Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Australia Metroliner Crash

I noticed this report of a fatal Metro crash in Australia a few days ago. What caught my attention was that it was Australia's worst civil air accident since nineteen sixty-eight. That means there are grandmothers in Australia who can't remember a more serious accident. I want to compare that to Canada.

Fifteen fatalities would have to involve airline or commuter operations. Transportation Safety Board data on crashes of Canadian-registered aircraft shows zero passengers killed on Canadian registered airliners since the beginning of 1994, and zero passengers killed on commuter aircraft since the beginning of 1999. So we've been operating safely. But going back to 1968, how many have there been?

The TSB has some numbers but they are summary statistics and I really need a list of accidents in order to count those of that severity or over. The best I can find is at Here are the Canadian air accidents listed there with fifteen or more fatalities. I'm not counting the Swissair crash because that was a foreign carrier departing from a foreign airport that happened to be diverting towards a Canadian airport at the time of the accident.

  • 1970 July 5th. Canada, Toronto: Air Canada DC-8 crashes, 108 people died. The FO inadvertantly deployed the spoilers while trying to arm them on final, the aircraft struck the ground hard, then exploded on the subsequent go around.
  • 1983 June 2nd. USA, Ohio, Cincinnati Air Canada DC-9, emergency landing due to fire in the restroom, 23 people died.
  • 1989 March 10th. Canada, Dryden, Air Ontario Fokker 28, crashed after takeoff due to ice on the wings, 24 people died, 45 survived.

I don't think this list means that Canada has poorer aviation safety than Australia. I think it reflects that we have more aviation, more mid-sized airplanes being operated, and although only one of these was weather-related, worse weather. I do think it speaks well of Australian aviation that this is the worst air accident that country has seen in almost forty years.

No one knows yet what caused the Metro accident. The vague speculations in this article are a reminder for pilots and operators of how ignorant and terrified passengers may be. "Some locals say they had held fears about the Metroliner's safety before the crash - that it had previously failed to start and left them stranded." I cringe if it takes me more than one try to start an engine because I know passengers will equate it to unreliability of the engine.


Anonymous said...

Check out

for a searchable database of aircraft accidents all over. The DB has fatality numbers and such.

Hamish said...

Speaking as a (semi-) Australian, I'd agree that commercial aviation in Canada and Australia really isn't easily compared. Canada has terrain and weather in ways that Australia just doesn't -- and it has a larger population that seems much more accustomed to flying while travelling (although that's changing rapidly).

Still, it's definitely impressive in a morbid sort of way that this is such a rare event in Australia, especially given the lack of things like ILS's, VOR's, etc., we seem to take for granted here in the US...

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many years of kangaroo-related deaths that Metroliner crash equates to.

I've never been concerned with the number of tries it takes to start an airplane engine. I grew up around a Beech Bonanza, and my experience tells me that once it catches, it runs until intentionally shut down. For some reason, I think of it as similar to a lawn mower -- I've never had a reasonably well maintained and fueled lawn mower engine quit on me unexpectedly, though it usually takes more than one yank of the cord to get it running.

And now I'm going to feel the need to shout "Clear!" the next time I start to mow the lawn.

Anonymous said...

The weather must be a factor in Canadia, even it is just related to wear and tear. And a fire in a restroom? Gotta be a passenger having a sneaky ciggie.

Anonymous said...

And a fire in a restroom? Gotta be a passenger having a sneaky ciggie.
That was certainly considered - but finally the cause was found to be a faulty wiring harness that was repaired from the previous time the airplane had tried to self-destruct. On that occaission it shed it's rear-facing emergency door, dumping it's tailcone and the flight attendant's suitcases, (but happily no flight attendants) into the Atlantic ocean 20,000 feet below off the coast of Boston. The pilots managed to land the airplane back in Boston, despite jamming of the control cables in the damaged rear end.

The airplane apparently had a death wish and succeeded in destroying itself and several passengers a year or two later in Cinncinati.