Accident Investigation Research Paper

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Airplane Crash Investigations

Accident investigations are very different in regards to individual crashes. This paper examines the investigation of two plane crashes, Dallas Airlines Flight 191 and United Airlines Flight 173. The Dallas investigation did have good accessibility to the crash site with multiple first responding organizations from local municipalities, but with a slow reaction time. Meanwhile, United Airlines Flight 173 was clearly caused by pilot error, as the plane ran out of fuel while the pilot was distracted by landing gear issues.

Dallas Airlines Flight 191 was a great tragedy, with many deaths. According to the research, "Delta Airlines Flight 191 was a regularly scheduled passenger flight between Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Los Angeles, California, with an en route stop at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, Texas (DFW)" (Federal Aviation Administration, 2013). The entire flight went smoothly until approaching the landing for the pit stop at Dallas. The flight encountered a weather cell, which redirected through the Blue Ridge and put the plane in a rainstorm as it waited till land on the runway. Two planes prior to the flight had gone through the weather with little incident. Yet, when Delta Flight 191 attempted to land, but "the decreasing trend of the headwind reversed itself, and along with the high thrust condition, resulted in a rapid increase in airspeed from 129 to 147 knots" (Federal Aviation Administration, 2013). The pilots decided initially to land, thinking that the weather cell was not as extreme as it actually turned out to be. Unfortunately, "Delta Air Lines Flight 191 went down in prime time. At 6:05 P.M. Aug. 2, 1985, a Friday afternoon, television stations were in the midst of their newscasts when the flight from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., flew into a storm" (Dickson, 2010). Over 80-mile winds forced the plane to the ground. First, however the plane hit a vehicle on one of Texas' major highways, which killed a motorist. In the end, 136 lay dead.

United Airlines Flight 173 was a much different scene. Here the research claims that "on December 28, 1978, United Airlines, Inc., Flight 173, a McDonnell-Douglas DC-8-61 (N8082U), was a scheduled flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, to Portland International Airport, Portland, Oregon, with an en route stop at Denver, Colorado" (Air Disasters, 2013). The nature of the crash was quite different than the Dallas flight. The record shows that at "about 1815 Pacific standard time on December 28, 1978, United Airlines, Inc., Flight 173 crashed into a wooded, populated area of suburban Portland, Oregon, during an approach to the Portland International Airport" (Air Disasters, 2013). Luckily, only 10 people were killed in this crash, compared to the much higher number seen in the Dallas crash.

The Dallas crash unfortunately killed one hundred and 36 people overall. Moreover, the aftermath of the investigation had a huge impact on first responders and investigators. Here the research suggests, "after Flight 191 went down, firefighters, police and many other officials with the airport's in-house public safety department as well as neighboring cities such as Grapevine and Irving spent days recovering bodies and preserving evidence, and then dealing with the psychological effects of what they had seen" (Dickson, 2010). Many of the first responders were unprepared for the carnage they were about to see during the investigation and initial response. Some were injured on the scene, while others were negatively affected by the visual images of the crash and its many victims. Many were so moved that "several first-responders and family members of victims attended the memorial ceremony" at the 25th anniversary in 2010 "where a three-foot granite monument was dedicated" (Dickson, 2010). It was definitely investigation that made an impact on everyone involved.

In Oregon, the human impact was far less severe. Far fewer passengers were killed in the crash. In this accident in Oregon, "the 10 occupants killed in the crash were located between the flight engineer's station in the cockpit and row 5 in the passenger cabin. All of the passengers who were killed had been located on the right side of the cabin" (Air Disasters, 2013). It was this part of the plane that had been initially destroyed. Additionally, first responders were far less impacted as well. There was no fire, which caused less damage and allows first responders to do the job much more effectively. Survivors of the crash with the much easier extracted from the plane, causing first responders to be more successful in saving more lives.

The crash dynamics at Dallas where do clearly to weather phenomenon. According to the research, "within one second, large variation in wind components along all three axes of the aircraft were noted. Indicated airspeed decreased from 140 to 120 knots, the vertical wind reversed from a 40 feet per second downdraft to a 20 feet per second updraft, and a severe lateral gust struck the airplane. This gust resulted in a very rapid roll by the airplane to the right, requiring almost full lateral flight control authority to level the wings" (Federal Aviation Administration, 2013). Ultimately, the plane crashed because it entered into a volatile weather cell. A wind shear threw the plane off balance. This caused the plane to strike "the ground in a left-wing-low attitude, careening toward and striking two water towers on the airport property. The fuselage rotated counter-clockwise after the left wing and cockpit area struck the water tanks. A large explosion obscured the witnesses' view momentarily, and then the tail section emerged from the fireball skidding backwards" (Federal Aviation Administration, 2013). Upon impact, the plane was torn into pieces. The fuselage had separated from the tail, and a massive fire had erected. Unfortunately, "in the final impact, the left wing struck the ground, then the wing and cockpit hit water tanks on airport property, spinning the fuselage counterclockwise" (Dickson, 2010). The pilot had put the plane into full thrust in order to try to get out of the weather so. However this decision actually backfired on them, and increased the intensity of the crash. Unfortunately "most of the plane disintegrated, although the charred tail was preserved. In photos, the tail section became a widely recognized symbol of the crash" (Dickson, 2010). Further investigation definitely determined the weather as the primary phenomenon which brought the plane down.

For United Flight 173, the crash dynamics were much different. Initially, "United Flight 173, a DC-8 approaching Portland, Ore., with 181 passengers, circled near the airport for an hour as the crew tried in vain to sort out a landing gear problem" (Noland, 2012). Due to the concerns of the landing gear issues, the crew did not fully noted the impact the delay was causing on the fuel supply. Thus, the fuel supply diminished rapidly under their noses. Although "gently warned of the rapidly diminishing fuel supply by the flight engineer on board, the captain -- later described by one investigator as 'an arrogant S.O.B.' -- waited too long to begin his final approach. The DC-8 ran out of fuel and crashed in a suburb, killing 10" (Noland, 2012). The captain had failed to notice the rapidly diminishing steel supply. Despite multiple communications between the captain and crew, along with ground forces, the pilot made the ill-fated decision to keep circling in order to try to figure out the landing gear issues. Thus, "contributing to the accident was the failure of the other two flight crewmembers either to fully comprehend the criticality of the fuel state or to successfully communicate their concern to the captain" (Air Disasters, 2013). This critical error caused serious consequences, initially bringing the plane down. Unfortunately, the lack of concern for fuel created the situation that killed 10 people. The research shows that "the plane crashed about 6 mi southeast of the airport. The aircraft was destroyed; there was no fire. Of the 181 passengers and 8 crewmembers aboard, 8 passengers, the flight engineer, and a flight attendant were killed and 21 passengers and 2 crewmembers were injured seriously" (Air Disasters, 2013). There were additional elements that were much different than the Dallas flight. First, this flight crashed in a wooded residential area and not the strip of an airport. This created a situation where there could have been more ground casualties, although luckily there were not. Despite the fact "there were many occupied houses and apartment complexes in the immediate vicinity of the accident, there were no ground casualties and no post crash fire" (Air Disasters, 2013). Thus, the consequences of this flight were far less severe than seen in Dallas.

Because of the close proximity of the crash to the DFW Airport, accessibility was quite for first responders. Included in the organization that responded were the Dallas / Forth Worth Airport Department of Public Safety, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Irving Fire Department, the Irving Police Department, as well as some members of the Dallas Police Department. Safety organizations and first responders were notified immediately after the crash, with some arriving minutes after the plane…[continue]

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