Catering, A Russian Sharm El-Sheikh Catastrophe & MH17

Have you ever sat in seat 33 A/B/C on a commercial airline flight?  Or D/E/F?  As far as I’m concerned, those are the best aviation seats on most local airlines.  If they allow you there in the first place.  Yes its close to the toilets at the back.  No, you can’t book these online or using the self-check at the airport.  Yes sometimes Kulula or SAA don’t open the back to allow you off first which means waiting until the slow moving pax drag their bodies out through the front door.  At times the noise increases as the crew work on preparing meals with a crash or slam of one of the metal boxes.  But I’ve found despite all of the above,  they’re the best seats, particularly the window.  And if you’re going to survive an accident, its more likely that you’re going to be sitting in the back rather than Business Class.

The trajectory of the accident with the bottom yellow stars indicating the position of the tail section.
The trajectory of the accident with the bottom yellow stars indicating the position of the tail section.

That may change with the latest revelations from the Russian airliner that went down over the Sinai with 224 people on board.  It’s known that the rear of the plane separated from the fuselage – that wreckage was found a few kilometres away from the main body at the weekend.  Now its being reported that Egyptian investigators are probing the company that provided on-board meals.   The food is stored just forward of the main rear bulkhead – and the main rear bulkhead sheared.

TASS reports that “A driver and employees who brought meals for the passengers of flight 9268 in the morning on October 31 are being interrogated.”  We all know that TASS has turned back into one of Moscow’s favourite propaganda engines,  but that doesn’t mean the Egyptians aren’t actually investigating this angle.

Initially a whole bunch of speculation broke out. That it was pilot error.  That one of the pitot tubes was iced and the plane speed dropped.  Or that the plane broke up when the bulkhead collapsed due to poor maintenance or a fix from a tail strike a decade ago.  The Cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are being scrutinised at this time.

Meanwhile, the British and Irish have cancelled all flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh.   Cairo is muttering about how this is unfair,  but they would because the military junta that now rules Egypt is set to lose more cash as tourists flee their country.   A third of Egypt’s GDP is based on tourism.

And this from the British Cabinet Office Briefing Room is most telling:

“While the investigation is still ongoing we cannot say categorically why the Russian jet crashed. But as more information has come to light we have become concerned that the plane may well have been brought down by an explosive device.”

May well?  That’s diplomat speak for its the probably cause.

The Daily Express in the UK reports that :

“.. cockpit recordings from the Russian jet emerged last night, with Russian reports suggested “uncharacteristic noises” had been recorded, although the pilots had failed to issue a mayday call.”

Well when you’re trying to save your life, you tend to communicate last.  Aviate Navigate Communicate is our mantra for a reason.  As pilots we’ve all been in intense situations and the last thing you do is start yapping away to ATC when you’re trying to live.  You’re hanging onto the controls and talking without using the push-to-talk, in other words,  through the on-board intercom.

And Daesh or the so-called Islamic State claimed it was responsible for bringing down the plane.  But their propaganda video showed radicals allegedly using some kind of missile which is highly improbable.  It’s more likely that they just jumped on the bandwagon.

US radar shows a flash at the point at which the plane began breaking apart which could be from fuel exploding, but also could be from a small device on board which blew up, shearing off the tail and leading to the catastrophe.  It’s too early to tell.  One thing is for sure.  Could it be that the Russians would rather see the real facts emerge from an airliner that crashed?  Unlike their prevarication over the MH17 disaster where the Eastern Ukrainian rebels appear to have mis-identified a Malaysian commercial airliner as a Ukrainian bomber and shot it down.   There Moscow has bent over backwards defending the actions of its Eastern Ukrainian allies.

It’s one of life’s cruel ironies.  In my last blog I indicated that if I was a Russian Intelligence officer,  I would be very concerned about my citizens and my officials after the recent revelations about MH17 and the Ukrainian rebels.  Then if I had relatives who went down on board MH17 and was feeling motivated by revenge,  the target of my hatred would probably be either Russian,  or Eastern Ukrainian.   Or both.

Did a Malaysian or someone else get even with the Russians by bringing down the Airliner over the Sinai? Security at Sharm El-Sheikh is notoriously lax.  Particularly apron security.

Please, what a conspiracy theory!

Stupid even to suggest, no?





ZS-CLT King Air 90 down at Lanseria

It was pouring on Monday morning 3rd February.  As I drove to Lanseria to drop off two colleagues we noticed that parts of the road were being washed away in large chunks.  It’s not often that bits of tar drift past your vehicle as you wait in rush hour traffic.  I had initially wanted the driver to do this job but then thought why not head  out to Lanseria just after dawn and go do some work in the Flight Sim or spend two hours studying – or something?

But this is not a happy nor ditzy story – it ends in death.  While we made our way slowly to the airport at 7.20am emergency vehicles desperately wound their way through the bits of tar, the raging stream and at the corner of River and Malibongwe road, taxi drivers who’d decided to shut down the highway.   Who knows if that ultimately cost anyone inside ZS-CLT?

For as we turned into the airport road, I noticed that emergency  vehicles were halted on Alpha taxiway close to Execujet’s hangar.  Oh no, not an incident.  Then my phone rang and my wife asked if I was aware of the accident at Lanseria.

It’s always a shock to see parts of a plane lying so close to major airport.  And the day! The sodden clouds were hanging close to minimas.  The roads were awash and immediately thoughts were – was this an aquaplaning incident?

Some of the heaviest rain in months fell in a few hours in Johannesburg on the early morning of 3rd February.
Some of the heaviest rain in months fell in a few hours in Johannesburg on the early morning of 3rd February.

That’s called jumping to conclusions.  I dropped off my colleagues then drove to a small slip road which is alongside Runway 07 and walked the kilometer along the perimeter fence to where I saw the wreckage of ZS-CLT.

At this point,  let’s get a few things straight.  My day job is a business tv news editor and I know a few of the King Air operators at Lanseria.  While it was raining and cool, I was sweating before beginning the long walk in the mud alongside the fence.  What had led to this catastrophe for the crew of ZS-CLT?   Was it someone I knew?  What the hell!!

It’s not the first time I’d seen a plane down alongside Lanseria.  There has been an incident or two and that’s the same for most busy airports world wide.  Undercarriages give way, wind shear causes tips, tail-draggers spin, bits of aircraft dislodge and land on the runway, and at times at Lanseria, foxes sprint across the threshold.

The foxes don’t happen anymore as far as I’m aware, not since the double layer FAA approved fence. But people still land oddly with a bounce and sometimes depart the runway  and that’s an incident.   But this was a catastrophe for the crew and their families.

The smell of fuel hung heavy  as I approved the remains.  I stood at the fence a few metres away and it was obvious that the aircraft had burst into flames upon crashing.  Three people had died – reportedly two crew and a passenger.  ZS-CLT had apparently taken off from Rand airport not far away to the south, and was landing in the middle of a heavy Gauteng downpour.

Accident 3rd February 2014. So sorry for the crew and their loved ones.
Accident 3rd February 2014. So sorry for the crew and their loved ones.

I’m a beginner pilot.  Just wet behind the wings.  So I said a small prayer while the rain splashed down on the burnt out remains and made no judgement.  Then the police hunkered down on the hill above yelled at me to leave the scene or I’d be arrested.  I stumbled back to the road in a kind of shock, such a large turbo-prop plane had turned so quickly into a mangled tiny pile of bent aluminium.

What of the aviators?  What happened?  Why did the plane appear to strike the north of the embankment?  Yet they had been travelling from the south and the let down and break-cloud involves using the beacon to the west.  Had they been sent to HBV to hold?  That was to the north.  Just so many questions and because I fly from Lanseria and am aware of the dangers – was looking for answers.

It slid down the embankment from the right and stopped facing up the steep incline.
It slid down the embankment from the right and stopped facing up the steep incline.

Flying is not a game we play to show just how clever we are.  It’s nothing but an extremely dangerous mix of machine, human and the environment.  There is just so much chaos going on in the combination of human and environment.  And occasionally, its the machine.

For a short clip of the slope and impact zone