Let’s Learn From Airline Crashes, Even When Nobody Dies

Here’s an idea. After we get done looking at the causes of the turboprop crash that killed 50 people outside Buffalo on Thursday, and how to prevent similar crashes, let’s take another look at the Continental “splash landing” in the Hudson River.

Let’s pretend the “miracle flight” didn’t end so happily, that the flight crew didn’t manage to ditch the jet so expertly. Let’s try to learn something when a crew’s best efforts to save an aircraft and its passengers work, as well as when they don’t.

Because the truth is, were it not for the pilots’ skill and a set of fortunate circumstances for Continental Flight 1549 — the plane got into trouble right over the Hudson, it was daylight so the pilots could see the river, and rescue crews were nearby — that flight might have ended very differently.

And so, too, might the Continental Connection flight have landed safely in Buffalo if the circumstances had been just a little different Thursday. And then would we be looking into what happened that night? Would we be wondering about the ice the pilots reported on the wings, the systems that turboprops have for removing ice, the warnings that the National Transportation Safety Board gave about turboprops and icing?

Sure, it may be too early to say whether ice was the root cause of that crash, although it’s clearly a focus of the investigation. And if it turns out to be a factor, there will be hearings and probably new rules and procedures and maybe even new equipment to deal with icing on turboprops. Yet all that could have been addressed before a fatal crash.

Read the NTSB warning from October of last year, if you will, or at least this part about changing Federal Aviation Administration regulations on dealing with ice on turboprops:

The FAA has stated that no unsafe conditions exist that warrant actions beyond those that have already been completed or are in the process of being completed.  The Board is concerned that the FAA has reached this conclusion based on a lack of accidents or serious incidents. 

Based on a lack of accidents or serious incidents. Let’s think about that, and the NTSB’s suggestion:

Before another accident or serious incident occurs, the FAA should evaluate all existing turbo propeller-driven airplanes in service using the new information available, such as critical ice shapes and stall warning margins in icing conditions.

That didn’t happen. So when we get done with a thorough evaluation of this crash, which will surely also look at such factors as the experience of the pilots, let’s reconsider the crash that didn’t kill anybody. Let’s also evaluate, clearly and sensibly, the danger of bird strikes like the one that brought down Continental 1549, and let’s see if there’s something we can do before more people die.

And by “we” I mean the people, the public, the passengers. Because the NTSB and the FAA are going to study all this, regardless. What they do about it is ultimately our call, as citizens in this democracy. 


4 thoughts on “Let’s Learn From Airline Crashes, Even When Nobody Dies

  1. Jeanne Leblanc

    To John & Scramjetter,
    Thanks for the links.
    To Steve:
    Thanks for the suggestion but I think I’ll keep blogging my horribly wrong ideas. I am open to civil debate if you’d like to present your horribly correct ideas. You could offer some supporting argument or some facts or reasoning or … anything.
    I’d write you an email but it seems like you didn’t leave a valid address …


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