Friday, December 02, 2016

If that One Goes, We'll be up here all Day.

An old joke about some unsophisticated passengers on an airplane that was losing engine power - and being increasingly delayed - has the punch line used as the title for this screed.

Sadly it's a matter of physics that what goes up, and weighs more than air, must come down. Air planes are no exception to the rule.  It wasn't long after mankind started to experiment with flight that the first air 'disasters' followed.  That we have made remarkable advances in the fields of reliability and aviation safety is not to be denied, but aircraft continue to come back down in ways outside the design brief, with tragic consequences.

A recent sad story of another sports team annihilated in an air crash has come to us this week from Colombia. A crash involving a four-engined British BAE 146 'commuter' airliner that was carrying a Brazilian soccer team occurred as the aircraft was preparing to land at Medellin in Columbia.  To-day it appears that the aircraft may have run out of fuel, resulting in a complete loss of the electrical system and the subsequent crash. there were 9 survivors out of the 80 some people aboard.

As such things usually are in to-day's world of instant communications and selfies , a lot of minor details have already come out. The soccer players were enjoying the opportunity to compete in high-level play for a 'continental' cup. Naturally they were photographing each other and streaming those and video.  There are probably more disturbing recordings on the way.  There were a couple of 'out of the ordinary' things that did show up - involving soccer players interacting with the crew. One showed two players visiting the captain in the cockpit, another showed players interacting with another officer in the cabin - they seemed to know the crew, having, apparently, used that charter airliner before. A third video has surfaced of an interview with the 'second officer'  on the flight, a young Bolivian model,  on her first, and as it turned out last day on the job as a commercial pilot.

Interview with Flight Crew

Interestingly,  the charter airline has come under some scrutiny too. Originally situated in Venezuela and started by a government official there, La MIA airline ran into money trouble almost from the start and wound-up being owned by three regional governors, before shifting operations to Bolivia where the company's three  aircraft were registered. One of the current owners was at the controls of the downed plane. In light of the crash, the airline's license has been suspended pending the inquiry.

 A couple of other details have come to light since the crash. apparently the captain opted not to 'top up' the plane's fuel before leaving Bolivia.  The fuel situation didn't seem to be a concern as the plane passed over or near  a number of other airports on its way to Medellin in the northern part of Colombia.  When the pilot did declare an emergency and ask for landing priority, another aircraft has just 'beat him to it' and was already making its emergency approach.  The flight radar record indicates a substantial decrease in the aircraft's altitude during the last few minutes of the plane's flight. If that was done while the plane still had power, the lower altitude might have contributed to a lack of surviveability when the engines failed and electrical power was lost. The plane was 9 kilometers and a mountain ridge away from the airport.  If altitude was decreased after power was lost, it may have been a panic reaction to the loss of radar visibility, and an action that doomed the plane. The pilot obviously not being able to see the airport, was asking for landing vectors - the heading to approach for a landing. He was on course to the airport when the plane struck the mountainside.

They don't happen often but when they do aircraft crashes are still spectacular tragedies.

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