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22 May 2010

Air India Express 737-800 Crashes in Mangalore India

22 May 2010; Air India Express; 737-800; flight 812; Mangalore, India: The aircraft (VT-AXV) was on a scheduled international flight from Dubai, UAE, to Mangalore, India, arriving just after 6 a.m. local time. The aircraft landed on Mangalore airport's 2,450m-long runway, reportedly beyond the normal touchdown zone, and was unable to stop on that runway. After the plane departed the runway, it crashed through the airport's boundary wall and slid into a valley. The aircraft caught fire shortly afterwards.

There were six crew members and 160 passengers and on board, including four infants. Early reports indicate that there were eight survivors. Both pilots were killed in the crash. At the time of the crash, visibility was 6km, with calm winds. The instrument landing system on that runway was also operating normally.

Previous 737-800 Crashes
This is the eighth serious crash involving a 737-800. The first was a September 2006 midair collision involving a Gol Linhas Aéreas 737-800 in Brazil that killed all six crew members and 148 passengers, and the most recent was a January 2010 fatal crash of a Ethiopian Airlines jet near Beirut. Four of the previous seven crashes involved passenger fatalities.
  1. 25 January 2009; Ethiopian Airlines 737-800 (ET-ANB); Flight 409; near Beirut, LebanonThe aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Beirut, Lebanon to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and crashed into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after takeoff. There were 82 passengers and eight crew members on board, all of whom were killed in the crash.

  2. 29 September 2006; Gol Linhas Aéreas 737-800; Flight 1907; near Peixoto de Azevedo, Brazil: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight from Manaus to Brasilia when it had a midair collision in the area of São Félix do Xingu with an Embraer ERJ135 Legacy 600 executive jet operated by ExcelAire. The ExcelAire Legacy 600 jet had been on a flight from São José dos Campos to Manaus. After the collision, which damaged the left wing, left stabilizer, and left elevator of the executive jet, the crew of the damaged ExcelAire aircraft was able to land at a nearby military airfield at Cachimbo, Brazil. The 737 subsequently experienced an inflight breakup and crashed about 30 kilometers (19 miles) north of the Peixoto de Azevedo municipality. The Legacy 600 was on the first leg of a delivery flight to the US The 737 aircraft was also relatively new, having come into service with the airline less than three weeks before the crash. All six crew members and 148 passengers on the 737 were killed. The two crew members and five passengers on the Legacy 600 were not injured.

  3. 5 May 2007; Kenya Airways 737-800; Flight 507; near Douala, Cameroon: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Douala, Cameroon to Nairobi, Kenya. The aircraft crashed into a swampy area near the airport less than one minute after takeoff. The aircraft departed just after midnight local time and the aircraft sent at least one communication to the control tower prior to the crash. All nine crew members and 105 passengers were killed.

  4. 20 August 2007; China Airlines 737-800; Flight 120; Naha, Japan: Shortly after landing at Naha on the island of Okinawa, the left engine caught fire and the crew initiated an emergency evacuation. Although the aircraft was destroyed by fire, all 157 passengers (including two toddlers) and eight crew members survived.

  5. 10 November 2008; Ryanair 737-800; Flight 4102; Rome, Italy: The aircraft, on a scheduled international flight from Frankfurt, Germany to Rome, Italy encountered a flock of birds during approach to Rome, sustaining damage to both engines, the wings, and the nose. The crew was able to land on the runway, but aircraft had a collapsed landing gear and serious damage to the rear of the fuselage. All six crew members, and 166 passengers survived.

  6. 25 February 2009; Turkish Airlines 737-800; Flight 1951; Amsterdam, Netherlands: The aircraft, on a scheduled international flight from Istanbul, Turkey, to Amsterdam, Netherlands crashed in a field about a mile (1.6 km) short of the runway. Three crew members, including both pilots, were killed, as were at least six others among the 134 passengers and crew members.

  7. 22 December 2009; American Airlines 737-800 (N977AN); Flight 331; Kingston, Jamaica: The aircraft was on a scheduled international flight from Miami, FL to Kingston, Jamaica. The aircraft landed during a rainstorm, and was unable to stop on the runway. After departing the runway, the aircraft went beyond the airport fence, and crossed a road before coming to rest on a beach. The landing gear collapsed, both engines separated from the wings, and there were two major breaks in the fuselage, but all 148 passengers and six crew members survived. The landing was carried out with a slight tail wind.
About Air India Express
Air India Express is a subsidiary of Air India. The airline began operations in 2005, and has about 23 other aircraft in its fleet, all 737-800s. This is the first accident or serious incident involving this subsidiary of Air India, and the fourth fatal plane crash overall for Air India since 1970. will provide updates on the investigation as information becomes available.

Additional Resources
Wikipedia page about the crash
Air India plane crashes
Fatal 737 plane crashes
Fatal airliner crash rates by model
Do plane crashes happen in threes?

Rescue and recovery efforts at crash site

Bird's eye view of flight path and accident location

Photo Credits: Rick Schlamp, AP, BBC

18 May 2010

Two Recent Crashes in Less Popular Travel Areas

While major accidents like the May 12th crash of a large jet airliner in Libya attracts much of the public's attention, crashes involving smaller aircraft get much less attention, but are still catastrophic to those involved.

15 May 2010; Blue Wing Airlines; Antonov An28; eastern Suriname: The aircraft was on a scheduled domestic flight between Godo Holo to Paramaribo, Suriname. The aircraft crashed in a wooded area in eastern Suriname. Both crew members and all six passengers were killed. This is the third time that a Blue Win An28 has been destroyed in a crash. One of the crashes in April 2008 also killed everyone on board.
Wikipedia page on this airline

17 May 2010; Pamir Airways; Antonov An24B; flight 112; near Salang Pass, Afghanistan: The aircraft (YA-PIS) was on a scheduled domestic flight between Kunduz to Kabul, Afghanistan. All contact with the aircraft was lost about 10 minutes after departure, and it is presumed to have crashed in the Salang Pass area, which lies around 100 km (60 miles) north of Kabul and at an altitude of about 13,350 feet. Heavy fog was reported in the area at the the time. All five crew members and 38 passengers are missing and presumed dead. This was the first major crash for this airline.
Wikipedia page on this crash

Other recent crashes

12 May 2010

Afriqiyah A330 Crashes in Libya and Has Sole Survivor

12 May 2010; Afriqiyah Airways; A330-200; Flight 771; near Tripoli, Libya: The aircraft (5A-ONG) was on a scheduled international flight from Johannesburg, South Africa (JNB) to Tripoli, Libya (TIP) with 93 passengers and 11 crew on board. Of the 93 passengers, 82 were traveling onwards to destinations in Europe. The aircraft was relatively new, having been delivered only last September. The aircraft has reportedly experienced fewer than 500 flights and 1600 flight hours prior to the crash.

Early reports indicate that the aircraft crashed short of runway 9, and that all 11 crew members and 92 of the 93 passengers were killed. The sole survivor was Ruben van Assouw, a young Dutch boy who is about 10 years old. This would make this event the 16th sole survivor event since 1970.

About sole survivor plane crashes
According to,in eight of these 16 sole survivor cases, the sole survivor was a child or teenager. A crew member was the sole survivor five times, an adult passenger was the sole survivor in two cases, and there was one other case where the age of the surviving passenger could not be determined.

About Afriqiyah Airways
Afriqiyah Airwayss has been in operation since 2001 and has no previous fatal plane crashes or other serious safety events. The airline currently has about 10 aircraft in its fleet, including two remaining A330-200 aircraft.

With respect to meeting international standards, the two most prominent rating authorities are the FAA in the US and the European Commission. The FAA's International Aviation Safety Assessments (IASA) Program categorizes countries rather than airlines, but in their latest published summary from December 2008 did not rate Libya, where Afriqiyah Airways is based. Libya does not have any direct flights to or from the US. The European Commission restricts individual airlines or even individual aircraft, but their latest "blacklist" of airlines from March 2010 did not include Afriqiyah Airways.

About the A330
The aircraft has been in service since 1994 and has been involved in in two previous fatal plane crashes, one that occurred during a test flight and last June's crash of Air France flight 447 in the Atlantic Ocean near Brazil. The most recent serious event involving an A330 was a Christmas Day 2009 failed bombing attempt on Northwest Airlines flight 253 near Detroit. According to, about 682 aircraft were produced, and about 660 remain in service. will provide updates to this investigation as they become available.

Two News reports from AlJazeeraEnglish

Additional Resources
Plane crashes with a sole survivor
Where is the safest place to sit on a plane
A330 plane crashes
Wikipedia page on Afriqiyah Airways
Wikipedia page on flight 771

Photos: Globespotter, Libya TV

07 May 2010

Individuals on TSA's No-fly List Have Legally Purchased Firearms in the US

Earlier this week, the US General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report on the use of terrorist watch lists to screen firearms purchases with some truly stunning facts about gun purchases by potential terrorists. In short, persons one of the key US government terrorist watch lists can legally buy firearms in the US. Surprisingly, membership in a terrorist organization or in a suspected terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from legally buying or possessing firearms or explosives under current US federal law, and at least a few individuals on the TSA's no-fly list have been allowed to purchase firearms in the US after passing a required FBI background check. To put this surprising reality in a broader context, we'll first provide a very brief overview how firearm purchases are approved in the US.

Who can buy firearms in the US
Laws vary widely across the US, but in general, it is possible for an adult to legally purchase guns either from a dealer who has a federal license to sell firearms, or through a sale between private individuals. Anyone making a transaction through a licensed dealer is subject to an FBI background check.

Background checks and firearms dealers
If someone wants to purchase a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer, that person must pass a background check. The database used for this background check is the the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). If the NICS database indicates if a potential buyer is in one or more of the categories that would disqualify that person from purchasing a firearm from a licensed dealer. Those categories include being convicted of a crime or being under indictment for a crime punishable by more than one year in prison, being in the US illegally, or having been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution (see 18 USC §922 for details).

Terrorist databases and the NICS database
The NICS database includes information from the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database (TSDB), which has about 400,000 names, and is the database used to create the TSA's no-fly list. The TSDB includes both US and non-US citizens.

Terrorist watch lists and gun purchases
According to the GAO report (GAO-10-703T), between February 2004 and Februray 2010, there were 1,228 occasions where individuals in the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database were involved in firearms or explosives background checks. Of those attempted purchases, 1,119 (about 91%) were allowed to proceed. These transactions involved about 650 individuals, with about 450 of them involved in multiple transactions, and six involved with 10 or more transactions.

Can terrorists buy guns in the US?
The simple answer is that when it comes to gun purchases through a licensed firearms dealer, merely being a terrorist, or more precisely, being a person who is listed in the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, does not disqualify a person from purchasing firearms.

Has anyone on the no-fly list purchased a firearm in the US?
Incredibly, the answer is yes. The GAO report stated that several transactions that occurred between March 2010 and February 2009 involved an unspecified number of individuals who were also on the TSA's no-fly list, and in every case the transaction was allowed to proceed. The report did not mention if there were any similar transactions during the rest of the time period covered by the report.

What do you think about firearms purchase restrictions for terrorists
At present, being on a terrorist watch list, or even being on the no-fly list, will not prevent someone from passing required background checks for firearms purchases. Here at, we would like to know what you think about this situation, and also what you think should be done to limit either the purchase or possession of firearms by anyone who is on the TSA's no fly list, the FBI's Terrorist Screening Database, or on any of the other key airline security and terrorist databases. Feel free to leave comments below:

Photo credit: TSA

05 May 2010

Suspected Bomber on No-fly List But Still Got on a Plane

As many of you know, Faisal Shahzad, a 30-year-old father of two from Connecticut, has been accused of attempting to set off a bomb in the Times Square area of New York City last Saturday. Two days later, he attempted to leave the US by flying out from JFK Airport on Emirates flight 202, bound for Dubai. The door on the aircraft was closed, and the plane was about to begin its pushback from the jetway when the authorities ordered the plane to return to the gate when Shahzad was taken into custody.

After Shahzad was removed from the aircraft, the aircraft resumed its departure, but as a precaution the crew was ordered to return to the gate so the passengers could be screened by security one more time. This exchange between the crew and ATC was made available by

The good news was that law enforcement and aviation security personnel were able to work together and detain this suspect. In fact, the the investigation into the attempted bombing had evolved very rapidly, with Shahzad being added to the TSA's no-fly list before he attempted to leave the country.

Lapses in airport security

On the surface, the elements were in place to capture this suspect if he tried to get on an airplane. However, that was clearly not the case. At about 12:30 p.m. Monday, seven hours before his flight, Shahzad's name was added to the no-fly list. Emirates Airlines was also notified about an important addition to the no-fly list. However, the airline was only required to check for updates to the list every 24 hours.

He was able to get past the initial TSA security checkpoint and get on an aircraft in spite of being on the 'no-fly' list. Shahzad was caught only after Customs and Border Protection agents reviewed the final passenger list shortly before takeoff.

Although Shahzad was caught before the plane took off, this represents a failure because the intent was for the no-fly list and the rest of the security system to prevent someone like Shahzad from even boarding an aircraft. Perhaps New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has a perspective that is shared by many who hear this story. According to the New York Times, he said, “Clearly the guy was on the plane and shouldn’t have been. We got lucky.”

Two things that can be said about luck is that it is not predictable and is not a substitute for a systematic security process. The US government maintains a number of databases that are used as part of a systematic security process for airline travel. An article from last November described the four most important airline security databases in the US. The most restrictive is the "no-fly" list. As the name implies, this is a list of people who are not allowed to board an airliner.

The problem
The key problem in this situation is that part of the system worked in that a suspect's name was placed on the no-fly list, and accessible to law enforcement, TSA, and the airline. However, having an updated list is next to useless if the groups that are supposed to use the list are not using the list, especially to find a high interest suspect such as Mr. Shahzad.

How to improve the system
The TSA announced today that airlines will now have to review the no-fly list within two hours rather than within 24 hours. However, that may not be enough. would like to know what you think. Please feel free to respond to the survey below. We'll publish the results, and your comments, in a few days.