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July 07, 2013

NTSB: Early Indications Are The San Francisco Plane Crash Was Caused By Perhaps The Worst Pilot In The World

Yesterday I was convinced the cause had to be mechanical. It was inconceivable to me that an Airline Transport Pilot could manage an approach that badly.


While stopping short of pinpointing pilot error as the likely cause of the fiery crash that killed two teenage passengers and injured dozens of others, National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman indicated Sunday that investigators already are focused primarily on understanding why the crew allowed speed to decay to such an extent—and failed to take decisive action until the wide-body jet was less than two seconds from impact.

In the first on-scene briefing by the NTSB, Ms. Hersman said a preliminary readout of the plane’s flight-data and cockpit-voice recorders indicates that everything was normal—with no discussion of any onboard problems or concerns about the visual approach in good weather—until just seven seconds before impact.

At that point, she told reporters, the crew realized the plane arriving on an overnight flight from Seoul was flying too slowly. “The speed was significantly below” the designated approach speed of roughly 130 miles an hour.

According to some math I saw yesterday the jetty the jet struck is about 1,300 feet short of the landing zone. In other words, this guy was aiming nearly a quarter of a mile short of where he should have been.

The winds were reported to be about 8 miles an hour from the southwest (they were landing to the west) and skies were clear. There was no reason for this guy not to have realized he was going to be well short.

You may hear about the runway Glide Slope Indicator being out of service. This is a non-factor. According to the NTSB the flight was cleared for "a visual approach". This means neither the glide slope or localizer were required to be used. There was something called a PAPI available and that's more than he would have needed.

I really can't express how shocked I am that an ATP could butcher an approach this badly. From what the NTSB said today this guy essentially took a perfectly good airplane and flew it into the ground.

He's going to need a good lawyer to stay out of jail.

Video of the crash is starting to come out (see below the fold). You'll hear a lot of talk about what's going on in those last few seconds but these are just the effects of decisions that were made and not made many seconds or minutes prior to the crash. Yes, he tried to go around. No, the engines didn't spool up soon enough to save him and he didn't push the nose down when they did start to kick in. And yes, the right wing stalls. those are the immediate events leading to the impact. The real causes happened 30 seconds or more sooner when they didn't realize they were not properly set up or on speed.

Kudos to Boeing for building an air-frame that took that kind of beating and still gave most people the chance to survive. As the old saying goes, "if it ain't Boeing, I an't going".

digg this
posted by DrewM. at 07:30 PM

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