap ‘problem’ on Spain jet

The wing flaps on a plane that crashed in Madrid last month were not open properly at take-off, a draft preliminary report has concluded.

Investigators found that the pilots were unaware of the problem because a cockpit warning alarm did not go off, leading Spanish newspapers reported.

The Spanair plane plunged to the ground shortly after take-off, killing 154 people on board.

It was the deadliest air crash in Spain in 25 years.

Investigations into the crash are continuing, with no firm conclusions yet made about whether the disaster was the result of technical fault or human error.

Cockpit recordings

The MD-82 jet, which was preparing to fly to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, had aborted a previous take-off attempt before it crashed.

In my experience an accident doesn’t happen for a single reason
Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba
Spanish Interior Minister

The draft report of the investigating committee, leaked to Spanish newspapers, details how the aircraft crashed when it attempted to take off following a brief stop for technicians to correct a fault in a temperature gauge.

The pilots had detected the high temperature as they readied the plane for take-off, having already deployed the wing flaps, the plane’s black box recorder showed. They aborted the take-off to get the temperature gauge looked at by technicians, the draft report says.

By the time the plane resumed its position on the runway, the flaps – which make it easier for aircraft to get off the ground at take-off speeds – had been retracted, data from the black box is said to show.

The MD-82 plane is equipped with sensors intended to warn pilots whether flaps are correctly deployed before take-off.

However, the draft report suggests no warning signal sounded in the cockpit before the pilots accelerated the plane down the runway for the ill-fated take-off attempt.

Deadly precedent

The draft report said that Spanair did not rigorously follow advice from the plane’s manufacturers to check the flap deployment warning signal.

Following an MD-82 crash in the US city of Detroit in 1987, which killed 154 people, McDonnell-Douglas (now part of Boeing) advised that flap and slats indicator systems be checked before each flight.

However, Spanair only carried out checks on the system before the first flight of each day or when the pilot and co-pilot was changed, the draft report said.

The pair in control of the plane had already taken it from Barcelona to Madrid on the morning of the accident without incident, and were not under orders to check the systems before beginning their next flight, the draft report said.

Investigators have not released any official statement on the disaster, and Spanish Interior Minister Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba told Spanish TV the government would not comment until the investigation had been completed.

“In my experience an accident doesn’t happen for a single reason,” he said.

“We are going to wait for the report to be finished to find out what happened because there are many theories,” Mr Rubalcaba added.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/16 14:32:17 GMT


Air displays above the water: a "risky business"?

During the last month, I’ve often thought about the accident I witnessed on Jun. 1 when a brand new NH90 of the Italian Army, piloted by an experienced crew, crashed into the Bracciano lake (for more details visit the following page: NH90 crash pictures. I’ve recollected the moments preceeding the crash many times and each time I’ve discussed with other pilots and journalists about the possible root causes of the crash someone has pointed to the visual illusion caused by the glassy water of the lake.
The surface of the water can be deceiving and for this reason hydroplane student pilots are given a special training on the landing techniques of a floating plane. Spatial disorientation is a risk when flying on the water, because it is similar as flying above a mirror. Under such conditions, estimating height from the water and distances is impossibile. Just think how dangerous could be trying to land on a lake without being able to judge the height from touchdown. Performing a flare too early could result in a heavy impact with the water, while failing to flare in time would be even worse as the float tips would flip the airplane inverted. That’s why pilots operating on a lake should land using a distant horizon as reference, flare at a preplanned altitude and possibly watch the shoreline without looking down until the floats are on the water.

I’ve often flown above the sea, both during daylight conditions and at night. During daylight operations, unless weather conditions are poor (low ceiling, fog and bad visibility) the horizon is almost always clearly visible. Obviously this doesn’t mean that maneuvering at low level is simple! It requires concentration and CRM since reaction time is limited and there’s no much space for corrections or recovery should the need arise. I’ve recently flown with the HH-3F in a low level flight above the sea, performing instrumental approaches to the hovering point to simulate the recovery of a survivor using the hoist. Even if the weather was fine, all the crew had to cooperate in order to perform the preplanned mission and to fly safely the heavy helicopter at low level.

The following pictures were taken during the low level flight above the sea with an HH-3F of the 82° CSAR

Once I flew above the Bracciano lake with two HH-3F. The weather was poor and the surface of lake was of a disturbing grey. I took pictures of the other Pelican and noticed that when I concetrated on the other aircraft it was extremely difficult to estimate the altitude from the surface of the lake.

The following pictures were taken during the flight above the Bracciano lake with 2 HH-3F of the 85° CSAR and are useful to understand the differences between the sea and lake surfaces

If flying “normally” could be dangerous, just think about the experience, skill and concentration required to perform aerobatic maneuvers above the water. I’ve discussed about the difficulties of a display above the waters with a friend of mine who’s a former F-104 and F-16 pilot and who’s currently flying in the Frecce Tricolori display team: Lt. Piercarlo Ciacchi, “Pony 3”. I met him during the last Giornata Azzurra, the ItAF Open Day held in Pratica di Mare airbase last May. He reminded me that initially, the air displays of the Frecce Tricolori took place only above the ground. The Frecce air display is performed by 10 aircraft (9 + 1 solo) and requires fixed reference points on the ground. In order to orientate above each airport they visit during the airshow season, the Frecce pilots project on a map of the airport the reference point they use at their homebase Rivolto. For this reason, if you hear their comms on the UHF frequency used for the display you’ll hear them referring to “Codroipo”, “Udine”, “Mortegliano” even if there are no such villages nearby: those are the villages located around Rivolto. That said, performing a display above the ground is quite easy, since you can use road, fields, rivers and railways to orientate. During the last decades the Frecce Tricolori began performing their display program above the sea, in front of the coastline. The trick was to use some floating reference points. Maneuvering above the sea during a “coastline airshow” could be even easier than performing above the ground. The main advantage is that….there are usually less obstacles. Main disadvantes are that landmarks are useful to estimate speed, heigh and distances, and improve pilot’s periferic vision and the sun’s reflection on the sea is very strong and flying facing the sunlight could be difficult in certain conditions. Even for this reason, the Frecce usually perform their display at particular hours of the day.
One could think that flying above the lake is similar. It is more difficult. There are strict restrictions for airshows above lakes: because of a different saltiness, the lack of waves and different bed, the surface of the lake usually looks like a mirror. As said, this means that estimating distances is virtually impossibile. Reflection of the surrounding landscape is even worse and spatial disorientation could occur. Airshows on the lake are planned with much more attention than “normal” ones. Furthermore, volcanic lakes (like Bracciano Lake) are often small and surrounded by prominent orography which cause turbolence (I remember my Instructor Pilot who always told me to keep my Cessna 152 away from Bracciano because of the turbolence downwind the hills surrounding the Lake). This explains why on Jun 1, minutes before the NH90 crashed into the lake, the Frecce made only a few flypasts and did not perform their display during “Ali sul Lago” airshow.
The following pictures were taken during those flypasts.

On Aug. 31, Porto S. Stefano (a small village located on the North side of the Monte Argentario peninsula, some 35 km to the S. of Grosseto) hosted a small airshow attended by the Frecce Tricolori, by an HH-3F belonging to the 15° Stormo, a T-6 Texan and the Yakitalia display team. Andrea El Dabh, attended the show and took the following pictures of the air display. Even if pictures were taken in a sunny day while those taken at Bracciano were taken in a cloudy one with overcast ceiling, they are interesting because they permit to compare the different conditions of the water between the sea and a lake.

BA038 crash landing caused by fuel icing

The Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) issued on Sept. 4 an interim report concerning concerning the accident to the British Airways Boeing 777-236ER, G-YMMM that crash landed short of RWY 27L at London Heathrow airport on Jan 17, 2008.
According to the report, that can be downloaded at the following address (http://www.aaib.dft.gov.uk/publications/interim_reports/boeing_777_236er__g_ymmm.cfm) the engines lost power during the final phase of the approach because ice accumulated next to the engine fuel feed system. The ice probably formed because water (naturally) existing in the fuel dropped below the water’s freezing temperature. Even if the aircraft operated within the certified envelope, the temperature recorded during the flight from Beijing to London, was lower than usual.
Aviation fuel contains water. Fuel tanks usually have low percentages of fuel below the freezing point of water because it is impossible to drain all the water out of them. So, the first option to try to avoid such problems to repeat, would be to inhibit water from becoming ice, a result that could be obtained by using additives. Another option, could be to implement a different fuel tank, even if it is an expensive and long term measure. In the meanwhile, using FSII (Fuel System Icing Inhibitor) or make operational change could reduce the risk of ice restricting fuel flow like happened to the BA038 flight. Obviously, changing for example the cruising altitude to prevent temperature from dropping too low (with the always growing cost of fuel) is not an option. Although the investigation is still in progress, to reduce the risk of fuel icing the AAIB released safety recommendations “to introduce interim measures for the Boeing 777, powered by Trent 800 engines, to reduce the risk of ice formed from water in aviation turbine fuel causing a restriction in the fuel feed system”, “to consider the implications of the findings of the investigation on other certificated airframe / engine combinations” and “to review the current certification requirements to ensure that aircraft and engine fuel systems are tolerant to the potential build-up and sudden release of ice in the fuel system.