A tragedy in the air, and another on the ground.
Saw the article in the Post today about the father of the woman lost in the plane crash. So fricken sad.
update from wapo, looks like the pilot had lots of hours in 737s...
A third most-human tragedy: Don Bateman, serial inventor of systems to improve situational awareness in the cockpit, passed away last month at 91 years of age... and I prefer this well-timed article by his longtime employer over the sad headline at the NY Times to elaborate further:
Thanks, Jim, for an interesting discussion of what transpired in the skies above your heads in DC and yet another worthwhile deconstruction of a tragedy that is explicable in statistical terms given the complexities of these systems and yet that seems unacceptable even in isolation.
The temptation to cast this in terms of the latest AI environments implementing automated detection and recovery that might have alerted authorities of the conditons more explicitly and might even have taken the plane to a safe landing belies a harsh reality in the form of a question: will there not always be a context or circumstance that requires the vague, spontaneous and even "irrational" response of human intelligence - including sentimentality and liability - to choose a course of action from many alternatives that lead to mediocre or even unpleasant outcomes?
Great summary but small point. The plane did not fly 240 magnetic from MacArthur. The course back to Elizabethton, the flight origin, is 259 magnetic, and this goes just a few miles north of the White House etc. This may be more likely, depending on the autopilot logic (or lack thereof). A course of 240 would go way south of DC.
Riveting story about the Citation jet. So sad, too. Like you, I hope that everyone on board was asleep.
Jim, Sam and I are in the car on a long drive and I just read aloud to him this fascinating and tragically sad story. We are intrigued with your continuing fascination with all things aviation related. Are you still flying these days? Would you ever give it up due to aging? That is an interesting topic, I think. Waving to you and Deb.
The oxygen issue is particularly interesting to me because of parallels with mountain climbing. Above 26,000 feet is what they call the death zone. Without canned oxygen, and at those altitudes, sometimes even with canned oxygen, the brain and body begin functioning poorly. At those altitudes, one begins to think less clearly, and can lose will power and cease caring, and the body’s mechanisms for protecting itself from things like frostbite become less effective. (With that in mind, I'm thinking the people in the plane may not have suffered much, if at all.)
I started reading about climbing Everest this past winter. Into Thin Air is about the tragic spring on Everest of 1996, when more than 10 people involved in multiple commercial expeditions including several leaders of those expeditions, died, partly due to bad decisions in no small part due to operating in thin air. It’s a page turner.
I also read my cousin, Tom Hornbein’s 1965 book, Everest: The West Ridge, about his ascent with the US expedition of 1963. I had never been interested in the subject, as you might infer from the fact that his book had been out almost 60 years before I read it. But by all accounts, Tom and his partner on the expedition, Willi Unsoeld, accomplished something rather extraordinary. They are still the only people to have ascended via the West Ridge. There’s now a Hornbein Couloir close to the summit.
Tom was getting old, and I thought I should read up on it, so that I could know enough to ask intelligent questions and learn something from him.
Among other things, Tom describes his own feeling of losing his sense that things mattered, while at high elevations. Due undoubtedly to this experience, in his academic work as an anesthesiologist at the University of Washington Medical School, he studied the effects of thin air on people.
I'd gotten to the point where I could sense I was almost ready to talk to him in early May. On impulse, I googled him--and I got a couple of obituaries (a week later there were many more including in the Post). He'd died a day or two earlier of leukemia. He was 92.
It hadn't occurred to me that he might die any time soon. Between Everest, and my brother's experience hiking with Tom eight years ago while visiting him in Estes Park--my brother fit, and 20 years younger than Tom, having had trouble keeping up with him, 92 seemed young when I thought of Tom. Another Hornbein had passed a driving test with flying colors at 96 and lived to 104.
Thanks for such an exquisite description of what likely happened near Islip and D. C. Despite commonsense procedures, air accidents do happen. Of course it is much safer to fly than to drive, and worse still is to be an electric bike rider in New York City.
Your mention of sonic booms as a kid reminded me of my concern, pre-WW II, when I watched commercial airliners overhead. My fear was that, when they emptied their toilets, that I might be splattered.
Jim. Thanks for this highly explanatory article. As always you do a great service in translating aviation issues to the general public.
I posted this on the Citation Jet Pilots website and thought you might be interested:
“I’ve been thinking about the flight path and the 180 degree turn over Islip. I don’t know anything about the autopilot modes in a Citation V but just going into roll mode or heading doesn’t make sense in correlating with the flight path.
What would explain it is if the pilot programmed in the original airport at the bottom of the flight plan as a standard procedure in case of needing to return to field after takeoff. In case of immediate RTF he has the airport and maybe an approach loaded in, to be removed once in stable cruise. That would mean the FMS had a waypoint after Islip which was the original airport.“
Jim, I cannot tell you how much I love these deep dives into aviation subjects. And I say that as someone who has never been particularly interested in aviation, will absolutely, positively never fly a small planned, and hopefully never fly *in* a small plane, for that matter. But you just make it so interesting and accessible. Thank you for helping explain this terrible tragedy.
The ATC comm logs ought to shed some light, assuming everything is still recorded.
Thanks for this article. Very informative and interesting. A real tragedy for that family!
Saw this in the NYT about Fresno. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/01/magazine/fresno-politics-poverty.html
I’m interested in the San Joachin because my dad lived in Hanford when he was a teenager and my uncle lived there most of his life. Went there many times.
Continuing thanks Jim!
So, Jim, how do you handle flying to a California location like Fresno? Going around the Sierra is a nasty detour.
Last September 4th, a Citation 551 took off Southern France. Shortly after, the pilot notified ATC that there was a problem with cabin pressurization. That was the last contact with ATC. It flew to its destination in Cologne, Germany and when it didn’t land (HDG/HOLD?) it flew on the same track till the right engine flamed out and it crashed into the Baltic. It was followed by each country’s military, but they saw nobody in the cockpit. Maybe a Citation problem?
Google ‘Mystery as private plane crashes in Baltic Sea off the coast of Latvia’