After seeing the vid of that Boeing
777-28EER, Asiana flight OZ-214, bouncing down the SFO runway
Jul06.2013, no one could be faulted for jumping to the conclusion that it was
the final landing for all 307 people on board. But after the dust had settled
and before the smoke started, it was clear that the plane was largely still
intact and people were getting off with their carry-ons and ambling across the
tarmac like in the old days before sky bridges.
As always, the Daily Mail can be counted on to screw up a dramatic
story by trying to make it even more dramatic. Katie Davis at the
reported that photos "showed both wings had been ripped off on
impact and a huge blaze tearing through the large jet," which was a pretty
amazing media fail given that it was completely false, as shown in the photos in
the same article wherein both wings were obviously attached.
Davis also reported that "[e]xperts speculated that there could have
been a problem with the plane's landing gear or the pilot may have had trouble
landing the flight at the notoriously overcast terminal" when all of the
photos available, including those in the DM article, showed that it was a
beautiful sunny day SFO. Davis didnít identify her "expert,"
suggesting it was probably the Pakistani cabbie who drove her to work that day.
But, no worries, we all know by now not to trust anything the idiots at the DM
report. (Davis later did a logophere on her article and washed the BS out, so
the link above no longer brings up the original, brain-ded article.)
Give paying passengers shoulder harnesses, too.
But the important point is that most of those people survived a very
spectacular "hard landing" that left the plane largely intact. Had it
not been for fuel spilling onto the hot right engine and igniting, the plane
would have been in very good shape, except for missing the back end, a couple
engines, and the whole landing carriage. If you are a parent of one of those 16
year old kids who survived, youíre likely thinking this was a miracle. It wasnít.
It was engineering and seat belts and applying lessons learned from decades of
previous tragedies. But what about the lessons the engineers have missed?
Over a lifetime of reading about airline disasters I am struck with how often
it is that when there are hundreds of dead people and a very few survivors,
among the very few survivors is at least one flight attendant. Sometimes
they are the only survivors. I mean, when youíve got 10 flight
attendants and 300 passengers, strictly on the numbers, the chances of there
being a flight attendant among survivors is pretty small. Of course, once you
get a statistical anomaly like this in your head you keep seeing it and the
aggregated numbers get more and more unlikely. And you keep asking why.
Well, one reason why is that the flight crew get some safety perks that
paying passengers are denied. For instance, they all get 3-point harnesses
with a lap-belt and a belt over each shoulder. Some companies also give 1st
class passengers 3-point belts, indicating, as always, that the lives of rich
people are worth more than those in the cattle car section of the plane.
Consumers ought to be asking: "Why do cabin crew get 3-point
harnesses and we get just a lap belt?" Well, Iíll tell you exactly
why. The cabin crew get them because their union says they get them and their
union says they get them because they increase the chances of surviving a crash
landing. Passengers donít get them because it would cost the airlines money.
End of mystery.
Turn the seats around.
But hereís another mystery: Another interesting safety feature reserved for
cabin crew is that their seats face backwards. This is a huge advantage when a
plane moving at over 100 mph Ė like OZ-214 was Ė hits the ground.
A San Francisco neurosurgeon named Geoffrey Manlet has been much
featured in MSM articles
on the OZ-214 crash because heís the guy in charge of the spinal injury cases.
He talks about the pattern of injuries he and his staff have treated Ė crushed
vertebrae and ripped vertebral ligaments leaving the spinal cord
"unstable." He explains this pattern of injuries as the result of
upper torsos being snapped forward and then rebounding back when the plane
hit the ground at 100+ mph. There are also some brain injuries due to mismanaged
skulls hitting arm rests or walls or other skulls.
Itís not hard to see the problem here. Youíve got a strap holding your
ass in a fixed position and when your forward speed drops suddenly from 130 mph
to 0 mph, your head and your torso are obviously going to slam forward and then
recoil backwards while your ass stays fixed. You feel this every time you
land -- that push toward the seat in front of you, particularly when the reverse
thrust kicks in.
But if you ever get in this situation during an actual crash-landing, take a
moment to observe the flight crew sitting up front facing you. Youíll
notice that they are not going through the same violent motions that are going
to leave your co-passengers and possibly you, paralyzed from the waist down or
brain damaged or dead. The flight crew are far more likely to survive because
they are facing backwards and all of that forward momentum simply presses their
bodies into the padded seat-back.
Seat belts with shoulder harnesses would go a long way to prevent this
scenario. But at the high speeds at which plane collisions occur, according
to Dr. David Okonkwo at the U. Pitt Med Center, what would likely
happen with forward facing passengers and 3-point belts would be a lot of the
momentum being transferred to the head, resulting in spinal injuries at the
cervical level rather than at the thoracic. IOW, you would be paralyzed from the
neck down rather than from the waist down. Air bags would help, but if the
airlines are too cheap to give anyone but the rich folks up front and cabin crew
full safety harnesses, they are too cheap to invest in air bags.
And so maybe you're asking yourself the same question I've been asking myself
for 30 years: why doesnít Boeing resolve this whip-lash problem simply by
turning the seats 180 degrees. It doesnít cost a dime more to make planes with
seats facing the tail than it does to make planes with seats facing the nose. In
fact, I would go so far as to say that auto manufacturers should also be making
cars with passenger seats facing backwards.
Take out the overhead bins.
The OZ-214 crash brings up a couple of other safety points as well. To me the
most unbelievable aspect of the whole thing was not that 307 out of 309 people
survived, but that a lot of those who left the burning plane stopped to get
Now, I ask you what fucking moron would take the time and block the exit of
other passengers in order to get their overhead bags with the plane going up in
smoke? Well, to answer the question, there is that Chinese guy, Mr. Xu Da,
who was asked about why he took the time to take his bags out of the overhead
before grabbing his kid and leaving the plane. As Da explained to the Wall
Street Journal, the familyís passports and money were in the overhead
bags, so, screw anybody trying to get out, weíre not leaving here without our
bags. As the WSJ explains: itís a Chinese thing.
I can understand, and donít have a problem with, people grabbing the bag
under the seat in front of them as the plane begins to fill with smoke and
people are screaming. Getting that bag out of the way will help you and the guy
next to you get out quicker. And thatís the freaking bag the money and
passports should be in.
But to take the time in a situation like this to get the overhead bag Ė and
photos show some of these Chinese people wheeling huge bags away from the
burning aircraft Ė well, thatís just freaking idiocy.
On top of that we now know that those taking time to open the bins and get
their bags left behind several elderly people who could not get their seatbelts
undone Ė they were still there strapped in their seats when the first
responders arrived. Just think how frightening that must have been. Leaving your
elderly seat-neighbor to burn in the wreckage while you grab your bag with the
passports . . . well, maybe thatís a Chinese thing, too.
The other thing about the overhead bags is that, according to a number of
reports, many of them spilled out of the overhead compartments and blocked the
aisles and escape doors. So, maybe we need to re-think the whole carry-on thing.
I know this will be the least popular thing I ever write on this blog, but it
is time to do away with the overhead bins and limit carry on baggage to one
piece that goes under the seat. Seems to me that the FAA should
force airlines to do away with both the checked baggage fee and the overhead
bins. This would make flying safer and more comfortable for everyone, save
countless busted backs in attendants, and also make it a lot easier on everyone
going through the TSA inspection point.
Someone with a reptilian brain is running Asiana
Speaking of safety, I have a few unsolicited words about the Asiana crew.
There are stories of incredible heroism on the part of the flight
attendants. Bless them all Ė beautiful and bold is not a common combination of
human characteristics. But it was the
NBC report that caught my eye Ė the one about heroism in high
Now, I gottaí ask you, what monkey-brained CEO would require flight
attendants to wear high heels? WTF is going on there? I canít even believe
they wear skirts. In the hundreds of thousands of miles and thousands of flights
these people fly in a career there is a very real chance that they are going to
have to deal with a disaster like OZ-214. Forcing them to dress like they are
fashion models has to be the most sickening and dangerous example of sexism left
over from the 1960's. Donít these SoKo attendants have a union?
Someone with a reptilian brain is flying Asiana's planes.
Finally, there is Mr. Lee Kang-kuk or Jang-gook or Gang-juk or
whatever his name is Ė you know, the guy who used to fly 777s for Asiana.
There is a lot of media hype about him having flown the 777 for just 43 hours,
and about the disaster on Jul06 being the first time he ever "landed"
a 777 at SFO. Well, by my calculations he could not have landed a 777 anywhere
in the US more than one time in addition to the crash. We know these 777s
are long range planes and if you fly one to/from Korea, those are likely to be
10 hour flights, which means only 4 flights in a 777 for Mr. Kang-kuk. Which
means only 4 landings total, 2 of which must have been in SoKo on return legs.
So while this guy has a lot of air-time and thousands of landings, he obviously
didnít have a lot of 777 landings under US landing regs and technology, and
none into SFO.
This is a worry because now the pilots on board the plane are telling us what
the plane was "supposed" to do Ė like maintain a minimal landing
speed. And so someone, presumably Kang, was sitting there watching the dials
indicate a dangerously low airspeed of 103 knots, listening to the stall alarm
go off, and feeling the stick vibrating like a pissed-off rattlesnake's ass-end,
which is another signal of a stall, and ignoring it all until it was too late
because of what he stuck to his faith in the technology.
But to me, a question that is just as interesting as who was flying the
OZ-214 flight on Jul06 is the question of who was flying it on Jul05.
We now know that during the previous dayís OZ-214 flight, the first landing
attempt was aborted and then the second time around they came in at a
ridiculously low and dangerous angle, and the pilot had to floor the gas peddle
right at the last moment. Doesn't that have a familiar ring to it.
This botched landing is shown in a fascinating
graphic by Dave McLauchlan and also a graphic on Aviation
Safety Network. I mean, for the window passengers, that landing
the day before must have been even more terrifying than the one on Jul06, at
least until the tail came off. WTF is going on with these Asiana pilots
flying into SFO?
It looks like they donít have a clue what they are doing if the Instrument
Landing System is not working. The ILS is an electronic system that helps
the pilots maintain proper speed and altitude upon landing. But SFO
has a bulletin out that its ILS is down from June 1 to August 22 this
year. But if you can't land without one, you've got no business
Two really piss poor Asiana 777 landings in two days sort of tells you that
there is a systemic problem with Asiana, unless the Jul05 landing was also by
Kang. That is probably impossible since it would mean that in one day he would
have to fly 10 hours back to SoKo and then another 10 hours back to SFO. But
there are 4 pilots on these planes and two of them are sleeping all the time, so
maybe they just go round and round. Another frightening thing is that as foreign
pilots, they are not required to take drug tests, even after an accident.
If I'm reading this right, you can force Lance Armstrong to pee in a cup in
order to ride a bicycle up a French mountain, but you can't force a pilot
responsible for 300 lives to do the same? Does that sound right?
Safety Network tell us that 2012 was the safest year for air travel
since 1945, when only about 7 paying customers actually flew and there were no
seat belts. In 2012 there were only 475 airline fatalities. No
question that enormous progress has been made in airline safety, and when the
parents of those kids on OZ-214 get on their knees to give thanks, they should
give a hat tip to tens of thousands of engineers and safety experts who have
worked on these problems over many decades.
But OZ-214 makes a pretty good case for the proposition that the work isn't