09 September 2014

Preliminary report on the crash of flight MH17 released

Preliminary crash report
On 9 September 2014, the Dutch Safety Board, which at the request of Ukraine is heading the investigation, released their preliminary report about the crash. Because of the ongoing armed conflict in the area, the investigation focused on analysis of the information in the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR), as well as information from photographs of the wreckage. Among the key findings and observations were:

  • The aircraft at the time of departure was in an airworthy condition with no known technical malfunctions.
  • There were no indications that either the CVR or FDR were altered.
  • Both the CVR and FDR stopped recording at the same time.
  • The last radio transmissions by the flight crew ended four seconds before the CVR and FDR stopped recording.
  • The aircraft was on a constant speed, heading, and altitude when the FDR stopped recording.
  • There were no indications of any technical or operation issue with the aircraft or the crew prior to the end of the CVR and FDR recordings.
  • Three other commercial airliners, two 777s and an A330, were in the same general vicinity as flight MH17 at the time of the occurrence, with the closest aircraft about 30 km (18.6 miles) away.
  • The aircraft experienced an inflight breakup, with the wreckage falling to the right of the projected flight path of the airliner.
  • The penetration of the high velocity objects likely led to a loss of structural integrity, which in turn led to the inflight breakup.
  • The cockpit was found about 2 km (1.25 miles) from the last position recorded by the FDR, and the main wreckage area about 8 km (5 miles) from the last recorded postion.
  • Damage in the cockpit area and forward fuselage was consistent with multiple high velocity projectiles penetrating the aircraft, with the source of those projectiles being above and outside of the aircraft.
  • The pattern of damage to the cockpit and forward fuselage was not consistent with the damage expected from any known failure mode of the aircraft, its engines, or systems.

What the preliminary report did not discuss
While it has been widely reported, both by the media and by a number of governments, that the aircraft was shot down by a surface to air missile, the Dutch Safety Board did not directly discuss the source of the high velocity projectiles that hit the aircraft. Also not mentioned in this preliminary report were the result of any forensic examinations of the passengers and crew members, or of any of the wreckage found on the site. Another key area not examined was how the government of Ukraine managed flight safety over a region of active military conflict.

Timeline of the final report
The Dutch Safety Board did not give a timetable for completing the final report, but given that the preliminary report stated that the wreckage should be examined further, this implies that the final report will be published only after the investigators regain access to the areas where the wreckage fell. At the time of the preliminary report was published, that area was still part of an active conflict zone.

Preliminary investigation report
Seven Todd Curtis interviews about flight MH17
Boeing 777 crashes
AirSafe.com MH370 page
Other AirSafe.com podcasts
Flight MH17 Wikipedia page
Crash rates by airliner model
AirSafe.com podcast home page
Listen to the podcast on TunIn

NTN 24 La Tarde interview (Spanish)

15 August 2014

When political leaders deserve special care and attention

13 August 2014; AF Andrade Empreendimentos e Participações Cessna 560XLS+ Citation Excel; PR-AFA; Guarujá, Brazil: The aircraft was approaching Guarujá Airport after a charter flight from Santos Dumont Airport in Rio de Janeiro, and crashed into a residential area about 4.3 km fro the runway. Both pilot and all five passengers were killed. Among the passengers were a candidate for president of Brazil, Eduardo Campos, his wife, and one of their five children.

This particular crash is of interest to AirSafe.com because of the status of one of the passengers. Candidates for the highest political offices in Brazil, the United States, and other democracies have to travel extensively around the country, and if they have not already been elected to those offices, they don't have access to the kinds of military or airliner aircraft used by those who are currently in those offices.

In January 2008, after the private plane carrying presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was damaged in an incident on the ground at Chicago's Midway Airport, AirSafe.com pointed out US policy may expose presidential and vice presidential candidates to excessive air transportation risks. While the US currently provides Secret Service protection for the presidential and vice presidential nominees of major political parties, there are no special provisions or legal requirements for air transportation.

In short, US laws and regulations provide world-class protection from assassins for candidates seeking to be elected to the offices of president and vice president, but takes no special precautions to protect candidates from the risk of air travel. In the US, these candidates spend several months flying around the country, in everything from helicopters and smaller private planes to executive jets and airliners.

This kind of intense flying may also be done by presidents and vice presidents seeking reelection, but they are typically flown on specialized aircraft that are maintained and operated at a level at or above that of a typical airline aircraft. Also, in the US the sitting president and vice president don't fly on the same aircraft. The same is not true for candidates seeking these offices.

Taking extraordinary steps to protect a world leader does not prevent them from falling victim to a plane crash. Since WWII, at least eight national leaders or heads of international organizations have been killed in plane crashes. However, not taking at least reasonable steps to protect candidates seeking high office may be financially sound in the short run, but increases the chance that an accident will have potentially devastating effects to a nation's electoral process.

The potential policy question for Brazil, the US, and other countries that choose their leaders by popular vote is whether exposure to air travel risks faced by presidential candidates should be limited by requiring that flights taken by candidates meet some minimum set of standards. A realistic limitation could take many forms, such as requiring candidates to fly with aircraft operators or airlines that meet relatively high operational standards, or perhaps requiring that candidates use government or military air transportation.

The reasons for even considering such a a policy are the potentially negative political and social impacts of having a candidate seriously injured or killed during a campaign, especially from manageable risks such as those associated with air travel.

One can only speculate the effect that the Campos campaign may have had on the election, but there is no doubt that had he been elected, he would have had a profound effect on the direction of Brazil's political, social, and economic future. Given the potential impact that potential presidential candidates may have, it seems reasonable for Brazil, the US, and other countries to consider some kind of risk reduction policy for candidate air travel that may make it less likely that an accident will lead to a catastrophic disruption in the presidential election process.

Eduardo Campos Wikipedia entry

08 August 2014

Todd Curtis of AirSafe.com to discuss MH370 on premiere of Ghost Planes on the H2 channel

AirSafe.com founder Dr. Todd Curtis will appear in the special Ghost Planes on H2, which is part of the History Channel network. The show’s is scheduled to air again on Wednesday, September 3rd at 8 p.m. EDT (check for showtimes in your area).

The show will focus on Malaysia Airliners flight MH370, as well as a number of other aircraft have been declared missing over the last several decades, so-called ‘Ghost Planes’ that have vanished without a trace.

Todd was one of the experts interviewed by the show’s producers to discuss some of the theories that may explain the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

The aircraft, which was on a scheduled international flight from from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, went missing in March 2014, and while authorities suspect that the plane went down in the southern Indian Ocean, no trace of the plane or its 227 passengers and 12 crew members have yet to be found.

This special utilizes interviews with experts and the families of passengers, and uses computer animated re-enactments and archival news footage to explore the several theories surrounding the fate of missing on flight MH370.

07 August 2014

Ebola risks and airline travel

The recent Ebola outbreak in Africa has claimed nearly 1,000 lives since March 2014 in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, represents a potential risk for air travelers because the virus that causes the disease can be spread by direct contact with an Ebola victim.

Map of 2014 Ebola outbreak (CDC)

Recently, Emirates and British Airways became the largest airlines to suspend airline service in one or more of the most affected countries. Other airlines like Delta have allowed passengers to change flights to, from, or through certain west Africa airports in the affected areas without penalty.

Several media outlets, including the Premium Times of Nigeria stated that the first Ebola death in Nigeria was from a man who flew into Nigeria on July 23rd and two died two days later from Ebola. The report also states that the victim had shown signs of illness during the flight.

What is Ebola?
Ebola, also known as Ebola virus disease (EVD) or Ebola hemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness in humans, with a fatality rate of greater than 50%. It is caused by a virus that is commonly spread through close contact with an infected person.

How can a person get Ebola?
A person can become infected with the Ebola virus from direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes) with the blood or bodily fluids of infected people, or from contact with objects or environments contaminated with such fluids.

What are the effects of Ebola?
The effects of an infection are not immediate, with symptoms showing up between two and 21 days after infection. A person who falls ill may experience a sudden onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain, headache and a sore throat. This is followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding.

Is there a vaccine or treatment for Ebola?
There are currently no approved vaccines available for Ebola. While symptoms such as dehydration can be treated, there is no proven treatment for the underlying viral infection.

What risks do airline passengers face?
Although there are no reports of airline passengers or airline staff being infected on an airliner, there is the possibility that someone can be infected with Ebola while in an airplane or while at an airport. In areas where there has been an outbreak of Ebola, airlines and governments have done the following to reduce risks to air travelers and airline professionals:

  • Provide updated information about Ebola risks (see links below)
  • Limiting flights to or from areas experiencing Ebola outbreaks
  • Screening passengers prior to boarding

What can passengers do?
The two most important things that you can do is to avoid travel to areas experiencing an Ebola outbreak, and to seek medical attention before traveling if you are experiencing Ebola-related symptoms.If you already have a trip planned into an area with an active outbreak, you can delay or cancel the trip (check with your airline on their policies for areas of high risk).

If you are on a flight where another passenger is exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms, do your best to stay away from that passenger and inform your flight attendant about the situation. If you are unable to do this, avoid direct contact with that person, or with any object or surface touched by that person.

Basic Ebola information
AirSafe.com Ebola information page
World Health Organization (WHO) Ebola fact sheet
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Ebola overview
Ebola Q&A from the CDC

Travel warnings and advisories
CDC travel health advice
US State Department travel alerts and warnings
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Canadian government travel advice by country

29 July 2014

Three airliner crashes in one week is not that rare

The recent loss of three airliners within a seven day span, starting with Malaysia Airliners flight MH17 on July 17th, has certainly drawn a large amount of attention from the world's media, the traveling public, and even from major aviation safety organizations.

In a 28 July 2014 article published by CNN, a representative of the Flight Safety Foundation, a nonprofit organization that since 1947 has provided safety guidance and resources for the aerospace industry, implied that with the exception of the 9/11 attacks, it was hard to know whether the loss of three airliners in seven days was unprecedented. A review of the AirSafe.com records revealed that this kind of loss has had a number of precedents within the last 20 years.

In a previous AirSafeNews.com article, a review of AirSafe.com records from 1996 to 2014 revealed that there were 25 occasions where there were three or more significant aviation events where the events were separated by 10 days or fewer.

Inspired by the statement from the Flight Safety Foundation, Todd Curtis reviewed AirSafe.com's records again, this time discover how many times the there had been three or more losses of airliners in no more than a seven day period, and where the following criteria were also met:

  • At least one passenger was killed in each aircraft,
  • The aircraft was either destroyed or seriously damaged and no longer flyable,
  • The aircraft had the capacity to carry at least 10 passengers, and
  • The airliner event could have been due to any cause, including hijacking, sabotage, or military action.

The review revealed that there were eight occasions during the 19 calendar years that AirSafe.com has been in operation (1996-2014), where three or more airliners have been lost within a seven day period. Below are the years and the dates of occurrence:

  1. 1997 - December 13, 15, 17, and 19
  2. 2001 - September 11, 12, and 18
  3. 2003 - January 8, 9, and 9
  4. 2008 - August 20, 24, and 24
  5. 2010 - May 12, 15, 17
  6. 2010 - August 24, 24, and 25
  7. 2011 - July 8, 11, and 13
  8. 2014 - July 17, 23, and 24

Noteworthy occurrences include the following:

  • In 1997, there were four separate events within seven days, and if an event on December 9th is included, five within 10 days.

  • In 2001, there were four airliners lost on 9/11, and one each in the two subsequent events

  • In 2010, if a fourth event on May 22 is included, there were four events in 10 days.

Given that the rate at which serious airline events occur has steadily decreased over the years, if this same analysis were done in the period prior to 1996, there would likely be a higher frequency of cases where three or more airliner were lost within a seven day span.

Fatal and serious events by year
1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
2001, 2002,2003, 2004, 2005
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Related information
"Do plane crashes happen in threes" AirSafeNews.com article
Todd Curtis discusses his findings on the Rudy Maxa Show (6:44)
Related article from Patrick Smith of AskThePilot.com

AirSafe.com Bonuses
All subscribers to the AirSafe.com mailing list at subscribe.airsafe.com will be able to download free copies of all of the recent AirSafe.com books, including the latest, AirSafe.com Family Air Travel Guide.

Also available is the AirSafe.com Fear of Flying Resource Guide, with an overview of the symptoms of fear of flying, as well as recommended resources for managing or eliminating these fears.

24 July 2014

Do plane crashes happen in threes? - yes, and sometimes in fours and fives

Note:This an updated version of an article first published in February 2009

Since AirSafe.com was launched in 1996, the site has tracked fatal events and other significant events involving airline passengers. When these events occur, especially if two occur a just a few days apart, I sometimes get the "Do bad things like plane crashes always happen in threes?" question asked by visitors to the site, by members of the media, and by others.

I used to just dismiss the question out of hand because events like plane crashes, especially those involving passenger airliners, are very rare, and the circumstances are usually very different for each crash, often involving different airlines, different aircraft types, and even different countries.

Although it's easy to reject the original question, it is quite legitimate to ask a related question about how frequently groups of rare events occur over a relatively short period of time.

One day, just for fun, I turned the "things happening in threes" question into something that could be analyzed systematically using the information within AirSafe.com. I changed the general question into the following specific question: "How frequent are sequences of three or more fatal or significant aviation safety and security events where the time between events is ten days or less?"

For example, a sequence of three events could happen on the same day, or it could be over a period as long as 20 days, with a 10-day gap between the first and second event, and another 10-day gap between the second and third event.

The most recent sequence of three events took place over the course of seven days beginning with the crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 on July 17th, followed by the crash of an TransAsia ATR airliner in Taiwan on July 23th, and ending with the crash of an Air Algerie MD83 in Mali on July 24th.

For the purposes of answering this question, I limited the data to those events that are regularly tracked by AirSafe.com. These would be plane crashes or other airline events that kill at least one passenger, or other events that AirSafe.com considers to be significant with respect to aviation safety or aviation security.

Multiple events due to the same cause (for example, the four crashes associated with 9/11) were treated as one event. Significant events that don't kill anyone sometimes attract more media attention than the average plane crash. The January 2008 ditching of a US Airways A320 in the Hudson River in New York was one example. It was very dramatic, it got a huge amount of media exposure, and no one was killed.

A review of the AirSafe.com records from 1996, the year AirSafe.com was launched, to July 2014 revealed some interesting facts:

  • With the exception of 2007, 2009, and 2013, every year since 1996 included at least one sequence of three fatal or significant events that were separated by no more than ten days. There was a sequence of five significant, but nonfatal, events in January 2008 (one of which involved Senator Barack Obama), and a sequence of eight events in 2010, seven of which involved fatalities.

  • There were 25 sequences of three or more events that were separated no more than ten days. One was a sequence of eight events, three were sequences of five events, five sequences had four events, and the other sixteen consisted of three events each.

  • Most of the fatal and significant events tracked from 1996 to the present were not part of any sequence of three or more events.

  • Well known fatal events that were a part of one of these sequences include the Swissair MD-11 crash in 1998, the Concorde crash in 2000, the August 2006 crash of a Comair jet, in Lexington, KY, the August 2008 crash of a Spanair MD83 in Madrid, and the July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17.

  • Well known events that were not a part of one of these sequences include the ValuJet and TWA Flight 800 crashes in 1996, the Alaska Airlines crash in 2000, the four crashes associated with 9/11, and the March 2014 loss of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

  • For 16 of the past 19 calendar years (1996 to 2014), there has been at least one grouping of three or more fatal or significant events that occurred over a relatively short period.

  • No information has come about in the investigations of any of those events that indicates that there was any sort of connection among the crashes that were part of a sequence of three or more events, or that suggested that earlier events in a sequence made a later event more likely.

After reviewing the facts, I no longer say that plane crashes don't happen in threes. Since 1996, they have happened in sequences of three, four, five, and eight.

- Todd Curtis

Fatal and serious events by year
1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000
2001, 2002,2003, 2004, 2005
2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010
2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Related information
26 July 2014 - Todd Curtis discusses his findings on the Rudy Maxa Show (6:44)
Related article from Patrick Smith of AskThePilot.com
Losing three airliners in one week is not that rare

AirSafe.com Bonuses
All subscribers to the AirSafe.com mailing list at subscribe.airsafe.com will be able to download free copies of all of the recent AirSafe.com books, including the latest, AirSafe.com Family Air Travel Guide.

Also available is the AirSafe.com Fear of Flying Resource Guide, with an overview of the symptoms of fear of flying, as well as recommended resources for managing or eliminating these fears.

20 July 2014

Jet airliner passengers killed by missiles and other aerial attacks

The 17 July 2014 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Ukraine is not the first time a missile strike or other aerial attack has been suspected in the crash of a jetliner.

The following events involve confirmed or suspected passenger deaths on large jet airliners due to an attack by missiles, anti-aircraft gunfire, or other aerial attacks.

This list includes inflight events involving air-to-air missiles, ground to air missiles, anti-aircraft artillery, or gunfire. The list excludes fatalities due to hijacking, sabotage, or bombings.

  1. 21 February 1973; Libyan Arab Airlines 727-200; Flight 114; Israeli occupied Sinai Desert: The aircraft was shot down by Israeli fighter jets after the 727 had strayed into the airspace of the occupied territory. Eight of the nine crew members and 100 of the 104 passengers were killed.
    727 plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event
  2. 20 April 1978; Korean Air Lines 707-300; flight 902; near Kem, Soviet Union: The aircraft diverted from its planned course on a flight from Paris to Seoul and strayed over the Soviet Union. After being fired upon by an interceptor aircraft, the crew made a forced landing at night on the surface of a frozen lake. Two of the 97 passengers were killed by the hostile fire.
    Korean Air Lines plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

  3. 1 September 1983; Korean Air Lines 747-200; flight 007; near Sakhalin Island, Soviet Union: The aircraft was shot down by at least one Soviet air to air missile after the 747 had strayed into Soviet airspace. All 240 passengers and 29 crew were killed.
    International Committee for the Rescue of KAL 007 Survivors
    747 plane crashes
    Korean Air Lines plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

  4. 3 July 1988; Iranair A300; flight 665; Persian Gulf, near Straits of Hormuz: Aircraft was shot down by a surface to air missile from the American naval vessel U.S.S. Vincennes. All 16 crew and 274 passengers were killed.
    Iran Air plane crashes
    Airbus A300 plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

  5. 4 October 2001; Sibir Airlines Tupolev Tu154M; flight 1812; Black Sea near Adler, Russia: The plane crashed about 184 kilometers (114 miles) from southern Russia in the Black Sea, shortly after the aircraft exploded in flight. The aircraft had departed from Tel Aviv, Israel on a charter flight to Novosibirsk, Russia and was at cruise altitude when the explosion occurred. The reason for the in-flight explosion, which was witnessed by another airliner flight crew, is not known. However, various pieces of evidence point to an inadvertent strike by a Ukrainian military missile. All 12 crew members and 64 passengers were killed.
    Wikipedia page on this event

  6. 24 June 2014; Pakistan International Airlines (PIA); A31-300; AP-BGN; flight PK756; Peshawar, Pakistan The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Peshawar, Pakistan, when it was struck by several bullets shortly before landing. Two cabin crew members and one passenger were hit, and the passenger died of her injuries. There were no other injuries among the 10 other crew members or 177 other passengers.
    Fatal PIA Events
    Airbus A310 plane crashes

  7. 17 July 2014; Malaysia Airlines 777-200ER; 9M-MRD; flight MH17; near Grabovo, Ukraine: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight between Amsterdam, the Netherlands and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The aircraft in cruise at about 33,000 feet when it experienced a catastrophic in flight breakup. Substantial circumstantial evidence indicates that the jet was hit by a surface to air missile. All 283 passengers and 15 crew members were killed.
    Fatal Malaysia Airlines Events
    777 plane crashes
    Wikipedia page on this event

Related Pages
Recent plane crashes
Fatal plane crashes by model
Fatal plane crash rates by model