Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How plane crashes happen

(Reposted from the day job)


It's not often we hear firsthand the stories of how plane crashes occur, especially the one in Rochester, Minn., last week in which four people on their way home from the Packers-Vikings game in Green Bay, ended up upside down in a crashed plane.

The cemeteries are full of pilots and passengers who tried to land an airplane in bad weather.

But pilot Scott Lebovitz, 23, of Owatonna, and three passengers Daniel Cronk, 36; Alan De Keyrel, 38; and a 9-year-old boy, all from Byron -- suffered only bumps and bruises.

Mr. De Keyrel has written a compelling account of the incident (and provided very interesting pictures) on his company's website:

We descended into the clouds. From that point on, I never saw runway lights or anything on the ground. I recall looking at the altimeter briefly and noticing our slow decent towards the ground. From the time that I actually saw the ground to impact, there was no time to react, grab for the controls or even say anything. I saw the ground for a split second and then “BAM!”, we were hanging upside down.

“Oh my God! Get out of the plane before it explodes!” Scott shouted.

“Cronk, Colin,” I yelled, “are you okay?”

Both responded and I felt a huge sigh of relief. We were all alive! I reached for my seatbelt and quickly unlatched it, crashing to the roof of the plane. It was pitch black. I couldn’t find the door handle. A window popped open during the crash so I crawled through the small opening. Once outside, I realized that I was standing on the wing. I heard Colin say, “How do I get out?” in a scared voice. I leaned through the window opening and said, “Colin, crawl over here!” A few seconds later I saw his legs appear and I pulled him from the wreckage.


Understandably, the writer cautions people not to judge the action of the pilots. In aviation circles, that's an impossible request; it's how other pilots learn. It was a mistake -- a very bad mistake -- to attempt to land in the conditions. As pilots, we always grapple with "Get Home-itis," the tendency to make bad decisions because we just have to get home. We fly in weather in which we shouldn't fly and sometimes things don't turn out as well as they turned out in Rochester, as this tragedy from last year reminds us. Our mistake as pilots when reading stories like this, is thinking that we wouldn't or couldn't make the same mistake; it's an unimaginably easy one to make and quite often we don't realize it until after we've made it and lived.

Hopefully, we only make these sorts of mistakes once. And if we're lucky -- very, very lucky -- we get the opportunity not to make it again.

(h/t: Sasha Aslanian)

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