Monday, May 11, 2009

Crash Landed

I started this before Captain Sullenberger landed in the Hudson and I think I gave up on the whole landed/crashed/ditched after that, so didn't post the entry, but hey, it's still a blog entry, right?

Someone sent me a link to this story about a Mooney that had an engine failure and ended up in the sea. First off, people in BC, you have to stop driving airplanes into rocks, glaciers and oceans. If you want to gawk at the sight some more, there's a video here; it's just eight minutes of helicopter footage circling the submerged aircraft and the rescue hovercraft. Nothing happens in the video except that a boat circles the site a couple of times. The pilot has lnog since been picked up by a passing twin otter. (And I can't get it to work anymore. Perhaps it's been removed).

The text story describes it as a "crash landed." Do you think that was a crash landing? I've had enough of the term crash landed used to describe every airplane accident that involves an airplane coming to rest on the surface of the planet. The only terms related to wrecking airplanes that are legally defined in Canada are accident and incident. The former involves serious injury or death resulting from an aircraft, major damage, or the aircraft being missing altogether. The latter applies only to large aircraft and includes abnormal conditions like shutting down an engine, or the incapacitation of a required crew member. In media terms, accidents (and many things that aren't accidents) are "crashes" and incidents are "scares." Although I suppose if a large airplane went off the runway and ripped off a wingtip fairing, some stories would call that incident a crash.

Everything bad that happens to an airplane isn't a crash. There has to be an actual crash no? To me, a crash occurs when there is either a loss of control of the aircraft, or a high-speed collision with something, and something more significant than lights and fairings gets bent or smashed.

So a gear up, whether through forgetfulness or mechanical problems, assuming the aircraft doesn't skid off the runway or flip over, is not what I'd call a crash. Catching a wingtip and ripping off a winglet is not a crash. I think a crash landing is an attempt to land, in an irregular situation, that involves loss of control before touchdown and results in a seriously damaged airplane.

If the airplane or pilot or landing area is seriously compromised, but an attempt is made to land, a possible result is a crash landing. Sioux City was definitely a crash landing. The airplane landed, and it crashed. Easy. The pilot points the airplane towards something with the intention of landing and puts the airplane on the ground, but the result is such that the airplane cannot be used again promptly. Yeah, that was a crash landing.

A deliberate landing of a wheel or ski plane in water is usually called a ditching. (Captain Haynes referred to the possibility of attempting to land the DC-10 off-airport "ditching" too, but I myself wouldn't use the term that way). Landing gear, engines, fairings, even wings and tail may be torn off, but if the cabin is sufficiently intact that people get out, I'd call it a successful ditching. In an unsuccessful ditching the airplane may cartwheel, or impact the water at a high speed or angle, causing it to break up. The result of an attempted ditching may be indistinguishable from a crash into water, but that Mooney was successfully, and I would judge skillfully ditched. As a pilot of a single engine airplane, he probably made sure he was within gliding distance of land, but it doesn't take a pilot to see that the land in the area was inhospitable. So he dithed close enough to shore that even badly injured he'd be able to swim to it.

Was this a crash in your opinion? Would you say you "crashed" your car if you lost control and drove it into the water where it sank? Do you used "ditch" to describe non-water off-airport landings?

A better CBC video clip had clearer information on the accident and used the phrase "gone down" instead of crash.


dpierce said...

We used "hard landing" to denote landing with a stronger vertical component than 'normal' (which varies from unit to unit -- measured by a shock-meter, damage to the aircraft, or other metrics). If the aircraft made a normal landing and skidded into the weeds, that was a normal landing followed by an accident. Hard landings can be anything from a catastrophic loss of the aircraft to something that non-crew occupants might not register as a significant event, but they all result in paperwork and other Bad Things if you survive it.

To be called a hard landing, it has to be a controlled attempt by the crew to get the aircraft on the ground. This differs from "controlled flight into terrain", where the pilot/crew is in control, but did not intend to fly the plane into the ground.

An uncontrolled flight into the ground might be called a crash.

dpierce said...

(I used "did not intend to fly the plane into the ground" to describe CFIT. A better wording would've been "unwittingly flew the plane into the ground", perhaps in tune with the pattern in BC.)

Ward said...

This reminds me of some of the posts on maritime blogs about the difference between a collision and an allision:

The maritime bloggers were mostly also unsuccessful in getting mainstream media to use the correct term.

Anonymous said...

First principle in the media is to get the masses to read/see your product, and this colours (taints?) most of what they do.... there must be editors everywhere who scream "more cowbell" at every opportunity. How else could anyone explain using words like "horrific" at every opportunity?

Of course, if someone on board is having a baby or a hissy fit then the captain is forced to perform an emergency landing.

In my phrasing, a required element of using "crash" is that aircraft is in an uncontrolled state. A ditching (water) and a forced landing (usually referring to a hard surface) are both controlled approaches, and when they have a good result do not rise to the level of "crash". Of course, a ditching or forced landing might become a crash in the last microsecond, if things go horribly wrong.

"Diverted to" and "precautionary landing" are reported as emergencies, perhaps because the flight deck often declares an emergency. But mre likely because "the captain decided to exercise due caution and land at a nearby airport, so the passenger could be seen by a doctor" doesn't generate enough adrenalin.

Callsign Echo said...

That drives me crazy! I was pleasantly surprised at how many journalists reported the Hudson River incident as an "emergency landing." I guess it would have been too much to ask that they call it "ditching."

Anonymous said...

Hullo, Aviatrix!

I fully agree with you. The semantics have left the building, and only a teensy bit of rigor is left behind.

Personally, I call a landing a 'crash' based on my own personal probability metric: T'*Q/(N/T).

I'll leave the variables up to you.

Hopefully, it maps the recency of landings via the gap interval of the longest stretch between consequent landings, and the overall time starting with the beginning of the interval to now against the total number of landings in the period. Ultimately, I personally hope it ends in the compost heap.

It sounds good, doesn't it?

My scareline officially calls a "hard landing" one that occurs between 300 and 450 FPM- and requires a quick look. Something north of 500 FPM to roughly 610 FPM requires a close look. Something north of 610 requires a new plane, and updated runway slope data.

I'm proud of the Jepp 10-9 revisions I've created in my tenure here!

Anonymous said...

Hello Aviatrix,

I completely agree!
Although I'm not a pilot, I look twice at the terms used by media.
And not only when it comes to avaiation topics or headlines containing the word "crash"...
From point of view of a passenger, I would call the ditching in the Hudson River a successfull emergency landing on water.

There was the day of storms over Europe where an Airbus' wingtips scratched ground in extreme crosswind conditions before he successfully initiated a go-around.
Nearly at the same time I was in an EasyJet A319 which was trying to land at DTM under challenging conditions, too. The final aproach gave us experiences which none of the existing rollercosters could provide... Finally, during landing and from my point of view looking down from a window in row 2, we were about 10 to 20 meters above ground (perhaps less), when the engines reved up and we went around.

In both cases nobody will ever know if a "crash" was avoided (like any successfull landing does, for whatever reasons :-). But the media usually would pickup any chance to use the mentioned term.

Chris said...

Al Haynes was a pilot in the US Marines before flying for United. I wonder if Navy and Marine pilots use the word ditch for all off runway landings?

Chad said...

We as the aviation community should file a class action lawsuit against the media for public defamation.

Its no wonder so many people are afraid to fly when the media inappropriately uses words like "crash", "scare", and "horrific"