Thursday, June 11, 2009

Be Cautious About First Assumptions In Air France Crash

I was the old Milwaukee Journal's unofficial airplane crash reporter years ago, and I learned that it's best to wait until the investigation is over before saying you know what happened, and more importantly - - why.

The early speculation in the Air France crash centers around thunderstorms and, perhaps, inaccurate air speed readings being fed into the plane's autopilot and to the flight deck.

If the air speed readings were off, or the indicators had failed, that might have led the pilots to fly into the storms too slowly, or too fast, and those reactions could be catastrophic.

But we may learn that something entirely different was taking place that might explain why the crew decided to fly into the storms, and not around them.

Or that the speed indicators were part of a larger systems failure, or that, regrettably, the pilots knew what the problems were, but because of distraction, training gaps or other circumstances made wrong choices to solve them.

An example: years ago, one of the first jumbo jets then made by Lockheed pancaked into the Everglades as it was descending on its landing track.

Turns out that a little warning light went on in the cockpit of the L-1911, and because of poor cockpit management, the entire cockpit crew tried to figure out why the light went on.

And no one was in charge of the descent, and the plane crashed.

So did the warning light cause the crash?

No - - that was a problem, and it played a role, but it was not the cause.

So-called "cascading failures" are often at work in plane accidents and other disasters where humans are involved- - one thing leads to another, even beginning with something seemingly trivial - - and as aggravating as it is to wait, that's what's needed here:


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