Down to earth in the worst possible way
It’s the cause of this particular crash that will chill the casual flier’s blood
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