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Pilot: How a plane can crash and everyone survives

Considering the known circumstances surrounding the ...

Posted: Aug 3, 2018 4:16 AM
Updated: Aug 3, 2018 4:16 AM

Considering the known circumstances surrounding the accident of AeroMexico's Flight 2431 in Durango, Mexico, we shouldn't be surprised that that the accident was survivable. The Embraer 190 was en route to Mexico City on Tuesday when it crashed within moments after becoming airborne, skidding through underbrush and coming to an abrupt halt not quite 400 feet from the departure end of the runway.

Dozens were injured. But none of the 103 on board died. How is that possible?

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The words "plane crash" immediately suggest a tragic outcome. But an accident doesn't always end like that.

Think of this, for a moment, in terms of a similar event in a car. We'd all agree that automobile crashes are much more frequent, and with victims walking away most times. Why? Not only are 21st century automobiles designed with more protective safeguards, but most accidents happen at survivable speeds.

If the same basic automobile accident theory is applied to Flight 2431, then survival outcome in a plane crash like this becomes easier to understand. The accident occurred shortly after takeoff. Depending upon the airplane's gross weight, its immediate airborne speed was approximately 155 mph.

If you're driving in a Ford Focus, that number would raise some eyebrows (it's too fast for safety, of course). But airplanes do have design safeguards that can protect passengers even at those high speeds. The safeguards include appropriately rated seatbelts, impact resistant seat frames, and airplane structures (like wings and engines) designed to shear off to absorb impact forces. So, in airplane accident speak, this was a low-speed event.

In addition, most runways at major airports around the world are built with a "run-off "area at the departure end that is kept relatively clear of large obstacles for just these circumstances. Airlines that comply with Federal Aviation Administration standards are required to demonstrate an evacuation time of 90 seconds with half the emergency exits blocked for each type of airplane in their fleet. With functional emergency exits, and despite a broken fuselage, it would appear that all means for a rapid escape were used in the Flight 2431 crash.

Also, the photos seem to indicate that the landing gear sheared off, which means the airplane remained low to the ground, not requiring all passengers to use the evacuation slides. Some were reportedly able to flee from a hole near the wing. People were able to (hurriedly) walk away.

We don't yet know precisely why the plane came down, and the Mexican DGAC (Dirección de Investigación de Accidentes) will have more answers as the investigation progresses.

But based on my 34 years of experience as an airline pilot, and a survey of the available reporting, I can offer some informed conjecture here. Two theories:

After watching a passenger's phone video from inside the airplane during the "takeoff roll," and listening to a witness report that the plane experienced two impacts, it almost appeared that an attempt was made by the pilots to push the airplane back to the ground.

In other words, the crew may have experienced the onslaught of severe turbulence caused by the thunderstorm immediately after becoming airborne. In the heat of the battle, the flying pilot may well have decided that it was better to attempt landing on the remaining runway than fly through the weather. To do so would have been a rookie mistake. Why?

The fact that the airplane became airborne indicates the pilots were committed to the takeoff and well beyond the safe point where an abort could be performed within the remaining pavement of the runway.

Airline pilots are trained regularly on the appropriate procedures to maneuver after encountering a wind shear event produced by a thunderstorm. Of course, the primary maneuver is not to attempt the takeoff when such conditions exist or have the potential to exist in the first place.

Most airplanes manufactured over the last 10 years or more are equipped with a system called "predictive wind shear." The system warns pilots of a dangerous weather situation both visually and audibly.

Which brings me to a second theory: It is possible that the crew of AeroMexico 2431 did not get a wind shear warning until just becoming airborne. The audible warning may have activated at that very moment, offering little time, little airspeed, and little altitude to escape.

If that was the case, it may very well have been a severe wind shear situation -- that is, not any direct action of the crew -- that caused the airplane to hit the ground shortly after takeoff. That being said, it is still my opinion that the pilots should have waited out the storm, and perhaps taxied back to the gate.

It's easy to be a backseat driver in such circumstances. I have flown jets safely out of airports with thunderstorm activity in the vicinity, but that only occurred with a big-picture view of the weather radar reassuring me that nothing dangerous was in our path.

At this point, we really don't have enough information to pass judgment.

Again, the investigation -- and the reported recovery of the black boxes -- will reveal much.

As to the complete survival of those aboard: that's a wonderful outcome. A little bit of luck was involved but a lot of well-designed technology contributed.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 497790

Reported Deaths: 9917
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34102530
DeSoto31839398
Hinds31837622
Jackson24314377
Rankin21881388
Lee15427234
Madison14525279
Jones13772241
Forrest13412250
Lauderdale11937314
Lowndes10934185
Lamar10470135
Pearl River9431237
Lafayette8454138
Hancock7697126
Washington7365156
Oktibbeha7111129
Monroe6727174
Warren6642176
Pontotoc6609101
Neshoba6606205
Panola6460131
Marshall6386132
Bolivar6266145
Union596094
Pike5784152
Alcorn5633101
Lincoln5417134
George491879
Scott470998
Tippah465381
Prentiss464181
Leflore4627143
Itawamba4596104
Adams4570119
Tate4546109
Copiah445191
Simpson4421116
Wayne438572
Yazoo438586
Covington427394
Marion4216107
Sunflower4215104
Coahoma4115104
Leake407787
Newton380879
Grenada3692108
Stone358464
Tishomingo356391
Attala330289
Jasper328265
Winston313191
Clay306375
Chickasaw296767
Clarke290694
Calhoun277945
Holmes266987
Smith262550
Yalobusha232647
Tallahatchie225251
Walthall217763
Greene215548
Lawrence211140
Perry204755
Amite203954
Webster201645
Noxubee185340
Montgomery179056
Jefferson Davis170642
Carroll167438
Tunica158639
Benton147438
Kemper141241
Choctaw133026
Claiborne131237
Humphreys129038
Franklin119128
Quitman106227
Wilkinson104539
Jefferson94234
Sharkey64020
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 813481

Reported Deaths: 15179
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1139971910
Mobile722271323
Madison51970686
Shelby37279341
Baldwin37069540
Tuscaloosa34934599
Montgomery33953725
Lee23142240
Calhoun22142470
Morgan20639372
Etowah19758496
Marshall18245300
Houston17302405
St. Clair15912337
Cullman15306290
Limestone15202198
Elmore15075284
Lauderdale14143294
Talladega13715272
DeKalb12569259
Walker11085366
Blount10094174
Autauga9893146
Jackson9789180
Coffee9182189
Dale8859181
Colbert8789200
Tallapoosa7044195
Escambia6732127
Covington6682179
Chilton6587160
Russell625958
Franklin5930105
Chambers5559142
Marion4955126
Dallas4882199
Clarke472782
Pike4719105
Geneva4564126
Winston4473101
Lawrence4264117
Bibb421686
Barbour355475
Marengo334089
Monroe330262
Randolph327063
Butler324794
Pickens313882
Henry310965
Hale309187
Cherokee299957
Fayette290679
Washington250951
Cleburne246958
Crenshaw243575
Clay240367
Macon230562
Lamar215846
Conecuh185652
Coosa178538
Lowndes173761
Wilcox167438
Bullock151744
Perry138040
Sumter131038
Greene125544
Choctaw86927
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A cold front passing through our area overnight will bring into our area some of the coolest temperatures of the season so far. We will see most of the highs this weekend only in the upper 60s to lower 70s. While overnight lows will drop off down into the 40s Saturday night.
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