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UPS Cargo Plane Crashes Near Dubai
This article was written September 4, 2010.
CHIP CUMMINS and ANDY PASZTOR, Wall Street Journal
A United Parcel Service Inc. cargo plane crashed Friday evening after takeoff near Dubai, killing two pilots in the package delivery giant’s first fatal aircraft accident.
A statement posted Friday on the UPS website said that at approximately 12 p.m. Eastern Standard time, or 8 p.m. local time, UPS flight number 6 from Dubai and headed to Cologne, Germany—a Boeing Co. 747-400—crashed after takeoff. The United Arab Emirates’ official state media reported late Friday that the bodies of two pilots had been recovered.
The cause of the crash wasn’t immediately clear, but it appeared to have been preceded by a fire on board. The plane took off around 7 p.m. local time, and, according to a person familiar with the situation in the U.A.E., the crew reported trouble shortly after becoming airborne and alerted air-traffic controllers, who eventually diverted the plane to a government-owned landing facility in the desert.
According to one set of early data gathered by air-safety officials, the pilots may have tried but failed to land twice during the hour prior to the crash. Sometime during the reported sequence of two “missed approaches” to the airport, according to this information, the cockpit crew declared a mayday, possibly due to smoke in the cockpit.
Some preliminary reports indicated that the pilots ultimately may have been forced to try to land at the government-owned facility after struggling with an onboard emergency that may have obscured their view of some cockpit instruments. Neither UPS nor local authorities were commenting on the precise sequence of events. After saying that the plane crashed on takeoff, a UPS spokeswoman later Friday confirmed there was an hour gap between its takeoff and the crash.
The aircraft crashed initially into a parking lot inside the compound; became airborne again briefly; then crash back down and came to rest, the person familiar with the matter said. The crash site is approximately one kilometer long, and there were no ground casualties reported, this person said. The aircraft was carrying civilian cargo, this person said.
Regarding the emergency in the cockpit, some air-safety Web sites on Friday were reporting that the crew may have told controllers that smoke in the cockpit was severe enough to obscure some instruments.
“We will … release more information as it becomes available, in cooperation with government authorities. We will not speculate about the cause,” said UPS’s airline and international operations manager, Bob Lekites, according to the statement on the UPS website. “Until then, we ask for your patience in this difficult time.”
Investigators from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board were dispatched to participate in the probe, along with experts from Boeing and General Electric Co., which manufactured the plane’s engines.
Cargo airlines world-wide for many years have had a higher total accident rate than passenger carriers. But air-safety experts have attributed that largely to older cargo jets used by many operators from developing markets, deficient maintenance and inadequate pilot training provided by some financially-strapped cargo carriers.
But UPS, with its modern fleet and advanced pilot training, doesn’t fall into those categories. And the relatively new 747-400 model that crashed has an outstanding record for safety and reliability.
It was the first fatal plane crash for UPS, which has been an industry leader in promoting and using advanced navigation aids to enhance safety and efficiency at its primary U.S. hub airport in Louisville, KY. The company has had four other aircraft incidents since 1985, most recently in February 2006 when a DC-8 that had a fire onboard burned after landing in Philadelphia, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
The most recent crash of a freighter operated by a major cargo airline before Friday occurred in late July, when a Lufthansa Cargo MD-11 crashed and caught fire while on landing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Both crew members aboard survived. In April, an Airbus A300 freighter operated by cargo carrier AeroUnion crashed on approach to the Monterey, Mexico airport, killing all five people aboard.
FedEx Corp. suffered its first fatal plane crash in March 2009, when an MD-11 crashed after landing in high winds in Tokyo, killing both crew members.
If Friday’s crash turns out to have involved smoke in the cockpit, it could revive a long-running debate over whether manufacturers and regulators are doing enough to protect pilots against such airborne hazards. Some safety experts believe fire incidents affect at least 1,000 airliners annually around the world, though only a few turn out to be life threatening.
Nearly all current passenger and cargo planes have emergency-oxygen masks, smoke-protection goggles and other safety systems intended to help pilots breathe and allow them to continue using their instruments in the unlikely event of smoke in the cockpit.
But for years some air-safety advocates — along with manufacturers of advanced smoke hoods for pilots — have argued that additional protection is necessary. They contend existing smoke-protection devices aren’t able to deal with heavy and continuous smoke in the cockpit. JetBlue Airways Corp. and FedEx Corp. previously installed more-elaborate, smoke-hood systems on some aircraft, designed to create a smoke-free view of cockpit instruments even under the worst conditions. Other U.S. and foreign airlines have considered such steps but in the end, decided against installing more-elaborate smoke hoods. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, however, has installed such protective systems in the cockpits of its own fleet of VIP aircraft.
In a letter sent three months ago to Rep. James Oberstar of Minnesota, chairman of the House Transportation, a union official who represents many cargo pilots urged additional safety steps in this area. According to David Bourne, head of the airline division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, current systems aren’t adequate because they are certified to protect the vision of pilots against “a finite amount of smoke for a short three minutes.”
What pilots need, according to Mr. Bourne’s letter, is protection against “continuous blinding” smoke or “unstoppable smoke” that spews into the cockpit over a longer period and is thick enough to prevent aviators from “seeing their instruments and (looking) out the window in order to fly and land the plane.”
The FAA over the years has maintained that its regulations provide adequate safeguards against smoke in the cockpit. The agency previously also urged airlines to instruct pilots to land as quickly as possible, in the event they detect smoke and can’t immediately pinpoint and eliminate the problem.
CHIP CUMMINS and ANDY PASZTOR, Wall Street Journal
Obama credited Saudi Intelligence officials for the help on the investigation.
Is this what U.S Intelligence officials feared would happen in the U.S?