Down to earth in the worst pos­si­ble way

It’s the cause of this par­tic­u­lar crash that will chill the ca­sual flier’s blood

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Ian Cuth­bert­son

Air Crash In­ves­ti­ga­tions: Dead Weight 8.30pm, Na­tional Ge­o­graphic

YOU know the drill.

You go to the air­port, put all the sharp things and liq­uids into your checked lug­gage, make sure your carry- on bag is the right weight, then you hit the se­cu­rity check, take off your shoes and belt and, de­pend­ing on where and with whom you are trav­el­ling, re­move your note­book com­puter from its comfy rest­ing place or — in­creas­ingly, due to im­proved scan­ning tech­niques — leave it in your bag. Just read the signs.

But what about small air­craft, like those noisy lit­tle things that fly from, say, Syd­ney to Lis­more? Is the rou­tine the same? Is there room for er­rors unimag­in­able on larger air­craft?

This episode of Air Crash In­ves­ti­ga­tions claims those who fly on small craft have been at risk for years. Take the Beechcraft 1900D. It’s a 19- seater short- haul com­muter plane and a trusted in­dus­try work­horse.

The fact is, on all com­mer­cial air­craft a cal­cu­la­tion is made of the weight of all the bag­gage, the pas­sen­gers and the fuel on the plane. This is to make sure the plane is not over­weight and that the weight is spread evenly. Bag­gage han­dlers, as we see in tonight’s re- en­act­ment, can raise con­cerns that the bags they are load­ing may be too heavy.

But the pen and pen­cil cal­cu­la­tions of the pi­lots in­di­cate that the weight is OK, so it’s up, up and away. But not for long. Soon af­ter take- off, the nose of the plane pitches dra­mat­i­cally up­wards from seven to 54 de­grees. Air­flow over the top of the wings of a plane cre­ates lift, but if the nose keeps ris­ing, air won’t flow over the wings at all. Un­less the pi­lots can get the nose down, the plane will lose its lift, stall, and plunge from the sky like a stone.

As most air dis­as­ters hap­pen on take- off or land­ing, it shouldn’t come as too much of a sur­prise that things hap­pen very quickly. At the risk of giv­ing away the de­tails of tonight’s crash, other planes in a hangar are in­volved. But it’s the cause of this par­tic­u­lar crash, which spews real bod­ies like crash test dum­mies into the hangar, that will chill the ca­sual flier’s blood. Var­i­ous the­o­ries are tested. Was there some­thing on the run­way that flicked up into the twin props? Was there wake tur­bu­lence from the pre­ced­ing plane’s take- off? Or is some­thing dis­cov­ered that may reg­u­larly have been putting thou­sands of lives at risk?

Well, yes, there is. Each air crash in­ves­ti­ga­tion, they say, makes com­mer­cial avi­a­tion safer. The real mir­a­cle is that more planes haven’t come un­stuck, with many more lives lost, be­fore now.

Doomed flight: Tonight’s episode fo­cuses on the crash of a Beechcraft with 19 pas­sen­gers just af­ter take- off

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