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Hazards Aplenty & Nobody Apparently Voiced Reservations

Instead of a journey to Mexico City lasting an hour or more, Aeromexico Flight 2431 was in the air for less than a minute after rolling down the runway at General Guadalupe Victoria International Airport at Durango. The airplane rotated to climb and then settled hard onto the earth within a half-mile of the tarmac’s end. Fortunately, all 103 people aboard the 31 July flight survived (some with serious injuries).

The pilots will be available for interview by crash investigators. The flight data and cockpit voice recorders were pulled intact from the wreckage. Crash investigators have a fortuitous wealth of information.

Not how the flight was supposed to end

Not how the flight was supposed to end

The 99 passengers are owed an explanation. Others who fly commercial also merit assurances that the crash will not be repeated again anytime soon.

Bad weather, specifically a gust of wind, is attributed to the crash, but much, much more merits investigation by investigators. This appears to be an accident caused by bad judgment — specifically by the pilots but also by air traffic controllers in the airport tower.

Let’s pose the salient questions in sequence as the airplane left the departure gate and positioned itself for takeoff.

Was the airplane behind schedule? If so, the pilots may have been under subtle pressure by the airline to depart. The culture of Aeromexico merits review. Was the number one goal to meet schedule or to meet safety?

On what basis did the tower controller advise Flight 2431’s pilots they were cleared for takeoff? The tower controllers had access to weather radar. They could see the runway right out the tower’s panoramic windows. If gusty, dangerous winds prevailed, the folks in the tower would have seen them.

Were jetliners landing or taking off immediately preceding Flight 2431? Were these airplanes being noticeably bounced around by wind gusts? Did the pilots of these planes report to the tower that the conditions were dicey, if not dangerous?

In the cockpit of Flight 2431, the crew had access to their weather radar; what was on the scope that led them to believe a safe takeoff could be made? The Reverend Esequiel Sanchez, a window seat passenger, recalled that at the time it was raining so hard all appeared blackness outside his window. The same view would have appeared through the cockpit windscreen. Did either the captain or first officer voice any concerns? The essence of what’s called Crew Resource Management (CRM) is for the pilot monitoring to advise the pilot flying that the situation appears unsafe. The tower may have issued clearance to take off, but the flight crew was staring into wind borne and rain splattered blackness.

The pilots could have waited 10 or 15 minutes for the storm to pass, yet Captain Carlos Meyron released the brakes and shoved the throttles of the Embraer 190 twinjet to takeoff thrust. How long had he and the first officer been awake? This was not their first flight of the day. Had they been awake since dawn and were afflicted with sleep-deprived fatigue by the afternoon? Fatigue clouds judgment and can lead to a fixation on carrying out the flight schedule.

The takeoff roll into the windy darkness — the degree of crosswind is one of the significant as-yet-unknown details here — was described by passengers as incredibly bumpy from the start.

The airplane may have been pushed by the down gust back onto the runway three times before finally getting airborne. One assumes here that the airplane was properly configured for takeoff (e.g., flaps set) and that engines were putting out full power (e.g., more than a reduced-power takeoff).

The jet was climbing into an increasing downpour and was being buffeted by downdrafts. The jet smacked onto the earth within sight of the runway’s end.

It is not clear whether or not the order to evacuate came from the cockpit, but flight attendants barked, “Get out of the airplane!”

Passengers were screaming; the airplane was in flames — probably from fuel spilled by the fractured wing tanks which was ignited by the hot engines.

The airport firefighters, ambulances and whatnot arrived at the scene and evacuated all to hospitals. More than 60 people were released quickly, with only minor cuts and abrasions. It is fortunate that the airplane was unable to climb higher or accelerate to a greater speed, as either could have resulted in a greater impact with the ground, with more serious injuries or deaths.

The crash investigators will have to wrestle with a salient question: Why was takeoff under those conditions even attempted?

Nolan Law Group Obtains One Of The Nation’s Top 20 Verdicts Of 2017

Chicago-based law firm Nolan Law Group regularly advocates for the victims of aviation disasters and their loved ones. The firm recently helped recover another multimillion-dollar award for the families of three victims of a 2013 cargo plane crash in Afghanistan. The $115.75 million award in Cook County was the 19th largest jury verdict in the United States in 2017.

The details of the crash — captured on dash cam video on April 29, 2013 — were tragic. The defendant in the case, National Air Cargo, Inc., was responsible for loading and restraining two 12-ton and three 18-ton U.S. Marine Corps Mine Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP) vehicles onto a Boeing 747 cargo plane operated by National Airlines. The flight was supposed to take the five MRAP vehicles to Dubai, where they would be loaded onto a sea vessel. Ultimately, the plane crashed and the seven crew members aboard perished.

As plaintiff’s attorney for two of the three victims’ estates, Nolan Law Group gathered and presented evidence to the jury showing that the plane crash and the resulting deaths of the crew members occurred because National Air Cargo, Inc. did not have a sufficient number of restraints or tie-down points in the airplane’s cargo area to safely carry five heavy MRAP vehicles. In fact, evidence showed that the safety equipment on board would only have been sufficient for one of the 12-ton MRAPs — not the five vehicles on board. Making matters worse, the safety straps and restraints that were available were not in good condition and some should no longer have been used at the time of the crash.

As the plane took off from Bagram, Afghanistan after the cargo was improperly loaded, the safety restraints failed, sending one of the MRAP vehicles through the aft bulkhead at the airplane’s tail. Flight control systems and hydraulics were so badly damaged that the flight’s crew wasn’t able to regain control of the plane and it ultimately crashed to the ground, killing all aboard.

The jury returned a total award of $115.75 million for three plaintiffs — including $47.25 million for the Captain’s estate; $43 million for the estate of the First Officer; and $25.5 million for the estate of an off-duty Captain in the cockpit. Each award included $5 million, recognizing the shock, fright and emotional distress the victims experienced in the minutes leading to the plane crash. Following the verdit, these three cases did settle for a confidential amount, as well as the cases for the families of three other co-employees represented by Nolan Law Group.

With more than three decades of experience advocating for victims of serious personal injury accidents and for the families of wrongful death victims, Nolan Law Group has built a reputation for being willing and capable of handling complex cases involving aviation disasters. This recent jury verdict demonstrates the firm’s commitment to pursuing justice.

Nolan Law Group’s founder, Donald Nolan — who along with partner Thomas Routh — represented the estates of the First Officer and the off-duty Captain. “The jury’s verdict sent a message that our society still values human life and safety over the pursuit of increased corporate profit,” said Nolan.

To learn more about how Nolan Law Group represents victims of aviation accidents, traumatic brain injury victims, and other serious personal injury and wrongful death matters, contact the firm today online or call 312.630.4000.

$115M awarded for Afghanistan plane crash

BY LAUREN P. DUNCAN

Law Bulletin Staff Writer

A Cook County jury last Thursday night awarded a $115.75 million verdict to the families of three flight crew members who were killed when the cargo plane crashed at the Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

The plaintiffs filed wrongful death complaints against National Air Cargo Inc. and affiliated company
National Airlines after a Boeing 747-400 it operated crashed, killing all seven crew members aboard.

The plaintiffs alleged National Air was responsible for the April 29, 2013, crash, which was captured on a dashboard video that went viral. The plane was carrying five armored vehicles. They alleged Boeing manuals showed the plane could only haul one of the five vehicles at most and that the vehicles were not tied down with the required number of straps.

Following a 13-day trial, at about 9 p.m. Thursday, a jury awarded $47.25 million to the estate of flight captain Brad Hasler, which had originally been a $54 million verdict but was reduced due to contributory negligence attributed to him.

The estate of first officer Jamie L. Brokaw was awarded $43 million and $25.5 million was awarded to the estate of Jeremy P. Lipka, an off-duty pilot who was in the cockpit. They were all from Michigan.

“The jury’s verdict sent a message that our society still values human life and safety over the pursuit of increased corporate profit,” said Donald J. Nolan of Nolan Law Group in a news release. Nolan and his colleague Thomas P. Routh represented the estates of Brokaw and Lipka.

Hasler’s estate was represented by David Katzman and Bruce Lampert of Katzman Lampert & McClune in Troy, Mich. “We’re very pleased with the result,” Katzman said.

The crash happened after a Boeing 747-400 converted freighter was loaded with five mine-resistant, armor-protected vehicles owned by the Marine Corps at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, and headed to Bagram en route to Dubai World Airport where the vehicles were set to be loaded onto a ship. They eventually were set to be transported to Yermo, Calif.

Shortly after the plane took off from the Bagram, where it had stopped to refuel, it stalled, took a sharp dive toward the ground, crashed and exploded.

The plaintiffs alleged at least one of the 18-ton vehicles broke away from its restraints, pushing a smaller vehicle through the back bulkhead of the plane and cutting two hydraulic system lines and causing other extensive damage.

According to information from the Nolan Law Group, two “black box” recorders were damaged when the vehicles shifted.

Information from the boxes showed they stopped recording when the plane was 33 feet above ground, at which time the plaintiffs alleged the plane nosed up and entered an aerodynamic stall before it fell to the ground.

According to the release from Nolan Law Group, the U.S. Department of Defense had a multimodal contract with National Airlines to move military equipment from Afghanistan to the United States. National Airlines had a joint venture with National Air Cargo Inc., based in New York, and National Air Cargo Middle East FZE in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to perform the work under the contract.

Of the five armored vehicles loaded on the plane, two of them weighted 12 tons and three were 18 tons. The plaintiffs argued the Boeing plane manual and the manual from Telair International, which was the manufacturer of the cargo handling system used to tie the vehicles down, showed that no more than one of the 12-ton vehicles could be safely transported on the plane.

They further alleged there were not nearly enough straps used to tie down the vehicles and that the straps that were used were in poor condition.

The jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs on counts of wrongful death and predeath damages. The verdict amounts included $5 million each “for the shock and fright each of the men experienced from the time of takeoff until the time of the airplane’s impact with the ground,” the Nolan firm’s release states.

The suit was filed in Cook County because The Boeing Co. was originally named as a defendant. Boeing and AAR International/ Telair International, which were also previously named as defendants, settled before trial, according to information from Nolan Law Group. Mark A. Dombroff, a Dentons partner based out of Washington, D.C., who represented National Air, declined to comment.

The case was tried before Circuit Judge Lorna E. Propes. The three consolidated cases were Elizabeth Brokaw v. National Air Cargo, Inc., 13 L 9650; William Thompson v. National Air Cargo, Inc., 13 L 9651; and Robin D. Hasler, et al., v. Natio

**VIDEO** Donald J. Nolan Interviewed on ABC News Discussing Springfield School Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Donald J. Nolan was recently interviewed on Springfield’s ABC News 20 regarding an incident which occurred last September that sent more than 180 students from North Mac school to the hospital for carbon monoxide poisoning. Five separate lawsuits were filed in connection with the deadly gas exposure.

Donald J. Nolan Re: North Mac school carbon monoxide poisoning

Source: ABC News

Lufthansa’s Low Ball Offer on Germanwings Aviation Disaster–An Open Invitation to Sue

While en route to Düsseldorf, Germany from Barcelona, Spain in March, 2015, an airplane owned and operated by Lufthansa Germanwings crashed into the French Alps, killing all passengers and two pilots. Investigators later discovered one of the pilots–Andreas Lubitz–deliberately crashed the plane into the mountains after locking the other pilot out of the cockpit.

Recently, Lubitz’s employer and operator of the Germanwings airline, Lufthansa, offered financial compensation to relatives of those killed in the crash amounting to 25,000 euros (USD$27,740) per victim.  Chicago Aviation Law firm, Nolan Law Group, believes that this offer is completely inadequate and worthy of further appeals for more of a realistic compensation amount.

 

Lufthansa Germanwings executives hold a joint press conference  in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Joint press conference in Berlin, Germany, Tuesday, June 30, 2015.

Lufthansa has also said they plan to provide 7.8 million euros to pay the educational expenses of children who lost one or both parents in the crash and that the airline will set aside 6 million euros towards “individual support for aid projects of relatives” in the coming months, although exact details of the program have not been revealed.

Why Relatives of Crash Victims Will Need an Aviation Accident Lawyer

While compensation for some of the deceased’s families is expected to be less than $100,000, other relatives could receive millions of dollars because of their nationality.

As explained by aviation litigation attorney Donald J. Nolan: “Compensation amounts are ultimately determined by a country’s unique legal system regarding aviation disaster compensation limits”.

According to a Time Magazine article, a U.S. aviation litigation attorney can get their clients millions of dollars in compensation for either surviving an airplane crash or being the relative of someone who died in an airplane crash. Contrast that to China, for example, where the average settlement for victims of airplane disasters is only around $500,000–and it’s even lower for European victims of airplane disasters.

The Montreal Convention

Compensation for non-U.S. victims and their families of the Asiana Airlines Flight 214 crash will be much less than for American passengers aboard the plane when it crash-landed at the San Francisco airport in 2013, killing three Chinese girls and injuring nearly 200 passengers.

A treaty called the Montreal Convention regulates compensation to people suffering injuries while traveling by air internationally. This treaty prevents non-U.S. citizens aboard Flight 214 from filing lawsuits in U.S. courts, even though the crash happened in San Francisco. Consequently, many victims will not receive adequate compensation amounts they deserve. However, some victims have hired an American airplane crash attorney skilled in navigating complex European and Asian laws to help them get the compensation they deserve.

The Korean Airline Crash of 1997

Director of Litigation Thomas J. Ellis points out the cases of family members of victims killed in the 1997 Korean Airlines disaster who, by filing lawsuits in the U.S., received over 100 times more money than victims suing in South Korea.  Asiana, the airline responsible for the 2013 San Francisco crash, claimed they were only obliged to pay $170,000 per passenger, citing the Montreal Convention.

Non-U.S. victims and relatives of victims injured in an airplane crash must endure years of endless litigation, stalling tactics by airline attorneys and, ultimately, out-of-court settlements that are disturbing inadequate and insulting. Enlisting the assistance of an experienced airplane injury attorney working for Nolan Law Group is essential to fighting successfully for the right to receive compensation due to airline negligence.

Proactive Aviation Safety, Belatedly

Too many organizations get serious about aviation safety after the funerals for employees killed in chartered carrier crashes. Illinois State University (ISU) may be the latest to substitute genuine oversight for hope in the reliability of the charter operator.

The aftermath of the crashed flight

The aftermath of the crashed flight

On 7 April, 2015, a Cessna 414A twin-engine airplane, operated by Make It Happen Aviation, crashed approximately two miles from its destination, Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington, Illinois. The single pilot and all six passengers were killed. Among the victims were the deputy athletics director and the associate head coach of the ISU Redbirds basketball team. Team boosters comprised the other passengers. They were returning from the final four college NCAA basketball tournament in Indianapolis.

The crash occurred shortly after midnight in foggy weather, with light rain and visibility for half a mile. The flight was descending to land, then the ground radar plotted an increase in altitude, suggesting a missed approach or, worse, the pilot’s loss of spatial orientation. In any event, no radio transmissions were received from the airplane about a climbing circle for a second landing attempt. The airplane dropped off radar coverage; three hours later, at approximately 4 a.m., the wreckage and the bodies were discovered by police and firefighters who were called to search the area.

The airport tower had closed at 10 p.m., but it is not unusual — although not necessarily safer — for airplanes to land at airports without trained air traffic controllers in the tower.

A short, one-hour, flight ended in disaster

A short, one-hour, flight ended in disaster

Coincidentally, on the same day as the crash, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) issued a safety alert titled “Understanding Flight Experience.” The NTSB argued that “Pilots may have many hours of experience” and “Even if operating a specific type of aircraft is allowed by regulations, it does not mean the practice is safe.” The alert cited four general aviation accidents in which experienced pilots nonetheless crashed their aircraft.

The crash in Bloomington is part of the larger pattern of wrecked airplanes and lives cut short.

ISU issued a statement: “Words cannot fully express the grief that is felt in the wake of such a tragedy. We move between shock and profound sadness.”

After a period of grief, ISU may wish to examine Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) grim experience in January 2001. A Jet Express Services aircraft, a Beechcraft Super King Air 200 with twin power plants, was returning from Colorado to Stillwater Regional Airport in Oklahoma. It was one of three airplanes chartered to fly the school’s basketball team home after a game with the University of Colorado at Boulder.

The airplane crashed shortly after reaching cruising altitude. The sole pilot and the nine passengers were killed.

Similar to the crash in Illinois, the event was at night, with a lone pilot flying past his usual bed time in wintry overcast weather. In this case, the pilot was preoccupied with an electrical failure and probably did not sense the airplane’s right descending turn.

The airplane did not have, and was not required to be equipped with, a standby attitude indicator powered from a separate source.

As a source close to the investigation recalled, “The King Air was designed and certificated for single pilot operation and also to a lower certification standard — although the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] would say ‘different’ — than air carriers. Therefore, it does not have some of the equipment found on an air carrier, such as standby instruments.”

“Of course, the issue is that passengers are unaware of the difference in the certification of a King Air versus, say, a B737 [airliner]. They assume it’s all the same,” the source added. That is, if they even think about FAA approval of an aircraft design.

The NTSB investigated the crash of the King Air, as it is now investigating the crash in Illinois of the Cessna light twin.

Many of the findings from the earlier investigation can no doubt be included verbatim in the 2015 crash:

– The pilot was properly certificated and qualified under Federal regulations.

– The accident airplane was properly certified, equipped, and maintained in accordance with Federal regulations. The recovered components showed no evidence of any pre-existing structural, engine, or system failures.

– The accident was not survivable for any of the airplane occupants because they were subjected to impact forces that exceeded the limits of human tolerance.

– Oklahoma State University did not provide any significant oversight for the accident flight.

Fifteen months after the accident, in April 2002, OSU published an eight-page policy regarding athletic team travel, which included athletes, coaches, mascots, managers, etc.

Extracts of this policy may be instructive:

“All air travel, except the use of commercial air carriers, shall be subject to the review of the institution’s aviation consultant.”

“The University will, through competitive proposals, retain an aviation consultant. Such individual or firm must have expertise in operations, safety and certification for the purpose of evaluating the certification and safety records, of charter air carriers, time-share and other aircraft and assure pilot certifications are in keeping with this policy….”

“The institutional aviation consultant shall have final approving authority for approving a firm/aircraft for purposes of this policy.”

“Two pilots will be required …”

“Charter aircraft used according to this policy must be maintained under the appropriate FAA operations specifications….”

“…weight and balance computations using average passenger weights are prohibited. A weight and balance form must be completed for each flight using actual weight figures for passengers…”

The policy goes on in this vein, being very specific. The table immediately below summarizes the impact of the policy:

 

The Difference an Accident Makes

OSU Athletic Team Travel Policies

Item

Before the Accident Crash occurred the night of 27 Jan. 2001

After the Accident Policies in effect after 22 April 2002

Number of pilots

Copilot optional, depending on weather and/or length of trip. Accident pilot often flew as a single pilot because
OSU athletic staff wanted to use all the seats.

Two pilots required; no exceptions.

Pilot qualifications

OSU pilots required or qualified hired part-time pilots, instrument rated, commercial pilot’s license, minimum of
2,500 hours as pilot-in-command, and 500 hours in multi-engine airplane.

Must be full time pilot with 1st class medical certificate, type rated in airplane to be used, minimum of 200 hours flying in past 90 days, and three instrument approaches and
three night landings in the past 90 days. Copilot must have multi-engine and instrument ratings, including 100 hours in type, 10 hours in past 90 days, and three instrument approaches and three night landings in past 90 days.

Flight conditions

Day or night in visual or IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions. Pilot judgment regarding whether conditions were safe for the trip.

All flights operated on IFR flight plan; aircraft may not depart into forecast hazardous weather conditions, including
severe icing, thunderstorms, severe turbulence or wind shear. Passengers cannot enter the cockpit or distract pilots when aircraft is below 10,000
feet.

Use of donated aircraft

Permitted. Accident aircraft was donated.

Donated aircraft permitted for coaches and staff but not flights carrying student athletes. Donated aircraft must be
powered by two or more turbine engines — which would rule out piston
engines.

Outside, independent advice

None

Aviation consultant retained to evaluate certification and safety records of charter air carriers, time-share and other aircraft, with final authority for approval.

Aircraft maintenance

No specific provisions

An FAA-certified repair station or the manufacturer must perform inspections and maintenance. Maintenance personnel
must be appropriately rated and must have trained within the previous five years
on the aircraft type they are maintaining.

Following the recent crash in Bloomington, chances are that Illinois State University opts for similarly strict policies regarding aviation. Hope is no substitute for prudent oversight.

Deadly Cessna 414 Crash: Looking Beyond Pilot Error

On Tuesday morning, April 7, 2015, a twin-engine Cessna 414 was recovered after crashing near the Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington Illinois. Seven victims of the crash were recovered including Scott Bittner (42), Bittner’s Meat Co.; Terry Stralow (64), a partner in Pub II; Aaron Leetch, (37), ISU deputy director of athletics for external operations; Torrey Ward, (36), associate head coach of the Redbirds men’s basketball team; Thomas Hileman, (51), the pilot; Andy Butler, 40, a regional representative for Sprint; and Woodrow “Jason” Jones, (45), a senior vice president and certified financial adviser at Wells Fargo Advisors.

First responders on the scene

First responders on the scene

The plane was registered to “Make It Happen Aviation” of Towanda, Illinois. The plane was being piloted by Thomas Hileman, who held a valid flying certificate, had over 12,000 hours of flight time, and had undergone a medical check-up in early February.

At the time of the accident conditions at Central Illinois Regional Airport showed declining visibility and light wind. According to reports, the plane had been in contact with air traffic control in Peoria, which typically handles communication with airplanes after the Central Illinois Regional Airport radio tower closes at 10:00 p.m.

According to Carl Olson, director of the airport, Peoria air traffic control lost contact with the plane just after midnight. Olson also said the pilot did not indicate any trouble and had not made any alterations to the registered flight plan.

While the airport control tower normally closes at night, it is common for planes to land after hours with runway lights illuminated. Pilots also have the ability to remotely indicate they need the runway lights turned on. In a Chicago Tribune report, Todd Fox, an air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board, said the pilot had been cleared for an instrument landing on Runway 20 at the airport and that the plane began to climb out of its descent into Central Illinois Regional Airport as if it had missed its approach. According to Fox, if that is what happened, the plane should have climbed and turned west. Instead, according to Fox, it turned east. “The aircraft was seen (on radar) to climb and then descend well on this easterly heading before crashing in a farm field just east of the airport,” Fox said. The final radio communications from pilot Thomas Hileman, as the plane neared the airport, included no sign of distress.

Reports state that the plane went down in a bean field north of Illinois Route 9 off a paved county road. Emergency crews located the plane around 3:15 a.m. The wreckage was found “within one wingspan” of the main fuselage, according to Fox, which should help investigators inspect the aircraft. All seven passengers were found dead still strapped into their seats. All had died from blunt force trauma resulting from the crash, said Coroner Kathleen Davis.

While weather conditions have been sighted as a possible cause of the accident a preliminary report is expected sometime next week. The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the accident and a final report will most likely take a year to 18 months to complete.

There have been other unexplained crashes of Cessna 414A aircraft. Back in 2000, a Cessna 414A crashed near Hyannis, MA.  Immediately before the crash the pilot had told air traffic control that he lost the artificial horizon on his instrument panel. While a survey conducted by Aviation Consumer says the Cessna 414 twin-engine has a fairly low fatal accident rate (boasting 0.8 fatal accidents for each 100,000 hours of flight time), questions are sure to be asked during the investigation regarding why the plane tuned east instead of west, were the flight control instruments working properly, how many hours of flight time Pilot Hileman had in this particular model and type of multi-engine aircraft and when was his last proficiency check?

 

Compliance with Airworthiness Directives and Service Bulletins

In an article titled: “Cessna 414 Used Aircraft Report: Buying Before Extinction,” written by Peter A. Bedell, AOPA Pilot, Bedell states that the Cessna’s 414 is among a large group of aircraft headed for extinction. However, he notes, the market for these airplanes remains active.

Bedell states that early 414s can be recognized by their tip tanks and stubbier nose. In 1976 Cessna redesigned the 400 series beginning with the 421. The changes eventually made their way to the 414 in 1978 and it was renamed the 414A Chancellor.

The redesigned airplane had a wingspan that was 4.5 feet longer and a nose extending nearly 3 feet. The fuel capacity reached 206 usable gallons, and the fuel system was made simpler with an On/Off/Crossfeed valve for each engine. Previous 414s had as many as six tanks and made for difficult fuel management. Continental’s TSIO-520-J powered the original 414s, while the TSIO-520-Ns pulled the 414A. Both models were rated at 310 hp at 2,700 rpm. Since most of these airplanes are operated in the unpredictable environment of the flight levels, the 414’s engines have had their share of problems. The engines are sensitive and don’t respond well to abrupt throttle movements or casually monitored engine operations.

The engines began life with a TBO of 1,400 hours, which was later extended to 1,600 hours; but, according to many owners, Bedell says, the 1,400-hour figure is a more accurate estimate of the engine’s lifespan.

Given the airplane’s average of logging 200 or more flight hours per year, one could ask if the aircraft owner had complied with most of the engine ADs or service bulletins, such as those requiring replacement of crankshafts made via the airmelt process. Exhaust manifold clamps and elbows have a 100-hour inspection requirement. Finally, a recent AD regarding recurrent inspections of McCauley three-blade propellers covers the 414 line as well.

 

Limited Load-Carrying Capacity

Although the 414s have a huge cabin-class interior, they have never been a large load hauler. A typically equipped 414A has a full-fuel load of about 500 to 700 pounds, depending on equipment. Although you could fly for about 1,100 miles, you would be able to bring only two friends and a few bags. In a well- equipped airplane weighing in at 5,100 pounds, you could fill the cabin with six people and a little baggage and fly for about 2 hours with IFR reserves. It’s because of this limited load-carrying ability that many operators opt for modifications. Among the questions Nolan Law Group is asking are: how old is the plane? What modifications have been made and how recently? What baggage was on board in addition to the seven occupants?

The Cessna 414A is a large cabin class, piston twin. Flying high with its comfortable pressurized cabin, the 414 can carry up to 7 passengers.

The Cessna 414A has a large comfortable pressurized cabin. The 414 can carry up to 7 passengers.

As part of its’ own preliminary independent investigation Nolan Law Group has reviewed accident reports compiled by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. Reports state there were 46 accidents involving 414s between 1983 and 1993. The pilot has been cited as being responsible for almost every 414 accident, and weather was a common link in the accident chain. However, many accidents that occurred after engine failures involved airplanes loaded far beyond the maximum gross weight and flown improperly with a failed engine (for example, with the gear and/or flaps down). Single-engine rate of climb is listed as 240 feet per minute for the 414 and 290 fpm for the 414A with the gear and flaps up.

The 414’s have a spacious cabin. Unfortunately, the stock 414s have more room than the useful load allows.

The 414 can fly six people on a 2-hour trip in a comfortable pressurized cabin or it can fly two people some 1,200 miles. On the other hand, the big cabin results in an equally big speed penalty.

While many facts and circumstances of the accident remain unknown and the NTSB investigation is expected to take more than a year, attorneys at Nolan Law Group continue to question factors beyond “pilot error” as causal or contributing to this crash. Ultimately, those causes and contributing factors must be analyzed to determine who bears liability for the crash, an analysis that the NTSB is prohibited from making.  As a firm concentrating in aviation accident claims, Nolan Law Group routinely monitors accident investigations such as the Bloomington tragedy for similarities, differences and safety trends. The firm handles claims and litigation on behalf of victims and families of victims of aviation accidents ranging from small, general aviation aircraft to large commercial airliners.

Flight into the Valley of Depression

A statement appeared in a New York Times article about the crash of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 that passengers will not see reprinted in the in-flight magazine stuffed into their seat pocket: “Having a mental illness does not necessarily mean one cannot successfully fly a plane.” Given that depression can often lead to unpredictable behavior, piloting a passenger airliner seems decidedly more risky than, perhaps, driving a car.

This statement was in the same paragraph discussing a certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Office of Germany that allowed First Officer Andreas Lubitz to fly. Lubitz was seen at a clinic in Germany on March 10th, for unspecified reasons. This date was just 14 days before Lubitz locked the captain on a lavatory break out of the cockpit. With the captain frantically banging on the door to be let back in (“For God’s sake, open the door!” the captain pleaded), the isolated first officer programmed the autopilot to fly the airplane so low that a collision with the Alpine mountainside was inevitable. The fact that the captain could not regain access to the cockpit will doubtless be a topic covered by the investigation. In the U.S., pilots have a secret code that they can enter if locked out of the cockpit, a feature evidently absent on the Germanwings A320.

The A320 jet slammed into the rocky slope at a speed in excess of 400 mph. At that speed, the tip of the nose and the tailcone impacted a quarter second less from one another in a violent telescoping collision with unyielding terra firma. Pieces of metal and pieces of the bodies of the 150 persons aboard were strewn over the mountainside. Death was blessedly instantaneous, although some in the passenger cabin were aware of the mortal danger entailed in flying low in the French Alps. Looking out the windows on that clear, sunny day, they would have been horrified to see peaks ascending hundreds of feet above their flight path.

The descent to death was probably deliberate, as Lubitz would have received ample notice of the mortal danger from aircraft systems, particularly the Terrain Avoidance Warning System (TAWS). This system looks out ahead and compares the airplane’s flight path to a digital terrain map stored in the computer. When flying 1,000 ft above any mountains, the terrain map shows the high terrain in green — the airplane is comfortably above any terrain ahead. If the airplane’s flight path takes it below the 1,000 ft clearance, the terrain will change color to yellow, the universal color denoting caution.

If the flight path takes the aircraft to within or below the highest points of terrain ahead, the terrain will be color-coded red on the digital map display in the cockpit. Within approximately 40 seconds of projected ground impact, a computerized voice will sound, “Terrain. Pull up!”

Lubitz sat there, doing nothing. Those on the ground reported that they did not hear the sounds of engines spooling up, which would indicate a last-second attempt to add power and climb as the rocky hillside loomed ever larger in the windscreen. Lubitz rode the airplane right into the boulder-strewn slope.

The terrain warning system was ignored

The terrain warning system was ignored

Now, scores of European airlines belatedly have instituted a “two persons in the cockpit at all times” rule. If one of the pilots has to leave the cockpit for a bathroom break, a flight attendant must come to the cockpit and be present while one pilot is aft in the cabin. This procedure has been standard, as mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), ever since two-pilot aircrews and locked cockpit doors have prevented the unique threat of a one-pilot failure — medical or mental — on the flight deck. It took the deaths of 150 people for European airworthiness authorities and airlines to wake up to prohibit solo cockpit occupancy. One is prompted to ask, were you people willfully ignoring the hazard?

Also, pointed questions apply to carrier Germanwings and its parent, Lufthansa. First Officer Lubitz was a flight attendant before becoming a very junior pilot. Did depression or any mental condition manifest itself in his prior employment as a member of the cabin staff? Was he seeking mental health care during this earlier time and, if so, was this known by his employer?

If strict privacy rules pertain in Europe regarding the doctor-patient relationship, does public safety enter into the equation? If a pilot with a serious heart condition is not allowed to fly, surely mental depression should qualify for grounding. News reports indicate that Lubitz was worried about his eyesight; vision problems would have been revealed during company-mandated physicals.

In searching his apartment, authorities found doctors’ notes in a trash can. The torn and rumpled notes said Lubitz was unfit for work. Prescription medicines were found showing that he was being treated for psychological problems. A girlfriend indicated that he had nightmares about flying and that he had complained about not being treated properly by the airline and co-workers.

Lubitz was an avid jogger, but running was no antidote to mental turmoil

Lubitz was an avid jogger, but running was no antidote to mental turmoil

There is mounting evidence suggesting that Lubitz was in a deeply depressed state of mind.

If he was mentally disturbed to the point of being suicidal, his case mirrors others:

 

Possible Pilot Suicides In Airliner Crashes
Date Airline Location Deaths
March 24, 2014 Germanwings Flight 4U9525 French Alps 150
March 8, 2014 Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 Indian Ocean 239 Note: investigators are still trying to determine if the crash was caused by a deliberate pilot act
Nov. 29, 2013 Mozambique Airlines Flight 470 Namibia 33
Oct. 31, 1999 EgyptAir Flight 990 Atlantic Ocean 217
Dec. 19, 1997 Silk Air Flight 185 Indonesia 104
Aug. 21, 1994 Royal Air Maroc Flight 630 Morocco 44
Feb. 9, 1982 Japan Airlines Flight 350 Tokyo Bay 24

There is a need for periodic testing of the psychological health of pilots, according to Canadian psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Cappon. After the apparent actions of relief pilot Gamil el Batouti in the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, Cappon declared in Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper, “[T]he mental problems of some pilots may be more widespread than what has been reported.”

For this reason, he argued, “The public must insist on new legislation to enable medical authorities to detect early mental dysfunction in flying personnel and in air traffic controllers.”

He believes psychological testing can identify at-risk pilots. Cappon disagrees with the view of some pilots that psychological screening would not catch problem pilots. “That’s like saying x-rays won’t identify a cancer,” he said in a 2000 telephone interview with this writer. The test he has in mind involves some 300 items of background information, plus 120 additional items of what he calls the “foreground” aspects of a pilot’s mental health. He believes the focus of the periodic checkup ought to be changes, from the focus on finding the absence of health to one of the presence of physical fitness, to include the presence of mental and social fitness.

These vital signs of the “whole person”, Cappon maintains, are too often left to “casual verbal inquiry by physicians”. He believes the depth of psychiatric inquiry should equal the rigor of the physical examination.

The pilot’s lifestyle certainly argues in favor of periodic mental evaluations. There are the demands of the flying schedule, the family separation, the commute to and from work, the nights in a hotel, the disruption of sleep, the enervating routine of checklists and procedures, the stress added by bad flying weather, unruly passengers, and the list goes on…

The flying profession is one of boredom, rote, and routine — hardly the glamorous one often presented in motion pictures.

In his newspaper article, Cappon wrote:

“The vast majority of pilots and aircrews are extremely brave and resourceful people … Their heroism has saved countless lives … But, having dealt with many of these problems, I think that when pilots’ ailments threaten flying safety, better control must be exercised.”

When the captain of Germanwings Flight 4U9525 left the cockpit, he told First Officer Lubitz, “You’re in control.” Implicit in that statement was the assumption that the first officer would maintain the safety of the flight, not mortally endanger it.

The Trivial Cost of Certainty

Doing nothing, despite a clear need and available technology, is always an option if it can be demonstrated that the costs are prohibitive. This seems to be the emerging case regarding “streaming” of flight recorder to a ground station, as has been suggested in the wake of the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.

The wreckage of the airplane has not been pinpointed; whatever caused the crash is doubtless encoded in the recorders — both flight data and cockpit voice recordings — which are housed in the tail section of the airplane. They are ensconced there in the belief that the aft section is the most likely to be least damaged, as the forward sections of the airplane will impact first and absorb most of the destructive forces.

Flight data sitting at the bottom of the ocean is of no use

Flight data sitting at the bottom of the ocean is of no use

However, if as is widely believed, the airplane crashed into the Indian Ocean off the west coast of Australia, no wreckage has been found. The batteries powering the recorders’ locator beacon have long exceeded their 30-day time for providing essential power.

The frustration with the utter disappearance of the airliner has renewed interest in “streaming” the recorders’ information before the crash. In the event of an unexpected scenario, the recorders’ vital information would be transmitted from the stricken airplane to orbiting satellites overhead, for subsequent beaming back down to a ground station. The airplane’s location, its flight attitude, and other essential parameters captured on the flight recorders would be available almost instantly to those on the ground searching for answers.

The technology exists. Known as the Automated Flight Reporting System, or AFIRS, it beams flight recorder information to orbiting satellites when trouble with the aircraft is sensed. AFIRS was developed and is marketed by a small Canadian company, FLYHT Aerospace Solutions, Inc.; since the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, the company has been busy marketing AFIRS.

FLYHT Chief Executive Bill Tempany told the Washington Post newspaper that AFIRS installation costs about $120,000 per airplane.

The cost for multiple installations adds up. Delta Air Lines operates a fleet of 764 airliners; equipping all airplanes with  AFIRS totals about $90 million.

For the whole U.S. fleet of approximately 4,000 airliners, the installation cost would be approximately $480,000,000.

The cost appears prohibitive. But let’s look closer. According to its website, Delta Air Lines reports it has $2.8 billion in “free cash flow” that it is using, in part, to reduce net debt levels by $2 billion. If 5% of this $2 billion — $90 million — were invested in the safety of all the company’s aircraft, that sum puts the investment into replacing 20-year old crash resistant recorder technology in perspective.

Actually, the price per year could be significantly lower. Let’s continue with the example of Delta. Assume the airline retires its aircraft after 20 years of service. In a steady state illustration, for simplicity of argument, the airline would have to buy 38 new replacement aircraft annually. At $120,000 per installation, adding 38 AFIRS would impose an annual added cost of $4.5 million to the annual purchase price (big jetliners now selling for $100 million to $150 million apiece, or more). $4.5 million is practically lost in the rounding when a company is spending approximately $3.8 billion a year on new airplanes.

And, surely, Delta can get a good deal from the manufacturer if it commits to buying many airplanes over the course of years, all built to a standard configuration. It is not unusual for Airbus or Boeing to offer discounts of 20% or more on bulk orders. As cost of a package deal, the price of AFIRS is trivial.

If a small operator like Canada’s First Air, which operates a half-dozen airliners in the Canadian Arctic, can afford AFIRS, large operators are better positioned to absorb costs. Qatar Airways, which operates a fleet of more than 130 airliners, recently announced its intention to “stream” flight data information. At $120,000 per installation, Qatar announced a commitment of $15.6 million, over multiple years.

Here is another way to put the $120,000 cost per AFIRS installation in perspective: seat-back entertainment systems. The video displays are expensive, because the electronics must be separated completely from the airplane’s avionics, and they must be fireproofed. One estimate places the cost if in-flight entertainment system displays at an astonishing $10,000 per seatback. Let us halve this price to $5,000 per seat. This means the cost of equipping a 200-seat jetliner with seat-back entertainment displays approximates $1 million, or roughly ten times the cost of AFIRS.

One would bet that equipping the fleet, deliberately over years, to an AFIRS-like configuration would play well with airline insurers. There are cost savings to the technology that go well beyond $120,000 per system.

It is estimated that the search for the missing Malaysian B777 has totaled some $240 million for the various governments that have committed ships and aircraft to the ongoing search. That sum is roughly 2,000 times the cost of a single AFIRS installation. The cost of AFIRS equipage would surely meet the most demanding government-imposed cost-benefit calculation. Again, given a U.S. airline fleet of about 4,000 jetliners, assuming a 20-year installation period, the annual installation cost would amount to $24 million. Given the cost, thus far, of the international search for the missing jetliner, the $24 million price of AFIRS data-certainty is one-tenth that of the we’ve-got-nothing search for the wreckage.

To say nothing of the next of kin, the airline, the regulators, the manufacturers, and the investigators — they are left with maximum uncertainty. For the next of kin, there is the incalculable sense of loss. For the regulators, manufacturers and airlines, the lack of data hobbles any corrective action to make sure another airplane isn’t lost under the same or similar circumstances.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Agency preaches the ethic of “data driven safety”. But when there is no data, safety cannot be assured. In the grand scheme of costs and benefit, the price of AFIRS, or a similarly capable system, seems worth more than a few rows of in-flight entertainment system screens. Seat-back television fills the bored mind with vacuous “entertainment”. AFIRS promises to fill enquiring and responsible minds with hard facts.

**VIDEO** Donald J. Nolan Interviewed on Fox News Discussing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

The media often looks to Nolan Law Group for insights into important legal issues. Considered by many journalists to be an authoritative resource for accurate information, our attorneys and experts are frequently interviewed by newspapers and magazines, as well as many television news programs. Donald J. Nolan was interviewed on Fox News discussing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17 on Friday July 18, 2014.

Donald J. Nolan Re: Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 17

Source: Fox News

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