Tag Archives: NTSB

A Pilot’s Perspective of Southwest Flight 1380

Blown engine of Southwest 1380The engine failure and cabin depressurization of Southwest’s flight 1380 on Tuesday morning, April 17, hit close to home. I’m a Boeing 737 pilot for another airline who has flown from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Texas.

This blog’s intention is to give people not in the airline industry some perspective of what the pilots and flight attendants of this flight might’ve dealt with.

First off, my condolences to the family of the woman killed on the flight. I cannot imagine the anguish they must be experiencing.

I also want to congratulate both the pilots and flight attendants for successfully handling this emergency. All airline crews train for emergencies, but only when one happens is do we learn who can push aside their fear, concern, and confusion and deal with the situation presented to us.

The details presented here come from what I’ve gathered from news reports and my own experience with this aircraft. I don’t have an insider track on the investigation. All thoughts and opinions are this writer’s.

The flight was climbing through thirty-two thousand feet on its way up to thirty-eight thousand when one of the blades on the N1 rotor—the large fan on the front of the engine that generates the majority of a jet engines thrust—departed the engine. Why is unknown at this time. That’ll be something the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will determine.

The departing blade tore away the engine inlet lip and part of the cowling, flinging parts against the fuselage and shattering a cabin window.

The pressure in the cabin at this stage of the climb would have been approximately seven pounds per square inch. When the window disintegrated, roughly one thousand pounds of force attempted to shove  the unfortunate woman sitting at that seat out the window.

Either the woman’s shoulders or hips, or heroic efforts of the passengers nearby who grabbed her, prevented her from being completely forced out the small hole.

In the cockpit, the pilots—two of them, not a lone one as the news media portrayed—were probably first alerted to this problem by a vibration more severe than they had ever experienced. When the rotor blade departed, the engine might have ingested some of the debris and damaged the internal turbine sections signaling an engine fire. Within a few seconds the window would have shattered, and the cabin altitude would have climbed above fourteen thousand feet signaling another warning to the crew.

The crew would have been confronted with two severe emergencies at the same time: an engine fire, and a cabin rapid decompression. Either one alone would have made this pilot’s heart pound.

Most likely, the crew donned their oxygen masks and established communications with each other. Time of useful consciousness at this altitude would have been approximately one minute. With the fighter-pilot like masks on they would not have been able to yell to each other. Once they configured their audio panel so that they could communicate through the aircraft’s intercom and overhead speaker, they would’ve consulted the Rapid Depressurization/Emergency Descent checklist and begun a dive for a lower altitude.

Getting to a breathable altitude, ten thousand feet or lower, would have been more important than dealing with the engine fire. The oxygen masks in the cabin would have deployed automatically, but that supply of needed air would only last for approximately twelve minutes.

The emergency descent procedure is to deploy the speed brakes by yanking on a lever beside the throttles—which would lift four desk size panels atop each wing that destroy lift and cause drag—and descend at the maximum airspeed of 335 knots. That would have given them a descent of five to six thousand feet a minute.

Some of the passenger reports of the vibration during this time might have been from the rumble the speed brakes make when deployed at this speed.

 Once they were in the descent and that checklist complete—which there are several more steps than mentioned here—they probably began dealing with the engine fire.

The initial steps in that checklist has the crew shutting down the engine that was on fire, a step they should have been diligent in identifying to each other. There have been instances in the past of crews getting in a rush and shutting down the operating engine. Then, they would have pulled the fire handle for that engine to deprive it of fuel and hydraulic fluid so there would be no fuel for a fire. Then they would have activated at least one fire extinguisher.

Meanwhile, while this was going on, the crew would need to communicate with air traffic control. The air traffic controller who was watching their blip on their radar screen would need to know why they were no longer climbing but descending rapidly.

On the recordings I’ve listened to, it was obvious the controllers who worked this flight went out of their way to assist this crew. Still, the controllers need to be told what the crew intends to do so they can clear the airspace in front and below them so that they don’t collide with another flight. Not only does the controller have this emergency flight to deal with, they still have to handle the other aircraft in their sector.

If the emergency flight is diverting to another airport, which this crew rightly did, the controller needs to coordinate with the controllers at that airport they have an emergency flight coming their way.

Dealing with the numerous steps on both of these emergency checklists—something they don’t want to skip or not follow thoroughly, or they could cause other problems— and dealing with air traffic control can add additional stress. Without knowing it, a controller asking questions of their intentions which the crew may not have had time to consider, or while providing them information can interrupt their completing the checklist or dealing with the emergency in the cabin. The airline I fly for suggests one pilot fly the aircraft and deal with air traffic control while the other handles the emergency checklist.

Compounded with this, would have been the three flight attendants had their own emergency to deal with. Not only did they have a rapid decompression, they also had a medical emergency.

If the flight had been smooth prior to the emergencies, the flight attendants would have been out of their seats. Two of them might have had the beverage cart out in the aisle. When the cabin depressurized, they would have had to decide to use a free mask that dropped out of the ceiling, or rush to their jump seats and retrieve a portable oxygen bottle. In this model of the 737 each passenger service unit deploys four masks.

If they were breathing from a mask dropped from the ceiling when they noticed they had a medical emergency, they wouldn’t have been able to attend to them without possibly passing out. Only after being notified by the pilots that they had descended to an altitude where oxygen was not needed would they have been able to attend to the injuries; unless they had retrieved their portable oxygen bottles.

 It will be interesting to know if the flight attendants and passenger that gave the gravely injured passenger CPR continued to do so through the approach and landing, or did they take their seats and buckle in. Knowing they were landing in a stricken aircraft their self-preservation might have urged them to take their seat. It’s possible their compassion for this dependent passenger overruled their own survival.

At some point the pilots and flight attendants would need to talk to each other, yet another distraction for the pilots, but one that is critical. The flight attendants would need to inform them of the numerous injuries and ask what the plan was. In other words, how long before we’ll be on the ground, would they be evacuating or bracing for impact.

This would have happened while the pilots were preparing to land at an airport they had not planned for. They would need to learn what the weather and landing runways were, program the flight management computer and tune the navigation radios for the approach as well as discuss the landing.

It appears there was some miscommunication in the conversations with the flight attendants. Considering the stress both were experiencing that is understandable. From the recordings I’ve heard the captain reported to air traffic control a passenger might have been blown out, which wasn’t the case. It also would have been the flight attendants who informed them about the missing cowling. Though the flight attendants probably reported it as the captain did to air traffic control by stating, “a part of the aircraft was missing.” The pilots can not see the engines from their seats and neither one would leave the cockpit to go take a look.

 The 737 flies well on one engine, but it is more difficult than flying with two engines. Every power change will require an adjustment of the flight controls as the aircraft will attempt to roll towards or away from the operating engine. It has also lost more than fifty percent of its thrust considering the weight of the dead engine and operating engine is not on the aircraft’s centerline. Flying the aircraft on one engine is something crews practice every nine months at most airlines. Still, the pilots were not in the simulator and would know they could not screw up. Also, having injured passengers onboard might have urged them to hurry the approach so they could get medical treatment.

 Most crews will never experience either one of these emergencies, let alone compound emergencies. I haven’t in my career and hope I never will. Even without the death of a passenger, I imagine the stress now with the media attention and the numerous questionings they will go through from the NTSB, FAA, and their own company will be considerable. Knowing that a passenger died on one of their flights will probably be something they will carry with them for a long time.

I applaud this crew for their handling of these emergencies.

Reader Comments on Blamed

 

BLAMED Small-promoMy airline thriller, Blamed, has been available as an eBook on Amazon for a month. The paperback version should be available the third week of September.

So far, thankfully, it is selling better than my other books. Although I’m not complaining, I have to ask why since I haven’t promoted it more than the release of my other books. Is it readers of my other books have been silently waiting a new release from me? Have those who have read it enjoyed it so much they are raving about it to fellow readers? Or, the fact it was posted on Caleb and Linda Pirtle’s Book of the Moment webpage generated more interest for it than I could have on my own? Thank you again, Caleb and Linda.

Whatever the reason, I’m not complaining. There are no reviews for it yet (hint hint) so I’m not sure what readers reaction to it are, other than this unsolicited post on Facebook from my sister in-law, Nancy:

So I have “listened” to your book on my Kindle…. in the car, with Bluetooth headphones on everywhere else, and hardly stopped for sleep! This was a work of art that showed your passion for your profession as a pilot as well as your knowledge and dedication to making words share that passion with your readers! It was riveting! Thank you!

And this one on Twitter from @GayRainbowAnarchist:

75 percent through Blamed. Thoroughly entertaining.

These comments made my day.

If interested in reading Blamed, you can find it here.

First Chapter of novel, Blamed.

 

BLAMED Small-promoChapter One

 

The crushing pain radiating up from my legs yanked me out of unconsciousness. My arms dangled above my head and my hands rested on the overhead panel of the aircraft. Comprehending I was upside down was difficult to grasp with the fear of blacking out again threatening to overtake me.

I yelled and squirmed in an attempt to stop the slide into nothingness and to relieve the agony in my legs. Neither relaxed the all-consuming pain. If anything, my thrashing sharpened it.

We were on approach to Dallas-Fort Worth when… what? Nothing came forth that explained why I’d be upside down and in such misery. A black hole occupied my memory of what happened between everything being normal as we approached the runway and… now.

Wind whistled through the smashed cockpit windows, ruffling my hair. Shards of glass littered the overhead panel. Smoke that stank of burned jet fuel and something else I couldn’t place drifted in.

Where there’s smoke, there’s… Fire! I had to get the flight attendants and passengers to safety! Then a realization hit me. We had been ferrying the empty aircraft from a maintenance facility in San Salvador.

Ned! Why hadn’t the first officer, who had been the pilot flying, made a sound?

When I looked across the cockpit, I shrieked.

The overhead panel had bowed in and crushed the forty-something husband and father’s head backward at an extreme angle against his headrest. A lifeless eye bulged from his distorted, bloody face. It stared straight ahead.

The laid-back pilot with a dry sense of humor looked like a ghoul from a Hollywood movie.

How could he be dead? He’d been joking with me just moments ago.

To distance myself from the sight, I squeezed my eyes shut while fumbling for the seatbelt buckle of my five-strap harness, then hesitated. If I released it, I would plant my head into the overhead panel, which was filled with numerous toggle switches. Even if I didn’t impale on a switch or break my neck, the agony in my legs made me question if I could work them enough to crawl from the aircraft.

I risked a glance. Whatever had happened to us had bent the instrument panel down, trapping my lower extremities under it. The femur in my right leg poked out through a tear in my pants. A constant stream of blood ran from the tip of the broken bone.

I recoiled, and the bone moved.

An intense spike of nausea erupted, emptying my stomach. Vomit burned my throat, ran into my eyes, and up my nose.

I swiped my face with my arm to clear my vision. This movement sent a wave of blackness rolling through me. A part of me welcomed it to end my misery. Another part worried I wouldn’t ever wake from it. I couldn’t leave my wife, son, and daughter.

The sounds of large diesel engines approached. Air brakes hissed. Were they from the crash and rescue trucks?

“Help.” My cry was a gurgle from the vomit in my mouth. I spit.

The smoke outside was now so thick, I couldn’t see the ground. Would they find me before I was consumed by fire? “Help!”

I didn’t detect any movement or hear any voices. I would not become a victim. I had to get out.

A stabbing pain in my side had grown in intensity, making it harder to breathe. When the yoke was rammed into me, had it broken a rib or my sternum? Punctured a lung?

A shove on the yoke to move it forward proved futile.

With a heave, I pushed against the edge of the glareshield, normally at shoulder height but now waist level, hoping to ease the pressure against my chest. The crushing force didn’t slacken.

It also intensified the torture in my legs. I doubted a chainsaw cutting into them would hurt worse. The bellow I unleashed didn’t summon the strength needed to distance me from the yoke.

I sat as still as I could, panting.

The gulps of air I took didn’t relieve my shortness of breath.

If I could slide the seat back, I might breathe easier and free my legs.

Why hadn’t I thought of the seat adjustment lever?

Twisting to yank that lever at the base of my seat felt like a knife stabbing my chest. With my free hand, I shoved on the crushed instrument panel. The intensity of the torment was so great, I almost blacked out.

If I did, I might either bleed or burn to death.

Through gritted teeth, I pushed on the glareshield yanking on the seat adjustment lever. When I didn’t move, I unleashed a howl.

I stayed rammed against the yoke.

When I attempted to shove with my feet, unimaginable agony consumed me, bringing on the darkness I’d been fighting.

Final Authority, by Robert Dobransky and Joesph Dobransky

Dobransky Final AuthorityThis is one of those airline mysteries that is filled with authentic details. You’ll feel like you boarded a flight and can’t get off until you’ve landed at your destination.

Written by two brothers who fly for competing airlines, their experience with the large complicated industry is revealed in their realistic look at fictitious Global Alliance Airline and several of the key people who run it.

I would have given this book a five star rating instead of four except for a couple of issues.

The authors would bring the story to a stop to go into a lengthy tale of a character’s backstory, when I feel this could have been layered in throughout the novel, or left out. I also felt the authors overly dramatized several of the characters who weren’t pilots. A couple I questioned how they rose to their lofty position within the airline, an issue many pilots have with their airline’s management, but in this case it came across as exaggerated. Lastly, I questioned the need of the prologue. It showed the trouble the protagonist Captain Bruce Bannock faced at some point in the novel, yet it wasn’t until the very end of the novel its purpose was revealed. I read the majority of the book questioning what the prologue had to do with the story.

That aside, the authors did an excellent job showing the lengths some within an airlines hierarchy will do to seek power and wealth. Offsetting this group were some qualified, hard-working individuals who did the real work at keeping the airline operating while it faced the crisis portrayed. The authors showed this latter group realistically.

And, extremely important to this reviewer, the flying details were exacting. Readers interested in an airline mystery that could potentially happen will enjoy this book.

I look forward to reading more from these authors.

 

Flight For Safety by Karlene Petitt

Flight for Safety Karlene PetittThe accidents discussed in this novel are based on actual ones. Crew fatigue, reduced training, inexperienced instructors, pilots becoming dependent on the aircraft’s automation, and airline mergers so the upper airline management can profit at the expense of the employees are all actual problems airline pilots face. The portrayal of some in the FAA wanting to do something about these problems but being prevented by their leaders is also accurately depicted.

Unfortunately I thought the author struggled to tie these subjects into a convincing thriller. The harassment the protagonist, Darby, experiences from her airline management I thought was a stretch for her alleged infractions. It wasn’t until the story was wrapped up did I understand why management had beleaguered her.

But the author making Darby out as a hardnosed woman who didn’t take any crap was smile invoking, and made the climax at the end realistic.

The other reason for my four star rating was the writing wasn’t as polished as I would have liked. There were a lot of stage directions to describe what was going on. Darby did this, then that, then she did this. The end was summed up in a narration I thought could have been more engaging if Darby had discussed the events with one of the other characters. Also, several events happened without any real setup or explanation as to how they came to be.

But the heart of the novel was so precisely depicted I admire Ms. Petitt’s ability to put the reader in the cockpit of an advance aircraft like the Airbus A-330 and fill the scene with enough details that the reader understands basically what is going on without bogging the story down with extraneous details.

 I’ll be reading more of this author’s novels.

New Edition of airline thriller, The Cover-Up

PrintBook - The CoverUp - SmallIf you’re a paperback reader of airline thrillers, the new version of The Cover-Up is available. Like the EBook, it has been re-edited, an author’s note is included that explains how the story was conceived, as well as the first chapter of Coerced, the novel that follows it.

You can read the author’s note here.

If you’re interested in buying the paperback, it’s available here.

David C. Cassidy created this inspiring cover and formatted the book.

Review of Airline Thriller, Calamity

cropped-calamity-fullres-6-x-9.jpgI’m honored to have the talented David C. Cassidy leave this five star review of my airline thriller, Calamity.

Book Review, Calamity.

Not only is David a talented graphic artist, he’s a gifted writer too. Check out his novels, Velvet Rain, Fosgate’s Game, and The Dark.

Calamity, First Chapter

Calamity - FullRes 6 x 9CHAPTER ONE

Friday, February 14th, 2:32 p.m. MST.

Denver approach air traffic controller Art Contu watched the blip on his radar screen. Contrails Airline’s flight 1917 had passed through its assigned altitude on its descent. Contu keyed his mic, “Contrails 1917, your crossing restriction at Fulla intersection is thirteen thousand. Climb and maintain thirteen thousand.”

Neither pilot responded. Contu frowned. “Contrails 1917, Denver approach. Your assigned altitude is thirteen, one three thousand feet. Climb and maintain thirteen thousand.”

“Contrails 1917 has a dual engine flameout.” The pilot’s voice was hurried. “We’re declaring an emergency and need vectors to land immediately.”

Contu leaned closer to his radar screen. He had worked numerous aircraft with emergencies, but not one that had lost power to all of its engines. “Contrails 1917, Denver international is three o’clock and ten miles. Turn right heading two six zero. Say fuel and souls onboard.”

The pilots didn’t acknowledge his instructions. The blip on his screen continued south, taking the Contrails flight away from the only airport to which they could glide, if they turned now.

Contu swallowed although his mouth was dry. Were the pilots too busy to reply? “Contrails 1917, Denver is at your three thirty and fifteen miles. Turn right heading two seven zero.”

“Two seven zero.” The Contrails pilot’s voice was high. His words strung together. “We need the fire trucks. We have no power.”

The blip on Contu’s screen turned toward the approach end of runway two-six, lessening the tightness in his shoulders. “Contrails 1917, the emergency equipment has been alerted. Turn right heading two eight zero. Say fuel and souls on board.” The rescue workers needed that information to know how big a possible fire might be, and how many passengers, babies, and crewmembers would need to be pulled from the aircraft.

“United 865 going to tower,” the pilot of another flight said.

Contu squeezed his eyes shut, mentally kicking himself. He’d been so wrapped up in Contrails’ emergency, he’d ignored the other aircraft he was sequencing onto final. United should have already been told to contact the control tower for landing clearance. After acknowledging United’s transmission, he gave instructions to a couple of other flights, picked up the phone, and speed dialed the controller responsible for giving takeoff and landing clearances.

“Tower.”

“Contrails 1917, an ADB-150, has a total power loss.” Contu realized his voice was as rushed as the Contrails pilot’s. “I’m vectoring them for two-six.”

“They’ll be landing in a twenty knot crosswind. The runway hasn’t been plowed in an hour and has two inches of snow.”

“At the rate they’re losing altitude, they’ll be lucky to make to any runway,” Contu said. He hung up. “Contrails 1917, runway two-six is eight miles. Turn right two nine zero.” The crosswind pushed the flight south, away from the runway.

Contu was glad the snow that had been falling hard over the last several hours had let up. “Contrails 1917, Denver twelve hundred overcast, five miles in blowing snow. Wind three three zero at twenty gusting to thirty.” Contu wiped the sweat from his forehead. During a normal landing, the pilots would’ve balked at landing on a snow covered runway with a crosswind that strong. Now they had no choice.

Although the pilots didn’t acknowledge Contu’s instructions, their blip turned further north.

The chair creaked when Contu squirmed; Contrails’ altitude read-out indicated they had descended to eight thousand feet. That put them twenty-seven hundred feet above the touchdown zone of two-six. At the rate they were losing altitude, they’d slam into the ground short of the runway, tearing the airplane apart.

***

Denver air traffic tower controller Bradley Messano cleared United flight 865 to land on runway three five left, then turned and looked out the tower’s windows to the east. He lifted a pair of binoculars to his eyes and spotted the landing lights. The Contrails ADB-150, an aircraft similar in size and appearance to a Boeing 737, descended at a rate that lodged his heart in his throat. It would hit short of the approach lights. The foot of new snow would cushion its touchdown but would make it almost impossible for rescue workers to reach the passengers and crew.

The flight aimed at the end of the runway but continued to drop too fast. Messano’s heart thudded.

When it appeared the aircraft would impact, Messano braced himself on the counter surrounding the tower.

Except Contrails didn’t hit.

The aircraft flew at what looked like inches above the snow drifts. Then the right wing and nose rose. The left wingtip dragged through the snow, sluing the aircraft left.

The aircraft rose, the wings leveled, then banked right to realign with the runway.

The nose swung left and right with the wings rocking.

The aircraft cleared the approach lights by a few feet and continued to climb. “They’re going to make it,” Messano yelled out to no one in particular.

When over the end of the runway, the nose dropped. It swung to the south, pointing the airplane to the side of the runway. Messano braced himself again. The aircraft would touch down on the side of the runway. The snowbanks lining its edges would pull it off into the unplowed snow.

The right wing dipped, the nose slued to the north, rolling the wing further. The wingtip contacted the runway, yanking the nose further north.

The aircraft slammed down. The nose began to turn toward the center of the runway, but not before the right main gear caught the snowbank on the side of the runway and yanked the aircraft off the pavement.

“Shit,” Messano yelled.

The nose gear snapped off, dropping the nose. It plowed a furrow, sending a cloud of snow into the air, making it impossible to see what happened for the next few seconds.

Tracon, by Paul McElroy

ImageBeing an airline pilot, I enjoyed reading this book. Mr. McElroy is not an air traffic controller, but it seems he did his research and got the details correct without taking the reader to air traffic controller school. I’ve often wondered what life on the other end of the two-way transmission I often take for granted is like and got a firsthand glimpse of that life.

 

As an author of airline thrillers, I loved the plot in this story, and a bit envious it has been used. It’ll make the reader feel the possibility of something similar having happened when the story takes place — more than a decade ago – might’ve happened.

 

But a great plot is no good without believable characters to carry the story, which was not a problem with this novel. I cared for the characters, hated a couple, and shook my head at a few.

 

The story moved forward at a moderate pace without lagging by stopping to tell backstory. What backstory is told is told in conversation which makes learning about the character more realistic. If I had a dislike it was the author’s choice to change character points of view within a chapter or section numerous times; a personal grip of mine

 

Overall, I recommend this story.

 

 

 

The Cover-Up, First Chapter

Monday, June 14 2:07 p.m.

Chapter One

Monday, June 14 2:07 p.m.

cropped-cover-small-the-coverup.jpgChunks of rubber as large as garbage can lids flew from the tire of the main landing gear of the Omega Airline 737.

LaGuardia Airport air traffic controller Sanchez Lopez’s heart pounded as he watched the aircraft continue to accelerate for another thousand feet. Then, slots in the sides of the two jet engines opened and the nose of the airplane dipped, indicating the crew rejected the takeoff.

Sanchez looked to his right. United Airlines Flight 549 crossed the end of runway three-one and began its flare to slow its descent rate for landing. Runway four, which the Omega aircraft barreled down, intersected runway three-one. There was the potential for a collision, or the runway being contaminated from the debris from Omega’s tire. He keyed his microphone. “United 549, go around. Aircraft on the runway.”

Omega continued through the intersection and raced toward the end of the pavement. It appeared to be going too fast to stop on the remaining runway. The last two thousand feet was built out over Flushing Bay, with a twenty-foot drop to the water.

Sanchez curled his toes as if pressing on the brakes of the aircraft, willing it to stop. Eventually, his training kicked in. He raised his voice to get the attention of the other six controllers. “Omega 918 is going off the end of the runway.”

The other controllers pivoted their heads to the end of runway four.

Sanchez confirmed visually that United 549 was in a climb, retracting its landing gear, before he spoke into his boom microphone. “United 549, fly heading three four zero. Climb and maintain five thousand feet.”

He glanced back in time to see Omega slide off the end of runway four.

“Shit!” Sanchez braced himself against the counter as if he were in the airplane.

The airplane was airborne for two hundred feet, then smashed through the first set of approach-light stanchions. Parts of the engine cowling ripped away as if from an explosion. The plane continued forward, its nose canted down, for another two hundred feet before it collided with the second stanchion. The tail of the aircraft rose before slamming down, sending out a shower of water.

The 737’s left wing sat on the stanchion. The right one lay in the water, canting the aircraft thirty degrees. Its nose looked as if a wrecking ball had smacked it.