Air travel enjoys being means of transportation that is the fastest and is preferred over other means of transportation especially over long distances. Just as any other means of transportation, air transport has setbacks. There are chances that an aircraft may stop functioning while on flight, in which case it results in an accident. It is, therefore, necessary that caution should be taken by operators and even passengers while driving in an airplane just like in any other means of transportation. Precaution measures like checking the condition of the airplane before the flight should be observed to prevent any incidence of emergency or accident. Aircraft accident can be the most fatal and, thus, the necessary due care should be taken. This paper seeks to analyze the aircraft accident using a case study of the Air Canada Flight 797 accident report as per the National Transportation Safety Board (United States Government, 1983).
History Flight and Background
McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32 set off in 1983. This was an aircraft that used to serve both Canada and international arena. Since its acquisition, the aircraft had never had any main hitches. The plane set off with a total of five crewmembers on board. The total number of passengers who were in this aircraft was forty one. There were no main hitches at the initial stages of the travel except for that the aircraft had taken a deviation due to aspects of unfavorable weather. There were circuit breakers at the cockpit that served the motor flush in the lavatory. Three circuit breakers tripped off. Attendants tried to reset them but with no success. It was a requirement from the regulatory and safety authority on air travel in Canada that the circuit breakers should be given three minutes before attempting any installation. The attendant thought that the circuit will reset. After some time the attendant unsuccessfully attempted to reset circuit breakers. The aircraft had to continue the journey, since this was never a main hitch.
After some time, one of the passengers identified a strange odor and informed one of the attendants. The attendant confirmed allegations by the passenger and confirmed fears. There was indeed the presence of smoke in the lavatory that seemed to be coming from the ceiling of the aircraft. The attendant went to inform the pilot as the other attendants assisted in moving passengers to the front. The moving of passengers to the front was a precautionary measure taken by attendants in an attempt to try and contain the situation.
After the pilot was informed of the situation, he directed one of the officers to go and check the situation at the back. The officer did not put on goggles or carry with him portable oxygen, since there was any in the plane. It was neither a requirement nor a regulation from the air transport authority that aircraft would be installed with such devices. The officer went to check on the cause of smoke in the lavatory, but he never made it to the back, since the presence of the smoke had intensified and could not successfully trace the way to the lavatory. The situation started to normalize and attendants signaled to the pilot that everything was in order and the intensity of the smoke is reducing. There was no need to worry since passengers had been moved forward and were saved. The fire was believed to come from the lavatory and, thus, the captain never worried, since he was sure the fire will be put off (United States Government, 1983).
In the mean time, another attendant went back to check on the situation at the lavatory but on getting there he could not access the place. The door seemed hot to touch and it was, thus, inaccessible. He signaled to the captain that the situation has worsened and pilots need to land. With this information, the pilot was now sure the situation calls for an emergency landing and that the fire could not be put off.
The aircraft suffered a series of electrical problems associated with the malfunctioning of the a.c and the d.c power supply. At this time, the captain was in touch with the Indianapolis Control Centre. He communicated to the control centre on the need for an emergency landing sand the control centre was to provide guidance on the landing point. A series of hitches occurred since the airplane power had failed and, thus, the captain could at times lose communication with the centre. Through a series of communication and directions, the airplane landed in Cincinnati. After the crew and some eighteen passengers alighted the plane it exploded into fire causing twenty three deaths and two injuries. This was one of the most fatal aircraft accidents at the time. Although, the fire personnel at Cincinnati were quite armed to fight the fire they never managed to cure the situation.
Investigations and Findings
According to the aircraft safety and regulations set by the air transport body, a survey done on the credibility of the plane attendants showed that they were all qualified. Thus, it was believed in the execution of their duties they took due to care and diligence, according to the level of reasonableness required of them. The airplane had been in use since its acquisition and was duly certified. Operators of the plane were all medically fit and, thus, there was no allegation that could be leveled against them regarding the unfitness to undertake the flight control. This is a general analysis, but we also need to analyze other specific areas regarding the flight and the occurring of the accident in line with activities’ precedent the happening of the accident (Government of Canada, 2001).
The cause of the fire in the aircraft was not identified. However, the safety board had certain speculations of possible elements that could have caused the fire outbreak. The fire as identified by the board could have either been caused by the flush motor in the toilet, a burning cigarette, ignition or the presence of an explosive device in the airplane. No signs indicated the presence of cigarette in the airplane. Regarding the flush motor, no traceable event was identified to suffice the evidence of a possible failure by the flush motor. According to interrogations that were made, it was identified that a passenger had used the toilet forty five minutes before detection of smoke and there was no problem at all pertaining to the flush. This could have neither been caused by overheating of the flash; since as per the investigators, motors had not been damaged internally. Regardless of the cause of the fire, the reality remained that the fire had indeed occurred causing damages. The incidence of fire was identified when the plane was in flight and it only landed when the effect of the same intensified. When the plane landed, doors were opened. This resulted to an entry of air into the plane, and with the fact burning inside had not stopped, the burning intensified causing the explosion. There were no decent measures that had been taken in curbing the fire. The structure in the lower seat that were capable of never got burnt while those above truly got burnt. The conclusion of the safety board was that there was an occurrence of the flash fire. Efforts of the fire fighters to take the necessary caution were constrained by the lack of information. Efforts by fire fighters to get information regarding passengers and fuel content on board bore no fruits. Their preparations to contain the fire were not as adequate as it would have been had; they had all the information they required (Flight Simulation System, 1983).
When the risk was noted while the plane was in the air, various measures had been taken to contain the situation. A lot of hitches occurred while the plane was in the air. The tripping off of the circuit breakers at the cockpit raised concerns to operators who resettled to resetting them. The first attempt to reset circuit breakers by attendants never bore fruit. The attendant, at first, never bothered a lot, since he thought it will be back to normal after some time. He thought the problem could have been a result of overheating and they will cool back after some time. After some passage of time, the attended unsuccessfully went back to reset the circuit breakers. All these attempts were operations to make sure that the plane was in a decent condition, thus, ensuring safety of passengers. The captain had earlier taken a deviation in an attempt to avoid rainy weather. Other safety precautions were taken. Up on confirming the smoke that was coming from the lavatory, attendants took measures to move people to the front to avoid suffocation. The captain, on the other hand, directed the first officer to go and check the situation and try to fix the same but to no success. When the condition became worse, the attendant informed the pilot that the situation was no longer tolerable and he required taking an emergency landing. The pilot got in touch with the control centre where they engaged each other in an attempt to control the situation (United States Government, 1983).
In their conversation, the pilot informed the centre that the aircraft was at the risk of fire and they, therefore, required an emergency landing. The control centre was able to secure a landing point and directed the pilot to take landing at Cincinnati. The fire fighters at Cincinnati were informed about the situation and they eagerly waited for the plane well-armed in order to try and save the situation. The firemen, however, never made to contain the situation, since the plane exploded as soon as some of passengers and all crewmembers alighted. All these were a series of events that took place with the objective of securing the endangered life of passengers. Regulations on air travel had failed to put in place various measures critical to saving of people’s lives. There were never measures that were put in place to ensure that all aircrafts are fitted with portable oxygen and other precautionary measures taken to contain such a situation (Flight Safety Foundation, 1983).
Despite these measures taken by the cabin crew to contain the situation, they never took the necessary caution. There was no need for the crew to cause an immediate alarm when the circuit breaker tripped off since this could be attributed to overheating and needed some time to cool. Crewmembers in Canada are taught that when a circuit breaker trips off, it should be given three minutes before any attempt to reset it. On the other hand, when the attendant claimed that the fire could not have been from the trash, he did not bother to inspect the trash container. When the attendant was unable to access the lavatory because of smoke that was coming from within, he never bothered to use the fire axe. All these measures show that, although crew members attempted to save the situation, they never took full caution and required guidelines in attending to the situation (Flight Safety Foundation, 1983).
This situation is survivable, even though it was unfortunate that some deaths occurred. These deaths, to some extent, could be blamed on the negligence of crewmembers to observe certain guidelines required of them in such situations (Flight Simulation System, 1983). This is because crewmembers were supposed to take necessary precautions before they opened the door of the plane. Even if the power had gone out, it was prudent of them to use megaphone to announce to passengers to move out immediately once the door was open. Interviews by survivors revealed that some used wet towels to cover their noses when breathing that acted as a sieve. Although, this is not a requirement from the company, it was reasonable for the plane attendants to instruct passengers to follow the same procedures to avoid inhaling the air saturated with smoke. Towels served to filter particles from the smoke. Procedures in Air Canada impose requirements on flight attendants to ensure necessary actions are taken to evacuate everyone in such situations. However, they should not do this at the expense of their lives.
The above case is one of the most fatal aircraft accidents that occurred at the time. All parties to the flight had taken necessary precautions to avert the situation, although credibility of some of precautions taken was questionable. Passengers took the necessary step in informing attendants on the unusual odor that was coming from the lavatory. Some passengers used wet towels to aid them in breathing when the situation worsened. This was a prudent action taken by them given that no precaution measure was announced by attendants. The crewmembers, on the other hand, took all the necessary precautions in an attempt to try and avert the situation. Actions they took, although some never followed guidelines regarding the training they were given, depicted responsibility towards people’s lives. There were various actions taken by crewmembers in an attempt to curb anything unusual that may happen. The captain ensured that he got in touch with the coordination centre at the airport in an attempt to seek the safe landing.
The airplane was in a decent condition before its flight. It had been serving the people of Canada in both domestic and international travel. The flight that resulted in the fatal accident was one of the flights undertaken by the plane. Operators of the plane were extremely well qualified. All attendants were in a decent health condition and, therefore, fit to undertake the travel. Procedures required for a plane to take off were followed. Attendants in the plane had done everything that was prudent of them. The communication between attendants and the captain enabled them to address any hitch that occurred. It is this communication that helped the captain to address the situation in collaboration with the coordination centre in the airport. There are events that occurred and which in a way implied that crewmembers never applied the guideline that were given in training. When they were setting the circuit breaker, for instance, they failed to observe guidelines required of them. The circuit breaker is supposed to be given three minutes before any resetting is done. However, the crewmember hurried to reset the circuit breaker immediately it went off (Flight Simulation System, 1983).
There was a decent coordination between the captain and the coordination centre in the airport. This is what enabled the plane to land safely, although it exploded some minutes after landing. The fire department in the airport failed to execute their duties properly, due to problems in communication. They were not in a position to get the full information on the condition of the airplane at the moment. The captain could not give the centre full information due to the emergency of the situation. This case depicts various precautionary measures that should be taken in case of an emergency in an airplane. It is indicated that the crew should ensure that every passenger is evacuated from the airplane in case of emergency. In this case, the crew was supposed to ensure that all passengers were evacuated. The explosion of the airplane saw twenty three passengers lost their lives. However, in line with this guideline, the crew should not act in a manner to risk their lives. The aircraft crewmembers are supposed to observe all these guidelines in pursuit of ensuring safety for themselves and that of passengers (Canada, 2012).
Other precautionary measures should be taken to ensure safety. It is not necessary that these measures should be taught in training, but any measure that is employed should be in the reasonable sense of saving lives. The use of wet towels by some passengers was a reasonable measure that was undertaken in pursuit of saving their lives. This case study keenly describes precautionary measures that should be undertaken in case of an aircraft accident. According to investigations made by a safety board held, Indianapolis centre controllers facilitated in causing the faulty handoff of the 797 flight. Controllers never applied the necessary precautionary measures to handle an emergency situation. The failure to inform Cincinnati controller that the aircraft directed to them had a transponder that was inoperative might have contributed to fatality.
Conclusion and Recommendation
There are several events that emerged from this flight accident. The use of wet towels by passengers resulted in saving of lives. Passengers who aided in the distribution of wet towels did a credible and recommendable job. Attendants would also have advised passengers to make use of the wet towels to sieve smoke particles when breathing. The immediate action by the crewmember to reset the circuit breaker may have resulted in the total failure of breakers. The flight accident was contributed by several factors. Various actions by crewmembers and their lack of following the necessary guidelines taught during their training may have played a significant role in causing the accident. The presence of faulty hand off to the Cincinnati controller contributed a lot to the fatality. The Cincinnati controller was never aware of the non-responsive transponder. The failure of the power supply in the a.c and d.c supply led to the failure of addressing that would have been used to communicate with passengers to jerk out immediately when the plane lands off. In conjunction to this, the airplane attendant failed to use the necessary effort to make use of the megaphone to communicate the same information.
Certain recommendations will be made from this experience. Recommendations revolve around necessary measures that should be taken in order to contain chances of aircraft accidents. To begin with, all airplanes should be fitted with oxygen bottles so that in case of situations when the supply of oxygen is limited, passengers can make use of oxygen bottles for breathing purposes. Aircrafts should also be fitted with goggles. The 797 McDonnell lacked this and the officer could not make it to the lavatory to check the situation. The communication among various airport controllers should be improved to allow effective inter-airport controllers. This will effectively improve the security concerns of aircrafts while on air. The faulty handoff to the Cincinnati controller was as a result of poor communication. Safety during travel is one of the most crucial factors to be considered. Airplanes are today’s means of transportation, since people always interconnect with each other in the international arena. People engage each other in different activities both within borders and across borders. In this sense then, air transport safety should be considered a crucial aspect. (Flight Safety Foundation, 1983)