Sunday, July 17, 2005


So last night, after getting home from Ange's at about 12:30 and letting the dog out for a pee, I decided to watch my favourite show Dateline. This particular episode was called "On a Wing & a Prayer". Catchy. It was about a rare occurence in aviation - a plane losing both engines midair over the North Atlantic ocean. Apparently, this is extremely rare since most planes are designed to function if one engine loses power, and no one planned for what should happen if they both do. In fact, this has only happened once before, back in 1983 when an aircraft lost power completely midair, but it was over land and not water. Thus making the Dateline flight - Air Transat Flight 236 - the only flight ever to lose both engines over an ocean. I think I had heard about this flight before, here and there, perhaps on the news. But, little did I know that this flight was of particular interest to me, because it took off from Pearson Int'l Airport in Toronto! Yes, the airport I would use if I were to fly. I've flown from this airport many times. I've flown Air Transat. I had nightmares about plane crashes after watching this. Can you possibly imagine how scary it would be to be over an ocean and basically have no choice but to drop out of the sky? And even worse, that other flight I was talking about that lost power over land? Yes that was also a Canadian flight. An Air Canada plane that lost power over Gimli, Manitoba and ended up making an emergency landing in Gimli. It's now called the Gimli Glider. Great that it managed to land, but still, not good. Anyway, back to flight 236. The flight was about 5 hours in, and only another 90 minutes to Lisbon, Portugal when the in-flight movie suddenly went black. The lights started to flicker in the cabin, and one exceptionally observant Canadian-Portugese woman noticed while looking out the window that the sun should be directly in front of them. But, it was not for some reason, it was to the side of the plane. The stewardess emerges and having no choice but to recite emergency jargon in English, French, and Portugese she becomes pretty stressed out and starts to cry. The passengers are basically thinking they are as good as dead. Suddenly, the passengers notice the eery lack of engine roar outside, and only a whistling of wind cutting through the wings can be heard inside. The captain - French Canadian Robert Piché - had made a decision much earlier when he realized there was a problem to redirect the flight to a tiny island called Lajes Field in the Azores. The island is the island you want to have to land on if there's a problem. The runway, used as a U.S. airbase, is 2 miles long. But it was dark, and the aircraft couldn't report to the traffic controllers properly because of it's apparent lack of any and all power. I still can't believe this plane was coasting. Anyway, once the plane got too low to blip on the radar of the traffic controllers, they believed it had gone in the water and deployed boats to rescue anyone alive, which probably wasn't necessary since you'd never survive that kind of disaster anyway. But they were wrong. The plane hadn't gone into the dark, cold waters of the North Atlantic. It had landed, on the airbase runway, directly over the center line. A perfect landing, despite the plane not being able to slow itself before landing. Robert Piché had saved over 300 lives and shown off what was clearly some excellent pilot training. The second Canadian flight to make history as one of the rarest occurences in aviation has managed to further the rarity by landing, safely, on a tiny island in the dark. Perfectly. I know I'm a nerd but this blows my mind! When all was said and done, it turned out that 4 days earlier when this plane's engines were being changed, mismatched parts were used and the chaffing between the incompatible parts caused the fuel line to rupture. The plane ran out of gas. I thought I had problems when I ran out of gas on the QEW! Anyway, click the photo above to see photos from flight 236 after landing, and many many more air disasters. There's a cool video of an Air India flight attempting to "ditch" - land on water - in the ocean. So scary. Posted by Picasa

3 Comments:

Blogger martin said...

Air accidents are pretty bad, but the scariest things about the recent ones, is how often they're related to bugs in software. I believe it was one of our profs who told us a story of, when questioned, an engineer who worked on software for a plane (Airbus I think) said that he would not fly on it, knowing the state of the code that controls the plane. yikes! I'll be on an airbus in August out to PEI!

10:21 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

That's so not a comforting thing for me to know! Martin, your new job is to make good airplane code, got it? good. ;)

I remember on the plane to France having a panic attack during turbulence. I think my head would spin off my body if I knew I was going down. One woman on flight 236 said she felt total peace when she thought she'd die. NOT ME. I'd be the idiot screaming and crying and getting punched out by someone trying to enjoy their last moments.

5:03 PM  
Blogger martin said...

I'd probably be up front kicking the pilot's asses, and bringing the plane down myself. ;)

6:39 PM  

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