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Accident Alerts

A Regrettable Declaration

Nothing can be more dangerously arrogant than an airline publicly declaring a fatal accident involving one of its planes is inconceivable. Yet an article in an AirAsia in-flight magazine that went to press before the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 in March 2014 boasted that AirAsia pilots would never lose an airplane because of their “continuous and very thorough” training”.

“Rest assured that your captain is well prepared to ensure your plane will never get lost,” the article declared.

Now AirAsia Flight QZ8501 is missing, presumed at the bottom of the Java Sea. Ground radar contact was lost with the Airbus A320 with 162 aboard early on the morning of December 28. The airplane was about a third along its flight from Surabaya, Indonesia, to Singapore. The airplane was lost right at a line of severe thunderstorms. The cockpit crew apparently did not have time to radio a distress call; whatever happened, it was quick. Three days later, Indonesian rescuers were pulling bodies and wreckage from the sea.

The lost airplane

The lost airplane

The in-flight magazine was pulled in April 2014 — a month after the disappearance of the Malaysia Airlines B777 — as a result of criticism in social media, with profuse apologies from management and the airline’s CEO, Tony Fernandes.

It is one thing to generally declare a commitment to safety, but quite another to assert that a crash is never going to happen. At worst, this sort of hyperbole can breed an attitude of complacency, which can take various forms:

• Highly scripted simulator training sessions that are predictable and/or not reflective of real-world emergencies.

• Pro-forma cockpit checks of pilots by management pilots.

• An increase in deferred maintenance.

• A shortage or even absence of contingency funds to address a loss, specifically:

– Money to support passengers next of kin, to include necessary transportation, lodging, meals and incidental expenses.

– Funds to support the inevitably costly investigation

– Monies to support safety adjustments deemed necessary even before the investigation is completed.

• A paucity of training, if any, for airline employees who are appointed to deal with the passengers next of kin, and for airline officials tasked with representing the carrier in various public forums.

• A deterioration in a “just culture”, where employees are encouraged to speak out — and are rewarded — for calling management’s attention to safety deficiencies.

• A ho-hum attitude regarding Safety Management Systems, which can be useful for teasing out latent hazards and correcting them.

In airline operations, complacency may be a huge threat to air safety. The abortive in-flight magazine article would have been far better focusing on pilots’ prudence, as in: if there’s any doubt, don’t. Proven, standardized procedures will reign. Good cockpit discipline and focus will be established for every flight. Sound airmanship and effective crew resource management will be practiced continually.

These sorts of assurances, if backed up with effective programs to ensure that they are practiced, are appropriate.

Indeed, the pilots of Flight QZ8501 may have reflected the natural caution of pilots facing severe convective weather. Shortly before the airplane disappeared, they requested to ground controllers that their assigned altitude of 32,000 feet be changed to 38,000 feet. They may have seen a safe opening in thunderstorms raging to 50,000 feet. Because of other “traffic” in the area, controllers denied their request.

One wonders about how much “traffic” potentially conflicted with the AirAsia pilots’ request. There were reportedly seven other aircraft on that route, which is hundreds of miles long. No doubt, “conflicting traffic” will be a subject of the inevitable investigative inquiry.

In the meantime, the AirAsia magazine article serves as an object lesson: an attitude of “it can’t happen to us” is bound to breed complacency and cruel events may undercut passengers’ confidence in safety.

With a fatal crash on his hands, Tony Fernandes is now using appropriate words. “My heart is filled with sadness for all the families involved in QZ8501,” he wrote in a Twitter message after the wreckage was found. “On behalf of AirAsia, my condolences to all.”

Words may not suffice. The issues presented above — regarding a “just culture”, realistic pilot training, maintenance that is up to snuff, etc. — bear thorough audit and corrective action. They apply not just to AirAsia, but any airline bent on avoiding condolences.

US Airways Flight 1549 Makes Emergency Landing in Hudson River

Accident Overview

On Thursday January 15, 2008, US Airways flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the frigid Hudson River after attempting to take off from Manhattan’s LaGuardia Airport. The plane, bound for Charlotte, N.C., took off at 3:26 p.m. eastern time. Less than a minute later, the pilot reported a “double bird strike” and radioed that he needed to return to LaGuardia. Air traffic controllers initially gave the pilot instructions to return to New York City’s LaGuardia Airport, but the pilot replied, “unable.” Teterboro airstrip in the northern New Jersey suburbs was also recommended, but the pilot again responded, “unable.”and that he was going into the river. Witnesses from nearby buildings watched the plane steadily descend into the icy Hudson for a splash landing on it’s belly. The aircraft didn’t bounce and came to a relatively fast stop. After the impact, the plane quickly became submerged up to its windows in the 36-degree water. It is believed that the plane encountered a flock of geese and that some of them may have flown into one or both of the jet’s engines.

 U.S. Airways flight 1549 In Hudson

Passengers and Crew

The plane was carrying 155 passengers, two pilots and three flight attendants. Everyone on-board was evacuated via life rafts and a flotilla of Coast Guard vessels, ferries, water taxis and tourist boats. Dozens of passengers stood on the aircraft’s wings until resuce craft could carry them to safety. There were 78 injuries reported in the crash including hypothermia, bruising and some broken bones.

 Rescue Flotialla

Preliminary Investigation

As of Friday January 16, 2008 National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were on scene. Officials said the cause of the crash was under investigation, but initial reports suggested the plane may have hit birds after taking off. Federal investigators said the left engine of the US Airways jetliner was missing. The aircraft, was tethered to a pier on the tip of lower Manhattan on Friday — about four miles from where it touched down. Investigators will begin focusing on recovery of the missing engine and the black box. They also plan on interviewing the crew.

Aircraft Information

The aircraft involved in the accident was a Airbus A320 built in 1999 with registration number N106US.

Airbus A320 N106US.

Operator Information

US Airways operates hubs in Charlotte, Philadelphia and Phoenix and is the fifth largest airline in the United States. A member of the Star Alliance, it has a fleet of 353 mainline jet aircraft and 319 regional jet and turbo-prop aircraft connecting 200 destinations in North America, Central America, the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Europe.

Continental Flight 1404 veers off runway

Accident Overview

On Saturday December 20, 2008, 38 people were injured when a Continental Airlines Flight veered off course about 2,000 feet from the end of the runway and caught fire. Continental Flight 1404 was attempting to take off from Denver International Airport for Houston around 6:20 p.m. Firefighters found the Boeing 737 on fire, with its wheels sheared off, resting in a ravine about 200 yards from the runway.

Continental Airlines Flight 1404

Passengers and Crew

105 people on board had to be evacuated via emergency chutes. Thirty-eight people suffered injuries including broken bones, and two were in critical condition with fractures.

Preliminary Investigation

National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration inspectors were on scene on Sunday Decemper 21, 2008. They will analyze everything from the skid marks on the runway to the flight data recorder and could take as much as year or more before issuing a final report. However, an initial advisory from the agency said that strong, gusty wind was blowing about the time Flight 1404 was taking off. So far investigators haven’t found any problems with the Boeing 737-500’s engines, brakes or wheels, but they haven’t ruled anything out.

Continental Flight 1404 Wreckage

Aircraft Information

The aircraft involved in the accident was a Boeing 737-500 with registration number N18611. The aircraft was built in 1994 for Continental and at the time of registration was listed as being capable of carrying 104 passengers. No prior incidents reagarding that aircraft have been reported.

Boeing 737-500 N18611

Operator Information

Continental operates flights to destinations throughout the U.S., Canada, Latin America, Europe, and the Asia-Pacific regions. It has more than 3,000 daily departures, serving 151 domestic and 120 international destinations and has 42,200 employees. Principal operations are from its three hubs at Newark Liberty International Airport (in Newark, New Jersey), George Bush Intercontinental Airport (in Houston, Texas), and Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (in Cleveland, Ohio).

Air Angels Helicopter Crash in Aurora Illinois

Accident Overview

On Thursday October 16, 2008, four people, including a 13-month-old girl, were killed when a medical evacuation helicopter crashed in the Chicago suburb of Aurora Illinois. The helicopter was bound for Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago on its way from Valley West Hospital in Sandwich when it went down minutes before midnight. According to eye whiteness reports the helicopter crashed in a field near a residential area in east Aurora and was engulfed in flames.

Air Angles Wreckage


Passengers and Crew

The helicopter was carrying a 3 person crew which included the pilot, a nurse and a paramedic employed by Air Angles. A 13-month-old girl was also onboard and was being transported to the hospital due to epileptic seizures.


Preliminary Investigation

Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board were at the scene shortly after the crash. Authorities believe that the helicopter may have clipped a radio tower wire before it crashed and burned. Officials are also considering that there may have been problems with the flight before it hit the radio tower because it was flying so low; under normal conditions, the helicopter should not have been flying low enough to hit the tower or its support wires.


Aircraft Information

The helicopter involved in the accident was a Bell 222 rotorcraft with registration number N992AA.

Bell 222 Helicopter N992AA


Operator Information

The helicopter belonged to Air Angels Inc., an emergency medical transport service based at Clow Airport in suburban Bolingbrook. The Aurora crash is the third involving Air Angels helicopters in the past fiver years. In January 2003, an Air Angels helicopter crashed killing the pilot. Investigators determined pilot error and weather caused the accident. Mechanical problems were blamed for an August 2007 crash in which there were no injuries.

Air Angels announced on October 16, 2008 that it was suspending all operations pending investigation of the crash. In cases such as this one it can be beneficial to have a helicopter crash lawyer working the case too.


Spanair MD-80 Plane Crash in Madrid Spain

Accident Overview

On August 20, 2008 at 2:45 GMT, Spanair flight number JK5022 crashed while taking off from Madrid’s Barajas Airport. The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 registration number EC-HFP was bound for Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and using runway 36L. Initial reports indicate that 153 people perished in the crash.

Spanaii Madrid Crash Site

Passengers and Crew

The jet was carrying approximately 172 passengers and 6 crew members bound for Las Palmas during the height of Europe’s summer vacation season. Twenty-two children and infants were listed on the passenger manifest. Nineteen people are reported to have survived the crash. Lufthansa reported that it had issued codeshare tickets to seven people and that four of them were from Germany. Canary Islands official said passengers included Swedes and Dutch. Sweden’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that two Swedes were onboard the aircraft.

Preliminary Investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board will be sending a team of investigators to Madrid, Spain, to assist the Spanish Civil Aviation Authority in the investigation of the accident in which a Spanair MD-80 (Spanish Reg. EC-HFP) crashed on take-off. The U.S. team will also include technical advisors from the FAA, Boeing, and Pratt & Whitney. NTSB Acting Chairman Mark V. Rosenker has designated senior air safety investigator John Lovell as the U.S. Accredited Representative; four other NTSB technical specialists will accompany him.

Aircraft Information

The airplane involved in the accident in Madrid was a 15-year-old McDonnell Douglas MD-82. The MD-80 family was designed by McDonnell Douglas in the 1970s as the successor to its DC-9 line and entered service in 1980. The engines on the plane were manufactured by Pratt & Whitney, a unit of U.S. conglomerate United Technologies Corp. Boeing bought McDonnell Douglas in 1997, and the last of the MD-80 family rolled off its production line in 1999.

Mcdonnell Douglas MD-82

Operator Information

The McDonnell Douglas MD-82 was operated Spanair S.A. The Airline is based in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and is subsidiary of Scandinavian Airlines Systems. It provides a scheduled passenger network within Spain and Europe, with an extension to West Africa. Its main base is Son Sant Joan Airport (PMI), with hubs at Barajas International Airport (MAD), Madrid and El Prat International Airport (BCN), Barcelona.

Northern California Firefighter Helicopter Crash

Accident Overview

At approximately 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday August 5, 2008 about 35 miles northwest of Redding in the Trinity Alps Wilderness area of the Shasta-Trinity National Forest a Sikorsky S-61 helicopter entered a remote area to pick up firefighters battling wildfires. According to the Federal Aviation Administration shortly after lifting off from a clearing the Sikorsky S-61 chopper crashed “under unknown circumstances” and was destroyed by fire. Witnesses of the helicopter accident told investigators the aircraft had lifted off more slowly than normal before it struck a tree and crashed. According to reports the chopper’s nose hit the tree about 40 to 50 feet above ground, its rotor blades struck trees and branches before the aircraft plummeted to the ground. The aircraft came to rest on its left side about 150 yards from its takeoff site and then “quickly filled with very dense, thick black smoke” before catching fire.

Redding Crash Site


Passengers and Crew

The Sikorsky S-61N was transporting 10 firefighters, two pilots and a U.S. Forest Service employee back to base camp. Four of those aboard were rescued and taken to hospitals 9 others are presumed dead. The firefighters had been working at the northern end of a fire burning on more than 27 square miles in the national forest, part of a larger complex of blazes that is mostly contained.

Carson Helicopters Pilot:William Coultas was in critical condition UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento
Grayback Firefighter: Michael Brown, 20, was in fair condition at University of California-Davis Medical Center
Grayback Firefighter: Jonathan Frohreich, 18, was in critical condition at UC-Davis
Grayback Firefighter: Rick Schroeder, 42, was in serious condition at Mercy Medical Center in Redding

Carson Helicopters Pilot: Roark Schwanenberg, 54, of Lostine, OR
U.S. Forest Service Flight Inspector: TBD
Grayback Firefighter: Shawn Blazer, 30 from Medford, OR
Grayback Firefighter: Scott Charleson, 25 from Phoenix, OR
Grayback Firefighter: Matthew Hammer, 23 from Grants Pass, OR
Grayback Firefighter: Edrik Gomez, 19, from Ashland, OR
Grayback Firefighter: Steven Renno, 21, Cave Junction, OR
Grayback Firefighter: Bryan Rich, 29, from Medford, OR
Grayback Firefighter: David Steele, 19, from Ashland, OR


Preliminary Investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration dispatched teams to the crash site on Tuesday August 5, 2008. Investigators plan to survey the treetop heights and topographical features of the crash site, take fuel samples, and review the aircraft’s maintenance records. They also plan to analyze the helicopter’s escape windows, seat belts and other factors that would tell them something about the difficulties passengers would have encountered evacuating the aircraft.

The task of identifying the remains of the nine people killed in the crash is also currently underway. Due to the extent of the damage, DNA and dental records will likely have to be used for identification.

Investigators said Friday August 8, 2008 that they had recovered the cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage and that the device was bound for an NTSB laboratory in Washington. The NTSB also said that it will be quite some time before they can determine the cause of the accident.

Redding Crash Site


Aircraft Information

The 30-year-old helicopter, a Sikorsky S-61 operating under registration number N612AZ was originally made in Connecticut and the helicopter’s engine, airframe and rotors were upgraded three years ago. The Sikorsky S-61 helicopter is the only wild-land firefighting helicopter in the nation equipped to simultaneously carry both water and crew. It can simultaneously carry up to 18 firefighters and drop up to 1,000 gallons of water via a suspended bucket.

Sikorsky S-61N Rotorcraft


Operator Information

The helicopter was operated by Carson Helicopters, which has offices in Grants Pass, Oregon, and Perkasie, Pennsylvania.

Operating since 1963 Carson Helicopters provides a unique array of services, ranging from airlifting external & internal cargo, carrying personnel, suppressing wildfires, carrying out emergency search & rescues, performing high-rise rooftop installations, pouring concrete, and erecting steel structures and power lines in areas where ground-based cranes cannot access. Carson Helicopters is a F.A.A. (Federal Aviation Agency) Approved Helicopter Repair Station for the overhaul, repair, and remanufacture of all major model helicopters with facilities that include hangars, heliport, paint shops, workshops and office buildings.

Carson Helicopters holds over 20 STCs for improvements and modifications made to the Sikorsky S61 Helicopter and developed the first short S61, removing 50 inches from the airframe which allowed for an increase in heavier lifting capability. In 1976, Carson Helicopters set a world record that remains unbroken today for off loading 602,000 metric tons of concrete in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

In 2003, The Carson Composite Main Rotor Blade was certified by the FAA, permitting the Sikorsky S61 to carry an additional 2000 pounds, fly 17 miles per hour faster and travel 70 miles farther on the same fuel load.


Owatonna Minnesota Plane Crash

Accident Overview

At about 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 31, 2008 Flight ECJ 81 (a Raytheon Hawker 800) crashed in a corn field northwest of runway 30 at Degner Regional Airport in Owatonna Minnesota. The aircraft was en route from Atlantic City with a scheduled stop in Owatonna Minnesota. The flight originated from its base in Allentown Pennsylvania and was ultimately headed for Crossville Tennessee. Seven people were found dead at the scene and an eighth died shortly thereafter in a local hospital.

Owatonna Crash Site

Passengers and Crew

The jet was carrying six casino and construction executives and two pilots. The executives were en route to meet with representatives of a local glass company to discuss a hotel-casino complex being built in Atlantic City by Revel Entertainment. The identities of all 8 victims have recently been released.

Clark J. Keefer, 40, of Bethlehem, PA, Pilot for East Coast Jets;

Dan D’Ambrosio, 27, of Hellertown, PA, Pilot for East Coast Jets;

Karen Sandland, 44, of Galloway, NJ, Project Manager for Tishman Construction Corporation;

Marc L. Rosenberg, 57, of Margate, NJ, Chief Operating Officer of APG International in Glassboro, NJ;

Alan M. Barnet, 51, of Absecon, NJ, Assistant Project Manager of APG International in Glassboro, NJ;

Tony Craig, 50, of Brigantine, NJ, V.P. of Construction Development for Revel Entertainment;

Chris Daul, 44, of Northfield, NJ, V.P. of Construction Development for Revel Entertainment; and

Lawrence “Chip” Merrigan, 62, of Absecon, Director of Field Operations for Revel Entertainment.

Preliminary Investigation

The National Transportation Safety Board immediately dispatched a 14 member “Go Team” to investigate the crash. The NTSB, looking for clues which could possibly reveal why the plane crashed has been surveying the wreckage, examining the runway and taking eye witnesses statements. At this time, accident investigators would not speculate on a possible cause but did release the following information.

In a press conference held on August 1st at 11:00 MDT, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Member Steven Chealander confirmed that a cockpit voice recorder and flight management system were both recovered from the accident and have been sent to the NTSB lab in Washington, D.C. for analysis. Although large commercial aircraft and some smaller commercial, corporate, and private aircraft are required by the FAA to be equipped with two “black boxes” — both the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and a Flight Data Recorder (FDR) — the aircraft in yesterday’s accident was not equipped, nor was it required to be equipped, with an FDR.

The FDR is a more sophisticated means of data collection and monitors parameters such as altitude, airspeed and heading. Both recorders are installed to help reconstruct the events leading to an aircraft accident. Since 1999, the NTSB has listed the improvement of audio and data recorders on its “Most Wanted List” of transportation safety improvements. The Board specifically renewed these recommended safety improvements in 2004 during the investigation into the October 25, 2002 plane crash of Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone, which lacked an FDR, making it extremely difficult for investigators to piece together the last few moments of the flight. Nonetheless, the NTSB notes that these recommendations remain “open” with an “unacceptable response” from the FAA. Jim Hall, a Nolan Law Group attorney and former NTSB Chairman, stated “Sadly, despite the availability of this invaluable technologythe inaction of the FAA and the business aviation community regarding these safety measures will once again leave the people of Minnesota asking questions.”

Weather Radar Analysis

Nolan Law Group’s consulting meteorological expert has reviewed the weather radar and other weather products available around the time of the crash and has determined it is unlikely weather conditions directly contributed to the aircraft accident. There was no evidence to suggest wind shear, updrafts, lightning strikes, or other weather phenomenon in the area at the time of the crash. Severe weather reported near Owatonna earlier that morning had passed the airport prior to the aircraft’s approach to landing.

Weather Radar Analysis Video

Source: Video shows the weather conditions and flight path of the Raytheon Hawker 800 – Flight ECJ81 – before the crash..
Source: FlightExplorer.com

Runway Conditions

On July 31, 2008 Degner Regional Airport experienced a heavy downpour just prior to the attempted landing of the East Cost Jets plane. Runway 12/30, where the Hawker 800 crash occurred is listed as a 5500 x 100 ft. non-grooved concrete runway. Nolan Law Group attorney and commercial airline pilot, Chuck Barnett points out; “that after a heavy rainfall, non-grooved runways are more likely to retain standing water than grooved runways”.

According to the FAA, a runway is considered “contaminated” when standing water, ice, snow, slush, frost in any form, heavy rubber, or other substances are present. These contaminated runways, in turn, increase the probability that the tires of an aircraft will hydroplane.

The NTSB, in its investigation is likely to consider whether or not contaminated runway conditions or hydroplaning contributed to the crash of the Hawker 800.

Additionally operations on shorter runways that are contaminated with standing water are more likely to result in inadequate braking distances for some aircraft. Braking distances and other safety concerns relating to an attempted landing necessitate an adequate runway safety area (“RSA”) for a proper margin of safety.

The FAA defines an RSA as: “A defined surface surrounding the runway prepared, or suitable, for reducing the risk of damage to airplanes in the event of an undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway.” Runway 12/30 at the Degner Regional Airport has a length of 5,500 feet and the RSA is still TBD.

NTSB board member Steven Chealander confirmed that the aircraft’s right wing hit an antenna 1000 feet past the end of the runway. He stated: “At about a thousand feet there was a localizer antenna which is part of the navigation system of this airport and the right wing of the plane hit that localizer antenna and at that point that’s where the accident sequence started.”

The issues of whether there was an adequate RSA and whether an ILS antenna was too close to the end of the runway are also likely to be considered by the NTSB in its investigation of the crash.

Aircraft Information

The airplane involved in the accident was a BAe.125 Series 800B, commonly referred to as a Hawker 800. The airplane was manufactured as serial number 258186. (25 relates to the model, 8 refers to the derivative and 186 to the production number) The airplane was first registered to British Aerospace, Plc in the United Kingdom on September 17, 1990 under British registration G-BSUL. The aircraft was later registered in Bermuda and then re-registered in the UK to Raytheon Corporate Jets, Inc., before being exported to the United States on May 4, 1994.

The accident airplane was first registered to MVA Aircraft Leasing in 2003 and remained registered to it under FAA registration N818MV through and including the date of the accident on July 31, 2008.

Prior to August 1, 1995, and including the time at which the accident airplane was manufactured, the UK was considered the State of Design and the State of Manufacture of the BAe.125 Series 800B model airplanes, and such airplanes were approved by the FAA under Type Certificate No. A3EU in accordance with FAA regulations governing imported products. On August 1, 995, Raytheon Aircraft Company became the holder of Type Certificate No. A3EU and the FAA accepted, on behalf of the United States, status as the State of design and State of Manufacture of all model airplanes under that Type Certificate.

On March 26, 2007, Raytheon Aircraft Company transferred Type Certifcate No. A3EU to Hawker Beechcraft Corporation, 9709 East Central, Wichita Kansas 67206. Hawker Beechcraft remains the Type Certicate holder to this day, and as such, has certain obligations for the continued airworthiness of all airplanes covered under that Type Certificate pursuant to the Federal Aviation Regulations (FARs).

Raytheon hawker 800a

Operator Information

The Hawker 800A was operated by East Coast Jets, of Allentown, Pennsylvania. The plane was reportedly added to East Coast Jets fleet in September 2007, bringing their fleet to a total of 11 planes. East Coast Jets operates out of Lehigh Valley International Airport and offers premium jet charter service and aircraft management. The aircraft was chartered by Revel Entertainment to transport employees to Owatonna, MN from Atlantic City, NJ.