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March 20, 2016


LogoPhere Media-Monkey of the Month Award™ 
goes to CNN & Mary Schiavo
Once again CNN beats the competition in brain-ded air-tragedy "analysis" 

                                               

        

FDB981 would have ended up at the end of the yellow line 
if it had been 250 meters short of the runway

I know, I know. . . it's only the 20th of the month so how could I be passing out the legendary and much-coveted  LogoPhere Media-Monkey of the Month Award already?  Let's just say that I'm taking a punt that in the next 11 days nobody is going to come close to CNN and their aviation expert Mary Shiavo in deserving this august honor.  It's sort'a like, why didn't they just go ahead and give Leo the Oscar when The Revenant first came out (even if the bear really deserved it)?  

I would ask all of the regular readers of LogoPhere News & Comment -- that is, both of them -- to consider this post an update of yesterday's post on the tragedy of FlyDubai flight 981 (FBD981) in the Rostov of southern Russia.  In that post I laid out the preliminary case for thinking that maybe FDB981 did not simply crash while landing in foul weather.  The primary piece of evidence disproving that standard media account can be summed up in just a few words: The freaking video of the crash featured by CNN and every other media outlet showed a freaking fireball plunging almost straight down out of the sky followed by a huge explosion.  In my opinion -- which is rarely humble and even more rarely right -- if an airliner is on fire before it hits the ground and if it's angle of descent is 60 degrees from horizontal, then the most important and most proximate cause of the crash is probably not a wind gust, or, as Schiavo speculated, "disoriented pilots."

The reason I am focusing on Mary Schiavo is that, in my opinion, she represents the worst of some very bad reporting on this tragedy, which is precisely why she is so deserving of the legendary and much-coveted LogoPhere Media-Monkey of the Month Award.  What's s'durned curious to me is that, based on her bio, this woman is no slouch when it comes to aviation, and as an aviation lawyer she must surely know that wild, uncorroborated media reporting can have long-term adverse effects on downstream litigation.  I mean, when I first read her comments regarding yesterday's crash I presumed she was a dumb-blonde CNN intern tapped to play the role of an "aviation expert."  Boy, was I wrong. . .except for the blonde part.  

According to what I have dug up on her, Shiavo was only 18 when she got her private pilot's license.  Her dad was a pro pilot.  Schiavo went on to get training in commercial piloting before ultimately becoming a top-dog lawyer specializing in airline crashes.  She was once an Asst. US Attorney, and she served a good long -- and contentious -- term as the Inspector General for the Dept. of Transportation under H.W. Bush.  Yes sireee, Bob . . . this lady really knows her stuff.  And it appears that she must be very intelligent, although that conclusion must remain somewhat speculative given that in 1999 she was one of the knot-heads involved in a media prank in which a bag with a fake bomb in it was checked in for an America West flight bound for Washington, D.C. from Columbus, Ohio.  The airport concourse and runway were shut down and evacuated for hours according to a  WaPo account at the time.  

After jacking this stupid stunt up with the fake bomb and all, Shiavo actually had the balls to criticize the airport officials for calling the bomb-disposal squad.  AP  Had it been you or I pulling something so stupid, we would still be sitting in Leavenworth, but, apparently, the ex-IG and former Asst. US Attorney got off without any charges being filed against her. 

Disoriented pilots . . . Don't think so.  

Two hours after FDB981 crashed Don Lemon reported the accident in a news break on CNN.  It was almost 11 pm ET.  Lemon got Shiavo on the hook for her expert opinion, and that's what she gave him.  

Shiavo said that the plane made "three very large looping circles."  But that turns out not to be precisely accurate, or, if accurate, then it's irrelevant.  According to the aircraft's track provided by Flightradar24, the aircraft made a normal approach to the Rostov Airport (Rov) from the southeast.  At approximately 15:35 UTC it turned to the southwest in alignment with runway 22 and attempted to land.  That landing was aborted and the aircraft first flew northeast of the airport and then climbed to 15,000 ft. and went into a holding pattern southeast of the airport.  There it made eight loops over about an hour before exiting the holding pattern and repeating the initial landing approach.  When 981 made that turn to the southwest in line with the runway the second time at 17:35 UTC, it was at 2700 ft. and 128 kts.  As it approached the runway it descended to about 1500 ft. and then ascended to 4000 ft. before falling to 925 ft., which was the last altitude shown on the radar track.  According tothe plane hit the runway left of center, on the edge. Here and here

And the reason I say it is that Shivao tried to make out a highly speculative and unfounded case that by making what she characterized as "three very large looping circles" the pilots were "trying to reorient to this runway," suggesting to her that: "it does look like pilot disorientation."  In other words, let's slander the pilots, after all they're dead and won't be suing anyone.

But let's get this straight.  Shivao wasn't in the cockpit; she wasn't on the plane; she wasn't at the airport or in the area.  She was five freaking thousand miles away.  To my mind it is absolutely noisome of her to publicly misrepresent the aircraft's track and then accuse the pilots of being disoriented.  Moreover, these two pilots had 12,000 hours of flying time between them -- they weren't rookies. Furthermore, the radar track gives no indication that anyone was disoriented, other than, apparently, Shiavo.  How else does one abort a landing and go into a holding pattern without making "loops?"  The pilots attempted their first landing, went into a holding pattern, and then lined up perfectly with runway 22 again.  Where's the disorientation?

This was not a grass landing strip in some Russian cow pasture.  It was a well lit, modern runway equipped for instrument landing.  Nevertheless Shiavo makes the absolutely bonkers assertion that maybe the instrument landing system was out but the pilots didn't know it.  This aspersion alone is enough to guarantee her the legendary and much-coveted LogoPhere Media-Monkey of the Month Award.  And the reason I say it is that the pilots had already made one landing attempt and they were in holding for two hours prior to attempting the second -- all that time they were in touch with the tower.  Does Shiavo seriously believe that they would not know if the landing system was on the blink?  Once again, it's a they're-dead-so-make-them-look-as-stupid-as-possible sort of thing.

And so, speaking of looking stupid, where's the evidence of disorientation, Mary?  Well, Mary says the visibility was poor.

Poor visibility . . . don't think so.  

As I explained yesterday, media claims of poor visibility appear to be an exaggeration.  There are multiple pieces of evidence that throw Shivao's visibility assessment into serious doubt.  For one thing, as noted yesterday, the CCTV camera that recorded the falling fireball and explosion was at least 800 meters away from the runway, and yet the visibility on that vid was very good.  You can even make out the details of the billowing smoke as it drifts away.

Weather information that Shiavo could have easily checked for herself indicates that there was light rain and visibility was 6 km.  Weather Underground  

Finally, there is a lot of photographic evidence indicating moderately good visibility.  Below is a photograph taken on the runway not long after the crash, judging by the fact that the sun is not yet up.  While it wasn't a crystal clear night, one can see lights and trees or geological structure in the distant background, and there is a feeling that the ceiling was fairly high.

In other words, in addition to following their instruments, the two very experienced pilots would have easily seen the lighted runway from 6 km (3.7 mi.) out.

 800 meters short of the runway. . . don't think so.

But the Shiavo fiasco was not the only problem CNN had with its reporting of the FDB981 crash.  It's normal, non-aviation expert reporters couldn't do any better than Shiavo even with a lot of time to do some research.

First, one must note a nasty habit CNN has of publishing an article and then going back and seriously rewriting the article, including different authors, but keeping the same URL so that the original, probably flawed, article disappears.  That's what they did in this case.  The original article ("CNN Version #1") appeared with a dateline of Mar19, 9:49am ET by Matthew Chance, Susannah Cullinane and Pierre Meilhan.  Then that article disappeared and was replaced by "CNN Version #2" datelined Mar19, 3:28pm ET in which Meilhan was dropped and Greg Botehlo was substituted.  Same URL, different authors, different article.  This is called "journalistic dishonesty" in my opinion.

Both CNN Versions #1 and #2 made a stunning gaffe -- quoting the "Ministry of Emergency Situations" they said that "the crash site is 800 feet (243 meters) from the airport runway" [CNN Version #1] and that the aircraft came down "about 800 feet from a runway" [CNN Version #2].  But here's the stupid part: both articles show a photo of the runway with the airliner's debris all over it.  Here's that photo from CNN Version #1 with CNN's text still attached.

And here's an aerial photo showing that the impact site was immediately adjacent to, and partially on, the runway.  (Interesting, isn't it, that there is no indentation in the soggy ground or the pavement.  Looks like the plane disintegrated before hitting the ground.)

These sorts of photos are all over the Internet, so how much grey matter does it take to see that the plane was not 800 feet off the runway.  But it gets worse . . .

In CNN Version #1, but not CNN Version #2, they make the assertion that the aircraft's tail clipped the runway.  (The original CNN headline made the same assertion, but it was quickly pulled.)  Never mind that the assertion is, on it's face, obviously total bullspit, how could the plane's tail have clipped the runway if the plane missed the runway by 800 feet? 

Moreover, as I explained yesterday, the plane hit the ground at an angle of descent of 55-60 degrees from horizontal, as can be clearly seen in the CCTV vid.  How does the tail of a plane coming in at such an angle "clip" a runway?  The freaking tail is still in the air when the cockpit is kissing the ground!

Although they don't acknowledge the AP as the source of this trash-reporting, that is very likely where the CNN reporters dug up their crap.  In one of the earliest reports I have found, AP's Jim Heintz reported on Mar19 at 4:33am (time-zone?) that the governor of the Rostov region told reporters that the plane crashed "about 250 meters (800 feet) short of the runway."  Russian bullspit.

Here is an aerial photo showing the impact site and the area beyond the end of  the runway after snow covered the ground later in the day. Given the way the debris is so tightly contained in a very small area, it is absolutely clear that the plane came down at a very steep angle and hit the east side of the runway (right of the photo).  There is no debris and no evidence whatsoever of any part of the plane touching the ground short of the runway.

 

I don't understand, so here's an award.

I don't understand a lot of things in this crazy world.  Here what I don't understand is how a person as brilliant, as experienced, and as media-savvy as Shiavo could give an interview that millions of people will see and yet make such gormless and grossly speculative assertions that can so easily be proved wrong.  And I don't understand why a well funded media organization like CNN can't afford editors who can give the copy a quick proof to pick up inane contradictions like assertions that an airplane misses a runway by 800 feet and yet clips the runway with its tail, or that an airplane crashes 800 feet short of a runway when the photographic evidence clearly shows it did not.  But this is not the first time I've taken CNN out behind the woodshed ( here  here ), and it won't be the last.

I'm just glad we have ways of acknowledging such media stupidity through awards such as the legendary and much-coveted LogoPhere Media-Monkey of the Month Award, which all of us here at LogoPhere News & Comment (meaning me) now proudly present to Mary Shiavo and CNN, along with a check for $100,000.  OK . . . just kidding about the check.     

                  

Denis R. O'Brien, PhD/Esq.
denis [at-sign] logophere [full stop] com

 

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