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
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
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 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,
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
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
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
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
runway? The freaking tail is still in the air when the cockpit is kissing
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
), 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.