Friday, March 27, 2009

Thar She Blows

Mt Redoubt ash cloud seen in the geostationary MTSAT data, courtesy of the National Weather Service. Picture Date: March 26, 2009 17:30:00. Image Creator: Jonathan Dehn. Image courtesy of the National Weather Service.

Caution: the following is self-referential twaddle.

Went to bed about 11:30 Sunday evening, less than 10 hours after the post below. Not 45 minutes later, the phone rang. My wife answered it. Understandably befuddled, "that was pilot scheduling, but I accidentally hung up on them".

Then it was my turn to be fuddled for the thirty or so seconds until the phone rang again.

"The volcano erupted. How soon can you get to the airport?"

Quick shower and shave. Throw stuff at my suitcase, and head out the door going who knows where until who knows when.

There were three airplanes still on the ramp. We all went to Oakland.

Between the crash and the volcano, everything was up in the air, so to speak. By Monday evening, I was all set to leave my hotel room at eight to fly I can't remember where, when another revision came down for a four am takeoff to Narita.

Great.

All things considered, I'd just as soon the Captain take that leg, but he gave it to me. I guess he decided he'd rather take a look at the wreck, while I took a look at getting the airplane on the ground.

I did catch a glimpse out the corner of my eye as we went by. A black slash that went off the left side of the runway a third of the way down. Not much recognizable, except for the front of the plane upside down.

At the risk of being melodramatic, there was a time when I was more or less used to this sort of thing. The F-111 was a dangerous airplane. It was kind of like being a race car driver. Very exciting, but a good way to get killed. Fourteen guys I knew bought the farm that way. Kind of hard to explain to women or other sane people, but we just took that as a stuff happens kind of thing. Not callous, exactly, but it was definitely a mindset that puts lie to any assertion that there is nothing to tell between men and women save curves.

This one was different. Partly because of getting to watch it on TV; mostly because I'm 53, not 33.

Seeing it on TV also made an impression because, being something of an expert by now, I could, to a fairly high degree of confidence, know what happened. For whatever reason, the pilot shifted his aimpoint towards the airplane as he got close to the ground, which caused a high sink rate he couldn't arrest before hitting the pavement hard. When he bounced, he should have gone around (i.e., full throttle and think about what went wrong en route to a redo). However, he tried to save it, and put the plane into a pilot-induced-oscillation, which caused the airplane to hit nose gear first, really hard. When the mains hit the pavement, the force on the left side was sufficient to break the wing at the root, and the resulting lift imbalance flipped the airplane over on its back.

NB: other than the crash video, I have absolutely nothing to go on, so keep in mind this is pure speculation.

Anyway, the point behind this whole litany is getting forcefully reminded how much doing this sort of thing relies upon self-confidence bordering on arrogance. Crappy weather, bad winds, slick runway, whatever: bring it on. I'm pretty sure I know how this mishap report is going to read, and I'm pretty sure it will point to pilot error that I wouldn't make.

I'm pretty sure.

Spent a day in Narita, then took Japan Airlines yesterday to where I am now: Hong Kong. The hotel is nearly full, so they put me in an executive suite, which means I get to raid the lounge while I write this, with a front row view of the harbor.

Tonight is an all-nighter back to Seattle instead of Anchorage, because the volcano had temper control issues again this morning. Saturday, unless Mt Redoubt has something to say about it, I will get home for nearly the first time this month.

All in all, I could do with less interesting.

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