Lessons learned from Swissair crash
ROBYN YOUNG, METRO HALIFAX
September 02, 2008 05:00
A major contributor to the fire that raged on board Swissair, causing the plane to plunge at a speed of about 560 kilometres per hour into the sea, was faulty wiring.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada spent more than four years investigating the crash and came up with 23 recommendations for the airline industry; two have been fully satisfied, several have been satisfied in part and a number are rated ˜satisfactory intent.'
Those that have been fully accepted and implemented by the international aviation community since the crash involve in-flight fire-fighting.
Before September, 1998, the focus of on-board firefighting was on post-impact fires "” those that ignite after a crash or landing.
A fire aboard an aircraft while in flight is extremely rare, so the pilot and crew were not given significant training about what to do in the case of an in-flight fire.
On Flight 111, when flight crew Captain Urs Zimmermann and First Officer Stephan Loew smelled smoke around 10:30 p.m., they grabbed a checklist and followed the steps.
It wasn't until all other options had been exhausted that the manual instructed the pilot to land the plane.
By this time it was too late and the fire was already raging out of control, shutting down operating systems.
Since the Swissair crash, the instruction to land at the first signs of fire tops the list.
"Now we get much more reports of aircraft that land and the only thing that's gone wrong is somebody spilled coffee on a hot plate," said the Transportation and Safety Board's Jonathan Seymour with a chuckle.
"But at least now you've got this basic notion that if there's smoke ... you get down."
In-flight fires are very rare, he said, but if you do get an in-flight fire "the repercussions are absolutely horrendous, as seen in Swissair."
Another change adopted by the industry after Swissair was changing the minimum recording time of Cockpit Voice Recorders (CVR) to two hours "” increased from 30 minutes.
The last five and a half minutes on Swissair Flight 111 are absent from the voice recorder transcripts because the CVR tape ran out.
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