Thursday, March 02, 2006

Stupidest Accident Ever

I got distracted from required phone calls this morning by a website that describes the fate of every Boeing 737 ever to be written off. It's not sizably different from a list of accidents happening to any other type of airplane, but I like 737s, and it's an interesting cross section of global air operators. This may seem weird, but pilots like to read accident reports as reminders of what not to do, and to do Saturday morning quarterbacking. Also we can feel superior when we discover things like this:

The pilot set a heading of 270 instead of 027 and ended up 600 miles off course. The error led to fuel exhaustion and a forced landing in jungle, 12 of the 48 passengers were killed in the crash. It took two days for the survivors to be found. The heading mistake went unnoticed because the crew was reportedly listening to a World Cup qualification football match.

If you don't know the 360 degree heading system, that's like being in Regina and heading towards Vancouver instead of Churchill.

10 comments:

Stu said...

Didn't they notice that the ground was the wrong terrain? "Hey, Greenland looks mighty sandy today!"

Well, obviously they didn't.

Actually, I suppose in the space of 600 miles it might not change that much.

Lisa said...

That sounds a bit like the plot of Lost. :)

Anoynmous said...

...that's like being in Regina and heading towards Vancouver instead of Churchill.

Or, for those USAians who have neither a compass nor a map of Canadian cities in their head, it's like being in Atlanta and heading towards Dallas instead of New York City, or like being in Phoenix and heading towards Los Angeles instead of Denver.

Oh, and it's a little like listening to the first game of the World Series.

Anonymous said...

If you don't know the 360 degree heading system, that's like being in Regina and heading towards Vancouver instead of Churchill.

Funny you should mention that as almost this exact situation occurred with a 737 here in Canada a number of years ago. If I recall correctly, the aircraft departed YZF enroute to YEG but, somehow ended up in the neighbourhood of YRT.

Of course, there was no accident in this case, just a couple of drivers with some 'splainin' to do, Lucy...

Cristian said...

Things were bit more complex than the summary given, as far as I remember (and if this is the same accident, hard to imagine the same happening twice, down to the course!).
A major contributing factor was that the airline used two standards for course depiction before and was transitioning to one: 4 digits for international operations, to allow for decimals (so 27 degrees would actually be written as 0270) and 3 digits for domestic flights (27 deg would be 027).
The second one is that one piece of jungle looks very much like the other (this was a flight over the Amazon forest) and that nav aids are sparse in the region. It is (or at least was) relatively easy to fly off range of the few ones existing, certainly in a 737. By the time they noticed something was wrong, they couldn't figure out where they were.
Newspapers reported at the time that at least one passenger (a frequent flyer on that route) had asked the flight attendants why "they were going the wrong way", since the sun was in the wrong part of the sky. According to the press, the attendants told him not to worry, the pilots knew perfectly well what they were doing...

Anonymous said...

just goes to show those mariners knew what they were doing "back in the olden days".

sun... stars...

--aas

Aviatrix said...

Of course, there was no accident in this case, just a couple of drivers with some 'splainin' to do, Lucy...

Must have been listening to the Stanley Cup final on the ADF.

Nicolas said...

wow is all i can say. I've made heading errors in the sim before but never for that long! One would think they would have noticed the problem on the map display but they may have been flying a 73 variant that didn't have that display. At any rate it makes me feel somewhat better that my biggest problem is in the 73 sim is making hard off rwy landings!

Anonymous said...

It's indicative of the human factors problem that a human monitoring is less effective than a human working...

Anonymous said...

My frame of reference is the U.S. You are going from New York to Portland, Oregon, and no one seems to notice that your heading is getting you a bit closer to Iceland.-Landrum Kelly