Aircraft Accidents and Coincidences

Monday, June 27, a Singapore B777 returned to Changi Airport in Singapore after the #2 engine displayed a low oil warning two hours out; they dumped fuel and made tracks back to the origin airport. During the rollout, the #2 engine caught fire, spraying flames over the top of the wing.
In some ways it was reminiscent of the British Airways B777 that caught fire in Las Vegas/McCarran Airport during its takeoff roll. The engine for both aircraft was a General Electric GE-90 and, of course, both were B777 aircraft. Engines on both aircraft burst into flame during low thrust under unusual circumstances.
The BA B777 was found to have a high pressure compressor failure – the section that is just before the burner section – causing the compressor blades in this area to liberate from the spool, sending these shards out to penetrate vital areas of the engine and case. It also causes an imbalance in the fast rotating compressor spool, which was made irrelevant by the engine being shut-down.
The Singapore B777 received an engine oil warning (ambiguous) two hours into the flight; the pilots decided to return the Changi. During the return, they dumped fuel and according to procedures, would have had to do something to reduce the damage to the #2 engine for the two hour flight home, whether shut it down or throttle back to low idle. Either way, the engine would have been turning in the jet stream, heating up the core.
An aviation analyst stated that Singapore’s engine caught fire due to migrating fuel ‘clinging’ to the wing and being set off by hot brake sparks. This seems unlikely because of air stream pressure and the jettison pumps forcing the fuel out of nozzles located near the wingtip at a pressure of 36psi. It would seem more likely that a faulty jettison pump may have leaked and caught fire, being located behind the engine.
Two fires on two separate B777 aircraft taking place during an active flight on the same model engine. This will probably require further scrutiny and draw the attention of B777 Operators worldwide.

Aircraft Accidents and Taking Charge

On Tuesday, June 21, it was reported in the Alaska Dispatch News that an accident that occurred in Anchorage on December 29, 2015, was now being investigated by the FBI. The accident, ruled intentional, involved a man who allegedly flew into the building where his wife worked at. The case required heavy scrutiny due to its confusing evidence compounded by the harsh winter weather before the NTSB turned the case over to the FBI.
Make no mistake, the important part of this story is that the case was turned over to the FBI upon realization that the accident was intentional – not meant as an oxymoron – and should be treated as such by people who are used to this type of investigation.
I have often gone on about inexperienced people, about so called ‘aviation expert’ bloggers and journalists who have never been personally involved in an accident investigation. They direct the attention away from the true accident cause with their social media skills. However, even more disturbing is the ‘expert’ who refuses to turn the accident over to the proper agency due to pride or the need for a spotlight.
When American 587 crashed, the FBI was involved early on because of the confusion of how the accident happened pointed to a possible purposeful crash. TWA 800 also had the involvement of FBI due to its unusual circumstances. These accidents represented events where the unique talents and resources of the FBI were crucial to collecting evidence without contamination and to move the course of the investigation in the correct direction should it have proven to be terrorism. Once terrorism was ruled out, the NTSB took over.
By contrast Le Bureau d’Enquêtes et d’Analyses (BEA) – France’s accident investigation division – did not consult the Sûreté Nationale or the Département de la Sûreté/SécuritéTerritoriale (DST) – the French version of the FBI – with the investigation into Germanwings 9535. The resulting chaos resulted in abusing evidence, creating a circus atmosphere of handling of evidence and having the investigation play out in the media instead of being contained in the investigatory group. We will never fully appreciate the damage done by this mishandling of the accident or the mishandling of Malaysia MH370.
This is the danger of ‘aviation experts’, those who decide that they have the experience and insight into how investigations must go and it is their job to influence it. It almost happened with EgyptAir 804 when the coroner stepped beyond his pay grade to announce a bomb had gone off inside the aircraft followed by another ‘expert’ report that fire broke out prior to the crash, a revelation made by an aviation blogger whose aviation credentials are non-existent.
When China Air 611 crashed in 2002, I assisted the Taiwanese Aviation Safety Council in reviewing maintenance records, digging into the aircraft’s history, interviewing mechanics and inspecting the sister ships that were grounded. We made the most of the time to gather as much information as we could. In the absence of physical evidence – the aircraft was on the floor of the China Sea – all was done to work with what was available to discover the possible cause, not throw darts at a board to sensationalize.

Aircraft Accidents and an Underwater View

Last week I spoke about my interview; it concerned the search for EgyptAir Flight 804 in the Mediterranean Sea. One question asked spoke to the condition of debris found on the surface, most likely human remains and composite materials that float.
I made the comment that an airliner hitting the water doesn’t penetrate the surface like and Olympic diver. Instead, if not adequately broken up prior to impact, it will surely be torn apart by impact forces; that contact with the water – depending much on the angle and speed – will break the airframe up even further.
But what happens under the surface of the water? What are they looking for?
Chances are good that the airframe and engines will no longer resemble anything near an airliner. When we look at the Titanic on the ocean floor we see – accounting for the years of disintegration – a large ship that is in recognizable shape, even down the railings and woodwork. However, the Titanic did not impact the surface at speeds exceeding 200 MPH.
An aircraft’s structure would resemble more of a crushed tin can. The moment the airliner hits the water surface, the aircraft will compress being mostly an air filled cabin and structure unprepared for the forces being placed on it. The ocean will not compress – if we remember our physics, liquids and solids are not compressible. After it goes below the surface, it will no longer resemble an aircraft.
This break up will likely separate the wings and engines and possibly the tail. As they each go their separate ways to the sea bed, they will follow different paths as they tumble or corkscrew through the depths to the bottom. The floor is not flat like where the Titanic rests; it is covered with hills, mountains and cliffs resembling some of our highest ranges and lowest valleys. These rock formations are even more unpredictable after years of erosion by strong ocean currents. The airliner’s remains can be hidden by these crags and mountainsides, invisible to any man-made search device. The land formations can also distort the black box signals as they echo through the underwater mountain ranges.
An underwater search is never simple and the media should make sure their audience knows what’s at stake in a mere four-week search window before the black boxes go silent.

Aircraft Accidents and Getting It Right

This past week I was interviewed for a story on EgyptAir’s flight 804. The interviewer was looking for someone who could speak to the progress of the investigation as it stood. It was very professional and for one very good reason: it was aimed at possibilities, not sensationalism.
I have spoken in the past on this blog how I feel it is dangerous to jump to conclusions, that for the investigation to be successful, all avenues must be looked at without arriving at the easy go-to cause. I’ve never seen a journalist give time to common sense interviews and almost half-expected that my interview, which was taped earlier in the day, to be edited to death before showing. Gladly, I was wrong.
Not only did the young woman who interviewed me ask probing, logical questions, but the interview was left untouched as far as content is concerned. I was hoping her technician would have been able to ‘touch-up’ my background – I was taped on Skype with a sheet covering the wall behind me; my office was being painted – but all the creases in my background were there for all to see. Oh, well.
The interview focused on the possible; she asked the expected question of a bomb, but she steered the focus away from what every other interview went to and allowed me to answer the unasked questions: If not a bomb, then what? I followed her lead and we spoke about other similar accidents and allowed the audience to see that solving the accident with sensationalistic theories did nothing for improving safety, but instead confused the investigation.
It was a most professional interview and I was proud to be asked to participate. My interviewer, in my opinion, did more for educating people to the dangers of drawing attention away from probable cause.

Aircraft Accidents and Remaining the Same

This is a week late for my Blog. The website went under maintenance last week and I was unable to post.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. However, in these cases, they never changed except to become more alarming.
An American Airlines flight returned to Reagan National following a single engine bird strike. The Memphis-bound American Embraer ERJ-175 returned to DCA after the single engine ingestion. This story reminds of another from two days ago when a Lufthansa A320 avoided three unauthorized drones on approach to Bilbao, Spain. The drones estimated at 6 pounds each would have devastated the engines if ingested at one of the two most critical phases of flight – landing. I’m sure those pilots disagree with John Goglia’s assessment of drone ingestion; he said drones are no different than ingesting birds and called concerns ‘baloney’. I would say that ingesting six pounds of metal and plastic into an engine, even at flight idle is pretty catastrophic.
On the same topic, Charleston, SC says that laser strikes on pilots have increased 50%. I would put this in the same category as the drone violations: if they aren’t dangerous, then why do the perpetrators run after shining a laser at a plane or flying the drone too close? Because this is the twenty-first century version of anonymous vandalism; like an arsonist setting fire to a house to watch the fire department respond or calling in a bomb threat for the thrill. Some people just like to watch the world burn, or in this case, the airliner.
And speaking of watching the results of their selfish actions, the media this week tried to solve an air accident again by quoting a know-nothing coroner as saying the human remains indicated a bombing in EgyptAir MS804. Not allowing facts to muddy their pursuit of sensationalism, the media – and I mean EVERYBODY in the media, whether left or right wing – reported this hapless coroner’s words as truth. Journalism awards for everyone.