Greetings! My name is Rob, and I'm an American currently living in Japan. I am new to this site, and although I have no personal connection to the Swissair Flight 111 tragedy, I am very concerned about airline safety. I guess that's what drew me to this site--learning more about why this happened and what we can do as individuals to help prevent this from ever happening again.
First, let me begin my expressing my deepest condolences to all the families and friends who have suffered from this terrible tragedy, and the immense loss they have experienced. My heart goes out to you. I know I'm just a stranger--just some random person from the web--but truly I am sorry for your loss. I know the families must have incredible strength and courage to carry on. I've always taken comfort from a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson which says, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself." I hope and pray that peace finds each of you, although I know for some, as many of the messages on this site have stated, it's nearly impossible to find.
I remember Swissair 111 well. I was a junior in college in the state of Maine when it happened. The fall semester was just beginning, and I remember reading about it in the newspaper. I remember coming home on the weekend one time and having a lengthy discussion with my mother about it and about airline safety.
I've been researching the safety and maintenance practices of the industry for quite some time now. Recently, I've focused my attention on Japan Airlines Flight 123 (while living here in Japan). I know this flight is completely unrelated to Swissair 111, but I had an experience with JAL 123 that made me think of Swissair. For those that don't know, a quick rundown: JAL 123 was a 747 that crashed on August 12, 1985 on the main island of Honshu, Japan. To date, it is the worst accident in history in terms of loss of life involving a single aircraft. 520 people died on this flight. The 747 crashed due to a very small misrepair that was done 7 years earlier to the plane by Boeing. An extremely tragic accident.
Well, I've been reading a lot about this flight, and I discovered that about 3 years ago, Japan Airlines opened a "Safety Center" dedicated to JAL 123 and to airline safety to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the crash. So, I checked it out in Tokyo. To say it's a museum would be a misnomer; it's more like an "interactive presentation" about the flight, what happened on the flight, and what changes were made to ensure that it would never happen again. Yes, it does feature certain things from the plane--pieces of fuselage, pictures, etc. But what stands out in my mind, is that the Japanese have taken something that was horrifically tragic and turned it (or at least tried to turn it) into something positive. Japan Airlines uses the safety center to teach their employees, as well as the general public, about aviation safety. They actually mandate that their employees must attend the safety center at least one time, once a year. It really is an incredible presentation. I learned a lot about that crash, as well as other crashes from around the world. Most importantly, they focus on the changes that were made to the industry as a result. I think a lot of Western airlines could learn a lot from the Japanese model. Which leads me to my next question:
Has Swissair, the SAirGroup, any company affiliated with the SAirGroup, or organization, or even Lufthansa (who took over the Swiss International Air Lines) ever created or initiated a safety center in memoriam to Swissair 111? I've tried and tried to look for something, but I couldn't find anything.
By the way, has anyone seen or spoken to Bill Pickerel, the Air Traffic Controller who handled Swissair 111? Is he still working as an ATC?
Hi Rob. I'm really glad you stopped by. I don't know of anything that swissair set up to tell you the truth. I don't think they've done anything, but if anyone is from Switzerland, perhaps they will prove me wrong.
I think the Japanese have a special moral sense in the way they run their businesses that other countries don't have. I'm not surprised that they would turn a tragedy into a learning experience to prevent others from happening.
Look at this from Wikipedia:
Its president, Yasumoto Takagi, resigned, while a maintenance manager working for the company at Haneda committed suicide to "apologize" for the accident.
Much different culture and sense of duty, though I'm not suggesting that people should commit suicide for making a mistake.
I didn't realize that there were actually 4 survivors on that flight. Unbelievable. Thanks for posting Rob. Hope you come back again. Thanks for caring about air safety as we do on this site.
I did want to add that the Canadians who did the recovery of the Swissair airplane parts following the crash, did reconstruct the cockpit and first class section of the aircraft. I thought maybe they opened that to the public in some capacity, but am not sure of it's current status.
Just checking back in--sorry to get back to you after such a long time--I've been rather busy lately. Thank you so much for your response, I really appreciate it. Yes, I agree with you about the Japanese having a greater sense of duty, not only morally, but also to their job, that sometimes seems lacking in Western society. In Japanese society, commitment to work and to a job well done is paramount, and I think that's where Japan Airlines really took home the lesson of JAL 123, and applied it as a teaching tool for their employees and for members of the public who have an interest in airline safety.
I was unaware of the cockpit and first class section reconstruction of the Swissair 111 fuselage. I will look into that some more--perhaps it is on display somewhere or being implemented as a teaching tool. Thank you for the information.
I've done lots of research into the airline industry, various accidents, the FAA, and many other points of interest concerning safety, and sometimes I'm just so absolutely shocked and blown away by what I've seen. What's so sad in so many of these cases is that it just comes down to dollar signs. Recently I've been reading a lot about the various characteristics of different kinds of jet fuels, and what types are employed by the airline industry. You know, there's a jet fuel called JP-5 that has been used by the U.S. Airforce since the early 1950s for it's high flash point (60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Farenheit) for aircraft on carriers. The high flash point is a safety measure--where a crash and subsequent fire on the deck of an aircraft carrier would be disasterous. The type of jet fuel employed by most of the airline industry has a much lower flash point, hence more susceptibility to explosions and fire in the event of a crash.
So, here we have a type of jet fuel that has been used by the airforce for years, and acts as a safety precaution in the event of a crash--lowering the risk of ignition due to the high flash point. I think everyone knows that fire from jet crashes have taken a lot of lives, and here's a type of fuel that, if employed, could save lives. What a terrible thing to survive the initial crash, only to perish in the fire afterwards. Yet, the commercial airline industry doesn't use it because (drum roll please): it's too expensive. It's very costly to produce, so to save bucks, the industry doesn't use JP-5.
Speaking for myself, I would be willing to pay another 10 or 20 dollars more on my airfare if it meant that the industry could afford using JP-5 in their planes. I'm sure a lot of other people would too for that priceless peace of mind. However, consumers aren't given that option, and we have almost no voice in how things are run within the industry. So, it pains me so much to see something that's been around for a long time, is used by the airforce for it's special characteristics, could potentially save lives, but for no other reason other than it's too expensive, isn't used by the commercial airline industry. It's just one of those sad truths that I just have to accept.
I don't know, there are so many things that shock me about the industry, and the safety meausres they have yet to implement. I just wish my one little voice could join in with many other voices and be heard and make change.
Rob, Sorry I didn't get back to you sooner. Thanks so much for your response. I agree with everything you said, including paying the extra money to go towards safety.
I would like to introduce myself, my name is Kevin Brown and aviation safety is a big concern for me. I would like to give my respect to all friends and families of those lost on SwissAir 111. I would also like to applaud those who have tried to help improve the airline safety situation, such as those on this website and people like Mrs. Romano. I share your concern over past and future accidents. I currently also run an airline safety website at www.safeflyer.org. The website is new, but growing. In a nutshell, the website is to educate airline passengers and general aviation pilots to the associated risks and what items can be used to mitigate the risk and provide survivability.
I have a small background in aviation, such as an aeronautics degree from Embry-Riddle (minor in aviation safety), four years as an Army helicopter crew-chief (deployed to Iraq) and currently training for my Private Pilots license.
I have found in the last seven years of researching aviation that there are two kinds of people when it comes to airlines. Those you do not want more safety improvements and those who do. Those who do not, generally feel safe with the present safety measures and refuse to pay more for any reason. And of course those who do want more safety improvements are the complete polar opposite. Unfortunately the split is about 50/50 and no one will ever win except the almighty dollar. Hate to say it, but Tombstone safety will still be the norm.
Sad news is people can decide what car to buy, but don't have a say on the airliners they fly in. The best we can hope for is that airline passenger that choose to, can take measure to protect themselves.
Last note, very seldom is it published or discussed about the human horror aspect of airline crashes, yet that data is collected and analyzed during any accident investigation. What I mean by human horror is what it was like to experience that accident for both the survivors and those killed. Did you know the medical examination for the PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie accident, concluded that most passengers passed out due to lack of oxygen after the airliner ripped apart in flight at 31,000ft, but regained consciousness around 10,000ft (normal air) and were fully conscious upon impact with the ground. Imagine how terrifying that must have been! If descriptions like this were presented more often to the public, then I think there would be more of a moral outcry.
On your last comment I would like to point out that the military has been highly successful in integrating safety into aircrafts. The fuel cells in helicopters (fuel bladders) are so crash worthy that it is common that the fuel cell is found in an accident undamaged and with no fuel loss. One accident with I believe an AH-64 Apache the helicopter was destroyed upon impact, but the fuel cell was found intact about 30ft from the crash site. Most military fuel cells are self sealing also. We had an AH-64 Apache get hit by a missile in Iraq. The shrapnel went thru the fuel cell, but leaked no fuel. This technology could be used on civilian aircrafts, but these type of crash worthy fuel cells weight a lot more than standard ones. You think airlines would want to burn more fuel to carry this extra weight? Most airlines removed the magazines from the seat backs to save on fuel costs. And you are correct, the military switch a while back from the highly flammable JP-4 (jet fuel) to the more stable JP-5 and JP-8. Army helicopters switch from JP-4 to JP-8 due to a high amount of fires. Now fires are uncommon on Army helicopters.
Thanks you for the post.
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