12 episodes

I'm a pilot obsessed with flying and all things aviation. This podcast series covers more than a century of commercial aviation and how its shaped the world. Aviation is now safer than its ever been, but it took one hundred years of learning and often through accidents and incidents to reduce the risk of flying.

Plane Crash Diaries Desmond Latham

    • Science

I'm a pilot obsessed with flying and all things aviation. This podcast series covers more than a century of commercial aviation and how its shaped the world. Aviation is now safer than its ever been, but it took one hundred years of learning and often through accidents and incidents to reduce the risk of flying.

    Episode 12 - The 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak & its effect on the global airline business

    Episode 12 - The 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak & its effect on the global airline business

    We are deviating from our flight plan – last episode I said we would be covering Ukraine Air flight 752 shot out of the air by Iranian missiles killing all 176 on board.
    However, there is now a major crisis that has thrown most aviation companies into chaos and its called the Coronavirus.
    The logic behind this series is to reflect on how crashes improve safety – in this case I will explain how the 2003 SARS virus has led to some improvements in how aviation authorities deal with an epidemic and a pandemic.

    There is now also growing concern about the role of aviation in facilitating the spread of the coronavirus which goes by the name of 2019-nCoV particularly since the World Health Organisation listed it as a global emergency in the last week of January 2020.

    I’ve decided to dedicate this episode to covering this story as it develops, as it is going to cause massive losses for airlines and may even change how we travel.

    By the end of January 43 airlines had cancelled some or all flights into China in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

    The United States State Department issued a warning to citizens not to travel to China, as consumers were already avoiding travel there even when flights were available.

    A study by the University of Florida in January 2020 found that 19 percent of Americans have already changed bookings on travel plans in the next three months because of the virus, and another 52 percent said they are now worried about international travel.

    By February 2020 most of the world’s main airlines have pulled the plug on direct flights to and from China. While the Beijing government desperately tries to cope with an outbreak of a highly infectious disease thought to be linked to one of it’s cities Wildlife market – the rest of the world is preparing for what could make the outbreak of the SARS virus in 2002/3 and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) look like a walk in the park in comparison. There are two main reasons for this analysis.

    First, the coronavirus can remain hidden and yet carriers are infectious for up to two weeks when symptoms develop.

    That means no symptoms of the virus, which include high temperature, bronchial infections and other flu-like symptoms can be observed by airport temperature scanners while passengers are actually infecting other travelers.

    The second and extremely serious phenomenon which makes this different, is that there is now proof of human to human transmission.

    • 17 min
    Episode 11 - Fires on board commercial airliners and the mystery of the SAA Helderberg

    Episode 11 - Fires on board commercial airliners and the mystery of the SAA Helderberg

    This episode covers the terrifying examples of fire on board commercial airliners.
    One of the first was the Imperial Airways Armstrong Argosy II incident in Dixmude Belgium in 1933 where a fire thought to have been started by a passenger attempting to commit suicide caused the plane to crash killing all 15 on board.
    It was the deadliest accident at that point in the history of British civil aviation. It is also thought to be one of the first airliner ever lost due to sabotage.
    When you hear the story, perhaps you’ll agree with the findings at the time during the investigation. Everything centred around one passenger, by the name of Albert Voss, who was seen to jump from the aircraft as it came down over the Belgian countryside.
    Imperial's London–Brussels–Cologne route had been flown since 1928.
    But on the 28th March 1933 the plane was travelling from Brussels to London taking it over the northern Flanders region before crossing the coast for the 50 mile flight across the English Channel.
    It was delayed and eventually took off at 12.30 in the afternoon. While flying over Flanders, onlookers saw flames burst from the fuselage, before the aircraft lost altitude and plunged to the ground. As the Armstrong Argosy biplane slipped from the sky, a passenger was seen falling from the rear – someone had jumped.
    Another example of an accident that was caused by crew actions combined with a design fault was the United Airlines Flight 608 Douglas DC-6 on 24 October 1947. The four engine plane, registration NC37510, was on a scheduled passenger flight from Los Angeles to Chicago when it crashed just before 12.30 in the afternoon southeast of Bryce Canyon Airport, Utah, United States.
    5 crew and 47 passengers died – all on board. It was also the deadliest air crash in the United States aviation history at the time and caused by a fire on board.
    Sometimes lateral thinking by pilots can be fatal if operating procedure is flouted.
    One of these lateral thinkers was the pilot of Swissair Flight SR306, a Sud Aviation SE-210 Caravelle III, which was a scheduled international flight from Zürich to Rome, via Geneva. His decisions which flew in the face of standard operating procedure doomed his passengers and crew unfortunately.
    The Sud-Aviation SE 210 crashed near Dürrenäsch, Aargau, on September 4, 1963, shortly after take-off, killing all 80 people on board.
    Another example of crew error which led to a fire took place near Toronto, Canada, on the 7th May 1970 where an Air Canada McDonnell Douglas DC-8 exploded after leaking fuel ignited – 109 on board died.
    This was an example of pilot error, but also a confused use of spoilers which are designed to slow an aircraft down rapidly. It was the misuse that led directly to a fire and explosions as you’ll hear.
    Had the crew followed the check list this accident would not have happened, as is the case with so many disasters.
    Captain Peter Hamilton and First Officer Donald Rowland had flown together before this terrible incident – but they seemed out of kilter when it came to exactly when to arm the spoilers. The check list indicated the spoilers should have been armed at the beginning of the final approach. Yet hoth agreed they’d arm the spoilers in the middle of the landing flare when the engines were throttled back and the plane was close to the runway.
    The final example in this episode is of South African Airways flight 295 probably one of the more mysterious in-flight fires where the cause has never been identified.
    It is known as the Helderberg disaster in South Africa.

    • 20 min
    Episode 10 - In-Air break ups, the miracle of Juliane Koepcke & the Comet Catastrophe

    Episode 10 - In-Air break ups, the miracle of Juliane Koepcke & the Comet Catastrophe

    In this episode we’ll look at in-air breakups of aeroplanes – caused by poor flying, poor design, or poor maintenance and bad weather. In some cases all four of these together.
    However as with all things aviation, every accident leads to an equal and opposite reaction .. to misquote the great Sir Isaac Newton.
    That reaction luckily for us, is called Aviation safety standards. The terrible truth is that people die and then safety improves.
    So let’s start with the 32 year-old Charles Rolls. He was one half of the great Rolls-Royce engine company but his end was rather unfortunate.
    Probably the most famous of all in-air break ups involved the notorious de Havilland Comet. It took three catastrophic failures all within a year before the airliner was grounded.
    Launched by BOAC in 1952, the Comet was the world’s first jet airliner and was an attractive plane too. Aviation buffs swooned over its swept back look, the modern jet liner was born and it could fly right across the Atlantic without a stop.
    However, it had a serious flaw. The windows and doors.
    One of the most incredible in-air failures ended with almost everyone surviving. In April 1988, part of the fuselage of an Aloha 737 flying from Hilo to Honolulu shredded at 24,000ft.
    A flight attendant was swept overboard – everyone else survived. Imagine sitting in the open air with nothing between them and the ocean except for a safety belt.
    That may be so, but it took a 1991 accident to kick start a proper global culture of aviation safety.
    The mid-air break up of the Continental Express Flight 2574 – an Embraer 120 Brasilia, was a scheduled domestic passenger airline flight operated by Britt Airways from Laredo International Airport in Laredo, Texas, to Houston Intercontinental Airport or IAH in Houston, Texas.
    A break-up of a plane over Peru deserves special mention at this point. As you’ll hear in this series, there are many examples of a single person surviving a plane crash. And this is one of them.

    Today we hear about the extraordinary story of Juliane Koepcke. She was 17 years old and sitting in the window seat next to her mother on board a Lansa Aircraft flight 508 from Lima in Peru to Pucallpa in the middle of the Amazon Rain Forest.
    There’s another I have to mention and it involved something known as Clean Air Turbulence which led to an in-air breakup of a commercial airliner.

    In the case of BOAC flight 911 callsign Speedbird 911, clean air turbulence produced an estimated 7.5Gs that caused the Boeing to disintegrate over Mount Fuji in Japan on 5th March 1966.

    Clean Air turbulence will be covered in a future podcast, but needless to say there’s no warning.

    All 113 passengers and 11 crew perished.

    • 18 min
    Episode 9 - Boeing MAX 8 accidents & the failure of governance

    Episode 9 - Boeing MAX 8 accidents & the failure of governance

    This week it’s the terrible crashes involving the Boeing 737 MAX 8 – one in October 2018 and the other in March 2019.
    In both cases an automated trim called the Movement Characteristics Augmentation System is believed to have been behind the accidents.
    The story is also a shocking failure by the Federal Aviation Authority in managing a crisis, as well as serious questions of governance at Boeing.
    While the accident reports are awaited, there is enough information from both FAA and Boeing itself to cover this as an example of poor design, poor safety management, and poor oversight – particularly when it comes to risk analysis.
    Since the accidents Boeing has announced a slew of changes to its quality control process, including the announcement in September that a new Safety Committee was being created led by Boeing veteran Beth Pasztor. Too little too late for 346 people.
    Boeing has also split the role of CEO and chairman of the Board which is a bit like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted but at least its beginning to take action internally.
    Boeing has built a name around allowing pilots to fly their planes, whereas competitor Airbus designs their planes around full fly-by-wire automation, but back in the mid 2000s something radical happened at the American plane manufacturer.
    This podcast looks at a story that has saddened many in the aviation sector. The oldest aircraft manufacturer is now under pressure legally and ethically.

    • 28 min
    Episode 8 – Japan Airlines JAL Flight 123 & the dangers of shoddy aeroplane maintenance

    Episode 8 – Japan Airlines JAL Flight 123 & the dangers of shoddy aeroplane maintenance

    This episode features an air crash in 1985 is the deadliest single-aircraft plane crash in history where 520 of the 524 passengers and crew died. Remarkably, 4 survived - all women.

    But this is also a story where the number of survivors could have been higher had the Japanese rescuers hit the ground earlier. As you’ll hear, authorities were alerted about the whereabouts of the crashed plane early by American military search and rescue, but then presumed all on board had died and delayed a rescue attempt until the next day.

    Japan Airlines Flight 123 servided an unusual route, although using a Boeing 747SR – which means Short Range.

    It was a domestic Japan Airlines passenger flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Osaka International Airport, Japan. On August 12, 1985.

    During the flight, the Boeing suffered a sudden decompression twelve minutes into the flight and then crashed later into the area near Mount Tagamagahara, around 100 kilometers from Tokyo.

    A faulty repair by Being technicians was blamed and as we’ll see, a number of recommendations were made by the United States Federal Aviation Authority afterwards concerning Boeing’s maintenance and repairs.

    • 19 min
    Episode 7 – The Lovettsville Air Disaster and lightning strikes on planes

    Episode 7 – The Lovettsville Air Disaster and lightning strikes on planes

    Strap in this week, because its all about lightning.

    We’re looking at one crash in particular, the Lovettsville Air Disaster which took place on August 31 1940 near the town of Lovettsville in Virginia, the United States.

    There were 21 passengers and 4 crew on board and all 25 died in the accident, including U.S. Senator Ernest Lundeen from Minnesota.

    As you’ll hear, his death was regarded as extremely sinister because he was under FBI investigation at the time. But we’ll get to that in a while.

    The plane was a brand new Douglas DC-3A operated by Pennsylvania Central Airlines. It was flying through an intense thunderstorm at 6,000 feet en route from Washington to Detroit.

    The journey for the doomed passengers and crew had started in Washington and there was a planned stopover in Pittsburgh but the plane took off late due to thunderstorm activity around Washington.

    Numerous witnesses reported seeing a large flash of lightning shortly before it nosed over and plunged to earth in an alfalfa field. With limited accident investigation tools at the time, it was at first believed that the most likely cause was the plane flying into windshear, but the Civil Aeronautics Board report concluded that the probable cause was a lightning strike.

    "Trip 19", as it was designated, was under the command of Captain Lowell V. Scroggins with First Officer J. Paul Moore. The pilot and copilot had over eleven thousand and six thousand hours experience respectively, although only a few hundred of those hours were on DC-3s.

    A new airline employee was flying in the third seat between the two pilots called the jump seat. He’d only just been hired on August 26th.

    • 16 min

Customer Reviews

Tahirafaye ,

Interesting, informative and generally brilliant

Absolutely brilliant podcast. It’s informative and interesting and he manages to explain everything thoroughly, without ever sounding patronising or making it too complicated.

The sound quality is great and the format works really well. This is clearly a very well researched podcast by someone who is both dedicated and knowledgeable.

Tattycakes ,

A decent podcast I think?

I found the latest episode of this podcast to be okay, the narration is clear and easy to follow, personally I prefer a slightly slower pace if speech. This podcast didn’t go into as anywhere near as much detail as other podcasts that I’ve listened to for the same incident. However it’s also half the length of those so if you want a shorter listen that isn’t like a detailed aviation physics lesson then it’s a good choice. I haven’t been able to listen to any of the other episodes as they just don’t load on my iPhone.

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