Kathmandu plane crash: Lack of investigative expertise and follow up leaves passengers on a wing and prayer

According to a list released by sleepingairports.net, Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport is among the world's worst airports — but that list was put out not long after the devastating earthquake which battered Nepal.

Kathmandu plane crash: Lack of investigative expertise and follow up leaves passengers on a wing and prayer

The US- Bangladesh plane which crashed in Kathmandu on Monday. AP

The Dash 8  — or Q Series (Q stands for quiet) — medium range twin prop aircraft put into service by Bombardier in 1983 is customarily a safe plane. So it's wrong to second guess the cause of Monday's crash of the plane with 71 on board, including four crew. Over 1,000 such aircraft have been manufactured. In fact, this aircraft is so safe and easy to handle that pilots call it a "boring plane."

The Dhaka-based US-Bangla Airlines has three more such planes as well as four Boeing 737s. The mountain terrain and the wind shear (variation in wind velocity occurring along a direction at right angles to the wind's direction and tending to exert a turning force) make the landing through the mountain range occasionally hazardous.

The problem with such accidents is that after the initial and often insensitive coverage, the interest in the cause is eclipsed and eventually lost. Smaller nations do not have the wherewithal for post crash investigation and certainly not the technical expertise or skilled manpower of tin kickers in organisations like the United States' National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) which literally takes the wreckage and rebuilds the plane. Piece by bloody piece.

If you have ever had the bleak privilege of watching them at work, their painstaking effort is what keeps aviation the safest form of transportation known to man. That is why the accident site has to be cordoned off and not contaminated. If video coverage of the scene where the US-Bangla Airlines plane crashed is anything to go by, that football field has been trampled upon by civilians and rescue teams and there is no sanctity left. Not so much in the sense of robbing the dead — though that is a common feature — but the placement of the wreckage… every little piece of it.

There could be a million pieces and where they lie is vital to following the trail to a ‘controlled flight into terrain’ which is a pretty euphemism for a plane crash.

If you move the pieces, the trail not only goes cold but it also negates the chances of finding out the reasons behind the crash and the possibility of using the solution to avoid such a future incident. Usually, the police and rescue teams obviously try to save lives and are aware of minimum movement of wreckage. Get curious rubber necking civilians onto the pitch and it is a mess.

The NTSB would have put everything together and one can only hope their ‘GO’ team or any other such trained personnel are already on the scene. While they would recreate the plane in a hangar, they'd use the 42 parameters on the flight recorder and the voice recorder (known as orange coloured black boxes) to throw some light on what happened.

As anyone in aviation will tell you, that unless it is a catastrophic incident — such as a missile hit — such accidents are the result of a series of minor but escalating developments that function like dominoes until nothing is left.

The investigators will eliminate wind shear, turbulence, instrument failure, attitude of the aircraft, Air Traffic Control commands, when the aircraft veered off the runway approach, the history of the aircraft and its minimum equipment list status (the list with which it can fly even if these items are non-functional). Pilots also fill in a ‘gripe sheet’ in which they mark down what they feel is wrong with the plane's mechanisms.


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Updated Date: Mar 13, 2018 21:09:53 IST

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