back to article 'Miracle' plane crash was no miracle

Yesterday afternoon, just as I was walking to pick up my kids from school in Northern Manhattan, if I had looked up just about the time I was entering the building, I would have seen an A320 jet flying US Airways colors. I would have seen it approaching the George Washington Bridge a little bit too low, perhaps with some smoke …

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Black Helicopters

No, it is not a miracle

This is not the first incident where an Airbus 3[1,2]X glides to safety after a total engine failure.

Everyone keeps jumping up and down about the miracle pilot while totally forgetting the supreme airframe and the fact that while the plane is fly-by wire it still had enough power from the emergency-airram generator on both occasions all the way till landing. That is something unknown for a passenger jet. In fact similar incidents with Boeing and Tupolev have always ended in total disasters.

No, it was not a miracle. It was a supreme piece of work by the Airbus designers. Applause.

And a big Boo to the beeb and the rest of the media for doing everything they could to avoid mentioning this or drawing any parallels with the previous incident (the total fuel loss by an Air Canada flight over the Atlantic followed by a glide all the way from cruising height to a safe landing on the Azores).

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"and a little luck"

Yes - it's that little piece of uncertainty that makes people want to call it miraculous. But regardless of religious outlooks, or absence thereof, "miracle" can be any outstanding accomplishment - no pesky interference from deities required. That's certainly a very high bar for "outstanding" if a crash landing with 100% survival doesn't cut it.

Also, if you're going to harp on this 'miracle-free' theme, maybe it's best to avoid statements like "Thank heavens..." ?

I guess the point of this article was to make sure the talents of those involved weren't overlooked? I don't think that's needed - in all the coverage I saw, everyone was thanking the pilot, the rescuers... actually everyone but god. Strange article...

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Black Helicopters

It's the perfect case...

...for fois gras.

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Go

Maybe, Just Maybe ...

... the miracle was all those good things you named coming together with the right person at the right time. Safe landings are of course not a miracle ... to modern man. But to say because there was technology and training involved there was no miracle is to deny what put all those wonderful things into play.

You're right, the use of good engineering, good technology and good training may not be a miracle, but maybe their very essence is. Maybe our growing understanding of them and their proper usage is.

But, I guess for you ultra techy types whose very life and livelihood are vested in the tech industry have to take the stance you, the author took. If you don't push the tech and toys, and be successful at it, you're out of a job. My generation calls that selling oneself to the devil.

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Heart

Yes

I have been feeling since the news broke that all this talk of 'miracles' was a bit belittling to the engineering, pilot skill, and passenger sense that is really what stopped this accident being a disaster.

It's bad enough when the human race goes around blaming 'evil' for our own stupidity and short-sightedness without us then dragging down our high points to the status of a mere 'random passing miracle'. Not a miracle, humanity at its best and should be waved about as an example of what we are actually capable of an can aspire to: Real people doing real stuff and doing it well.

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Jet engine failure

Why, if sucking birds into jet engines is such a problem, has nobody ever thought to just put some kind of reinforced net over the engine intake?

Surely that is not rocket science.

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Happy

I read somewhere..

..there's a "Ditch" button in the cockpit on Airbus aircraft that shuts all the air vents off in the event of a water landing. Lets it float for longer.

Boeing doesn't have that, I understand.

Anyone confirm? Thanks. Incidentally, when I next fly, I'll take *much* more notice of the safety instructions. Bloody worked!

(BTW, Superb airmanship. Bloke deserves a gong as big as a dustbin lid)

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"American Airlines"?

"I am certainly glad that pilot Chesley Sullenberger was at the helm. Like so many pilots at American Airlines, he's an ex-fighter pilot"

I thought we were discussing US Airlines?

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Loony libel laughable?

That "Scotch on the breath of the pilot" remark is a fine example of gratuitous smart-assery, a perfect demonstration of the difference between a wit and a halfwit.

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First comment

The flight which landed in the Azores was and Air Transat flight, not Air Canada. The Gimli Glider incident, a Boeing 767 operated by Air Canada, landed safely after running out of fuel and gliding in 1983.

As to you claim that similar incidents with Boeing and Tupolev aircraft ended badly, if you mean gliding to a safe landing, the Air Canada 767 landing in Gimli makes that wrong, and if you mean landing safely in water, the only other water ditching with no fatalities (I believe) was of a Tupolev 124 in the Neva river in 1963

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Flame

@alexander 'Just glue a net to the front, problem solved'

I must point out the slightly obvious: any net that can stop at least one 5Kg lump of meat travelling at a relative velocity of up to 500 mph will have to be very, very sturdy. to such an extent that it will need to be very heavy, and will certainly restrict the airflow into the engine.

Moreover.. once the bird gets splashed across this net/mesh/grill, the airflow may well be cut off so much that the engine flames out anyway...

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Where's the paranoid nutjob faction?

....I haven't seen any theories about the possibility that these were trained geese sent to New York by Al-Qaeda. Could it truly be the end of the Bush-Cheney "scaremonger, then scatterbomb" era? I wonder....

ps - Kudos to the pilot. Awesome job by him and the crew. That's who the thumbs up is for.

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Anonymous Coward

@Neil Alexander

Maybe the hundreds of aviation engineers and designers didn't do that because its a fucking stupid idea, maybe because the hole in front of a turbojet isn't in fact just a hole but a carefully designed piece of sculpture to give the right airflow characteristics at all airspeeds.

Go back to your lego set you twat.

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Linux

Eat the damned geese

Never mind feeding/not feeding the geese, everyone should do their bit for Air Safety by eating a goose this weekend.

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Not an accident

They're filming the next seson of "Lost".

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Boffin

I think the real question is

Has anyone tried this in Microsoft Flight Simulator yet?

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Well

all the good engineering, technology and training would have mean little without a suitably positioned river.

There was a considerable amount of luck there.

"the one passenger who turned on his cell phone so his GPS could be used to locate his body"

Neat trick that.

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Linux

Netting

Birds are relatively chewy and small ones can go through an engine, though they emerge finely minced and well done. Something tough enough to stop a goose, or even to dice it fine enough so it appears to be a flock of much smaller birds, is going to be heavy and not at all chewy if part of it breaks off and is sucked in. The extra risks caused by adding a grille outweigh those prevented by it.

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Team Effort

I hope the pilot has the chance to speak publicly - All the media attention is focused on him but there is a co pilot and I am optimistic both of them were working in unison. The pilot could not do it by himself.

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Does the author ever proof read his article?

"I am certainly glad that pilot Chesley Sullenberger was at the helm. Like so many pilots at American Airlines, he's an ex-fighter pilot. He's also a consultant in aircraft and airline safety and the former safety chairman for the Airline Pilots Association. And, perhaps most importantly, he's a glider pilot in his private life."

Uhm the ditched plane was a US Airways plane. I don't know where the American Airlines statement came from. (BTW the majority of the pilots are ex-military)

As to it being a miracle, yeah I guess unless you're the Pope and you want to consider this guy for sainthood, you wouldn't call it a miracle. Even with all of the training, there are a lot of things that could continue to go wrong. You may call it luck, but what's the difference between being lucky or having a guardian angel or a miracle?

But hey! In my mind, anytime you can walk away from a crash, its a good thing. A miracle? Maybe not to you, but if you asked those on the plane, I'd think they'd agree with the term.

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Black Helicopters

Global Warming Made This Worse

If it weren't for global warming, the pilot could have landed on the FROZEN Hudson river and no one would have gotten wet. Also, the birds would have been living further south to stay warm.

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Happy

This was just what we ought to expect in such a situation

Yup; about time somebody give credit to the engineers who designed the plane, and the pilots who flew it.

Not to say generations of aviation engineers, pilots, and others concerned with aviation safety who have created requirements and training standards which not only made this potential disaster into a mere media event.

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Boffin

@Neil Alexander

I think that putting a mesh over the intakes would act to macerate the birds in the same way as the turbine blades do now. Its that semi-liquid material that causes the engine to flame out, and tends to clog up the interior of the engine.

Additionally, I remember reading once that when Mk V Spitfires were having problems with FW 190's one of the "solutions" was to remove the stone guards from the air intakes. This gave a 10% increase in the power output of the Merlins. Could you imagine if aircraft engines suddenly became 10% less powerful. Most aircraft would lose their airworthiness certificates, and become 10% less economical anyway.

OT why does FF say Merlins is incorrectly spelled. Merlins are small falcons.

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Happy

Flown in an A320 before

... and now I am grateful for that. Especially since two of those flights involved flying over water.

Hats off to the A320 designers, and to the superb pilot who managed to water land the bird!

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Grilles across engine intakes?

@Neil Alexander

Such devices exist and are sometimes used during ground runs to protect the engines from foreign object damage. However, in the air, the airflow disruption would be considerable and so the engine would be more likely to surge (effectively a blade stall) and it would suffer from poorer fuel economy. The forces involved with a 20 pound goose hitting such a grille at 200 knots plus would probably end up with the engine ingesting chipped goose and broken grille, so you're even worse off than before. Oh, and there's a weight penalty too.

Engines often have a spiral pattern on the fan spinner that is believed to discourage birds from flying towards it, but that is really designed for use when taxying and during the early stages of takeoff.

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Stop

Air Transit was glider over pacific. Air Canada over Gimli

A previous comment about Air Canada was slightly wrong. It was Air Transit which had no fuel over the Pacific and landed at the Azores. Air Canada had a dead stick over Gilmi

Please read the safety manuals at the authoritative wikipedia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_Transat_Flight_236

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider

Can life insurance be bought over the phone or internet? Can life insurance be bought in a couple of minutes? Could the passengers bought life insurance while the plane was having problems?

God made me an atheist.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Jet engine failure

A "mesh" traveling through the air at even 100 - 200 mph faster than the object it strikes is just going to "dice" the object, the end result will (I'm sure) be the same. If enough of the "object" passes though the engine at the same moment it is likely to bend or break the nice shiny aircraft grade metal that is spinning at a frightening rate of knots

I'm glad the first comment gave the engineers the recognition they deserve, it seems to have been a little lacking in the mainstream media.

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Dead Vulture

If I wanted trashy mass-media I wouldn't read the Register

Come on. What happened to interesting, informed and rational analysis?

Yeah, of course it's good news everyone survived. But I expected some genuine insight from el Reg. Not just inane "oh, isn't everyone involved so great" tat.

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Anonymous Coward

Whilst I applaud the crew for their feat

I take issue with the media using such terms as "miracle" or "hero". Skillful and level-headed, yes. Miraculous and heroic, no.

The pilots have a very strong incentive to put the plane down safely - they don't want to die. We often hear of how a pilot struggled to avoid a school before hitting a field. Which would you rather land on - a bunch of buildings or a ploughed field (or come to that, a river)? It isn't heroic, it's common sense.

Let's have a bit of perspective. A "hero" is somebody like Sgt. Norman Jackson VC who, though wounded, climbed out onto the wing of a burning Lancaster at 20,000ft, to try to put out an engine fire with a hand-held fire extinguisher. Now that's what I call heroic.

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Joke

Spare a thought for the geese!

Just when you think you're safe 'cos u made it past Thanksgiving alive....

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Happy

What's a miracle?

Just for the record: theologically* speaking a 'miracle' is a 'sign' of God's nature and involvement in human affairs. NO 'supernatural' SFX are required, though neither are they ruled out. One persons's miracle can be someone else's mundane/banal bit of 'nothing to see here'---it's all a matter of perception or, if you prefer, willingness to see beyond the mundane to the underlying reality.

All credit to the plane's designers. the pilot and crew. The there are all the other factors that add to everyone in this instance getting out alive to wake up to a new day and the rest of their lives. Bit of a bummer if you get run over by a bus the next day though!

* I'll dare to speak for Christian theology.

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Fool

@Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate, you not only quoted Wiki, but you also failed to read the articles you provided to correct someone else. The incident took place over the Atlantic, not the Pacific. Unless the Azores have been relocated or there's been a total ban on eastbound flying forcing aircraft to fly West and go the long way.

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Plains are no speed boats.

Anyone that has seen speed boats get a few bumps and desintegrate can imagine all that could have gone wrong with a plane that's not designed to glide on water. Training might have helped, but ask the pilot if he wasn't lucky. Stupid article, I must say. What's your point ?

Go tell the Concorde pilot, the one that crashed in a hotel in 2000, two minutes after take off, go tell him he simply was'nt trained enough. Oh sorry, he's dead.

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Stop

@Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate

The Azores are in the Atlantic, not the Pacific. According to the very wikipedia article you cite, "Air Transat Flight 236 was an Air Transat route between Toronto, Canada and Lisbon, Portugal".

But I do agree with the sentiment that the pilot and co-pilot did an outstanding job in bringing it down safely and the ferry boats also acted very quickly to recover people from the very cold waters. The BBC said it isn't something pilots train for in simulators so there must have been some very quick thinking.

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RE: Doug Glass

"My generation calls that selling oneself to the devil"

Yeah, next time we'll tell everyone to use substandard jets and poorly trained crew, and then when some fictitious overlord doesn't step in to save them.. we''l it must just have been "their time"

Good job pilot and crew, good job Airbus.

Bad job whoever created Geese. Not to mention Canadian Geese blighting Blighty's lakes and canals.

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Boffin

@Joe K

"Has anyone tried this in Microsoft Flight Simulator yet?"

Ah, you weren't watching the BBC news on repeat yesterday then. Pretty much 99% of the coverage they had was of some nerd in his bedroom demonstrating it on MS FS

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/7834499.stm

Watch to the end and you see them demonstrating how impossible it is and shows an Ethipian plane failing. However, landing wing first is never going to be the best technique. The pilot did a brilliant job in this case, regardless of what the article writer might think about technology.

Did anyone spot in the picture that there wasn't a speck of luminous orange/yellow in sight? Good to see that in real incidents, the "in the event of a landing on water" instructions are ignored by passengers much like during take-off prep.

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Dead Vulture

How does that work then?

"the one passenger who turned on his cell phone so his GPS could be used to locate his body"

So this is a GPS+cell phone combo (A hefty affair. Can you take these on planes these days without risiking an impromptu proctological examination by TSA gorillas?)

So the GPS module determines current position. But then it has to do something with that data, like send it out over the cellular network. More likely the GPS would just have told the dead passenger where he currently was, which would be pointless of course.

On the other hand, this is probably not "real GPS". Instead the user hoped that cell phone position tracking using base station triangulation would enable friends and family to locate his cell-phone equipped mortal remains - as long as they were not underwater. It is unfortunate that this is apparently also called "Cell Phone GPS" by marketdroids.

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Alert

Trans-oceanic glide?

By Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate Posted Saturday 17th January 2009 00:28 GMT

Stop

A previous comment about Air Canada was slightly wrong. It was Air Transit which had no fuel over the Pacific and landed at the Azores.

Out of fuel over Pacific and landed in the Azores eh? That's one amazing glide considering that the Azores are in the Atlantic......

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Joke

Pacific to Azores

***It was Air Transit which had no fuel over the Pacific and landed at the Azores.***

Bloody hell, that is an impressive glide!

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Alert

what I find shocking...

was all the passengers standing on the wing without lifejackets on... idiots... if that plane had gone under quickly, they'd have drowned... anyone slipping while clambering onto a ferry off the wing would have been in serious trouble...

anyway... it'll all come out at the accident investigation...

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Unhappy

@Ground Rush - was that necessary?

Obviously Neil Alexander's question was a little naive, and several people (including you) have pointed out that stopping geese is not quite as simple as just putting a net over the engine.

But only you were bloody offensive with it. Congratulations, and if (when?) you lose your job in the recession (possibly for being rude and snotty to someone who makes what they think is a reasonable suggestion), I suggest you don't retrain as a teacher.

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Unhappy

@Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate

Err..

Check the Wiki article you cited.

Last time I looked the Azores were in the Atlantic.

?

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Anonymous Coward

Miracle vs Luck

@ian michael gumby "You may call it luck, but what's the difference between being lucky or having a guardian angel or a miracle?"

One is what happened: the right set of circumstances at the right time. The other is believing that fairies did it.

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Bird Damage

Back in the mid eighties I went for an interview with British Aerospace in Hatfield, who at the time were just starting to roll out the BAe146 (In fact there were two of the first production planes off the line being guarded by the RAF after acceptance tests for Queenie's flight). I was given a great tour, and one of the items I saw was a prototype nose & cockpit, which had a big dent in it. I asked about it and I was told that as part of testing they had a big canon that shot chickens at 100+ miles an hour, which they used to assess the in-flight damage a bird hit would cause. Originally they had used live birds, but at some point they decided that this was cruel and started to use shop-bought ones as the mess was easier to clean up. I was told that the dent was made by a member of staff loading the canon with a frozen one instead of a fresh one...

If there is a miracle in this story it is the miracle of education, of learning from our mistakes, of bloody hard work that nobody wants to pay for until it is too late, and of people like the Airbus crew who put others safety before their own.

But in the real world, I suspect that bitch who wouldn't leave without her luggage will probably sue the airline.

Did any of you know that there is a "Roll Of Honour" with 500+ names in it at Farnborough Air Sciences Trust Museum, listing every test pilot and aircrew who died over the last 100 years to make aircraft safer for the rest of us? Apart from £1000 donated by BAe Systems, not a single corporation or government body have contributed to this memorial.

The title page of the book has the following quote form Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

"and everywhere the blue sky belongs to them and is their appointed rest and their native country".

As to luck, I would say that even a passing glance at the pilot & co-pilot's logbooks would show that "The harder I work the luckier I get" still applies.

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Happy

Something to think about

It's amazing how well trained people turn out to be lucky...

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b

omg they are "heroes", already?!

what's the matter with you people?!

these people are HEROES!

ok, no, they are not. they are efficient workers. they got trained and paid and they did their jobs. it works.

why not give all concernced an extra day off, or a big fat bonus?

i'm fine with that, but you don't get to be a "hero" for doing what you're paid to do!

cheers,

bill

p.s. stuff and nonsense: http://www.eupeople.net/forum

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Re Do Not Fold Spindle Mutilate

I don't know about either incident, but I think your correction has to be even more wrong. No way could a plane that ran out of fuel over the Pacific manage to land in the Azores, which are located in the middle of the Atlantic.

I suggest you read the wikipedia article you referenced yourself.

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Coat

Re:American Airlines

I thing you guys have misinterpreted the author on this one. I think he ment "...most American airlines"

as in airlines from the US. I.E. US Airways

Mine's the one with the "Glad to be an Airbus passenger" patch on the arm.

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@Air Transit was glider over pacific. Air Canada over Gimli

"It was Air Transit which had no fuel over the Pacific and landed at the Azores."

Good trick with no fuel. Loo...oong way to fly.

Thumbs-up to the design engineers and flight crew.

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Anonymous Coward

Yee Haw!

Why oh why do the bloody Yanks persist on praising God and overblowing stuff when some hard work by engineers works???

"modern day miracle"

"saved everybody's life, thank God"

"truly heroic"

etc etc ad nauseum

The plane did what it was designed to do! People do what they do, with the tools at their disposal. The pilot did it right, fair play to him, he's saved a lot of lives; but to spout all this mumbojumbo bollocks demeans him and bores me. It wasn't the hand of god or heroism that ditched that plane without loss of life, it was good training, good design and redundancy.

More importantly, did anyone else think that Capt Sullenberger looks like Capt Dave Grohl in Learn to Fly?

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