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Friday, 16 April 2010

Another aviation crash, another statistic.

Another airliner crashed on April 10th. The world's press are, of course, very interested because of the added tragedy of who was on board, including the Polish president, Lech Kaczynski. Speculation as to the cause may not be accurate, may be too early, but I feel motivated to comment.

This accident appears to be yet another example of controlled flight into terrain, or CFIT, as it's called in aviation. I feel for those pilots because they were under so much pressure to land in spite of the poor weather. It yet again reinforces the safety argument that it doesn't matter who is on board, the decision whether or not to land an aircraft rests solely with the pilot in command.

That pressure was reflected in a comment by the former commander of Air Force One in a documentary where he actually stated that they did not have the option of diverting when the US president was on board! WRONG! You always have to option to fly to an alternate airport, regardless of who's on board.

This applies to all flights, especially my own, emergency medical helicopter operations. When I was flying search and rescue, it was true then, too. It does no good to become part of the problem when a rescue is underway!

Remember the Titanic? That captain was put under pressure by the owner to maintain a high speed in the face of iceberg risk, simply because of the need for speed! Commercial considerations overrode common sense, and so many deaths were the result.

Should the Polish pilots have attempted a landing? Perhaps not, but there is nothing inherently unsafe about an attempted approach in bad weather provided they go around at decision altitude and then fly to the alternate! In a helicopter we can always land, almost anywhere, and send for an ambulance to take our patient to hospital. I'd rather that than become another CFIT statistic, thank you very much!

Accident investigations, regulatory bodies' recommendations, and lawmakers have, over the years, added technology and regulation to try to minimize human factors in accidents. Ignore Terrain Awareness and Warning System (TAWS) alerts at your peril, pilots! I would hate to think the last thing I would ever hear would be the words "WARNING, TERRAIN" in my headset. Ironic that the last words of a Spanish speaking pilot in reply to a "PULL UP" warning was "Shut up, Gringo!" just before he crashed into high ground near Tenerife.

The irony, the waste, the loss of life is just so wrong, so avoidable. To me, and I believe to all pilots with integrity, the loss of any life is a tragedy, whether a VIP or just an ordinary person.

Come on, boys and girls in the cockpit, don't become yet another person about whom we ask, "What were they thinking?"

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