Re: Habsheim accident (was: Re: Airbus Safer?)

Date:         02 Sep 98 01:07:53 
Organization: Deja News - The Leader in Internet Discussion
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kls@ohare.Chicago.COM (Karl Swartz) wrote:
> >That's certainly correct. The pilot HAS consistently blamed the aircraft.
> >Whether he is correct in doing so is another matter. I can certainly imagine
> >that when you've suddenly realized that trees are in your path and pushed the
> >throttles to max power that it'll seem like forever as the engines spool up
> >and you begin climbing. That subjective perception, however, need not imply
> >any actual problem. It's certainly not a secret that jets take time to spool
> >up.
> True enough, but Asseline also claims that the elevators did exactly
> the opposite of what he requested, and an analysis by a former British
> accident investigator lends some credence to those claims.

Unfortunately, there's been so much mud thrown around in this instance that
very few of the people involved have much credibility, and so it'll be very
hard for "The Truth" to be fully known. Consider that Airbus, for example,
was obviously in a panic to ensure that no fault be found with its brand-new
airliner. Even if there was no fault, they might well have done things to
cover any possible fault up before they realized they had nothing to worry
about. Consider that the pilot was obviously anxious not to take the blame
for an accident that killed several people and destroyed a shiny new
airplane. Whether right or wrong, both parties had incentives to try to cover
their asses. Throw in factors such as the in-grained animosity of many pilots
against computers which they perceive as taking their jobs away, fierce
competition with other manufacturers', nationalistic attitudes on all sides,
and the well-known media track record for accurate reporting of all matters
aviation-related, and good luck figuring out what really happened or even
having an intelligent discussion about it (this forum, alas, often included
despite many outstanding individual contributions).

My perspective is this: that airplane had no business being at minimum
controllable airspeed below the level of trees in its flight path, especially
with a full load of passengers. That is asking for trouble. The decision to
put the plane there was the pilot's and so the responsibility for the
accident must rest primarily with him. Had the pilot succeeded in climbing
above the trees and avoiding an accident, I would still have fired him.

It is _possible_ that some technical problems with the airplane then
compounded the problem -- problems that, had they not occured, _might_ have
permitted the pilot to salvage the airplane from the consequences of his
initial error. As discussed above, and in other posts in this thread, the
evidence on this has been so muddied it's hard to know what to think. But if
one applies Occam's razor, there is no need to assume complicated failures to
explain this accident: an airplane where it shouldn't be and the well-known
time for engines to spool up and for an airplane to begin climbing from
minimum airspeed are enough. My prior, therefore, is to believe that this was
a case of pilot error until sufficient evidence is presented to me that
technical problems were present and sufficiently important to convert what
would otherwise have been a non-accident into an accident. I have not seen
such sufficient evidence (although certainly there are things in the record
which make me wonder) and for the reasons stated above fear such evidence (if
it exists) may never come to light in credible ways.

Stefano Pagiola
All opinions are my own.
Visit Smiliner: The BAe 146/Avro RJ site at