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tv   Why Planes Crash  MSNBC  May 15, 2016 6:00pm-7:01pm PDT

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zero visibility in bad weather. cockpit confusion. total destruction. lost in a whiteout, a jet plows into a huge volcano and explodes. >> when we came around the side of the mountain, i was shocked. >> trees tear apart a plane's hull on a towering ridge. >> i kept on saying, just straighten it out. just straighten it out. >> the world's most computerized jet disintegrates as it slams into the side of a snowy mountain. >> i thought to myself, you have to find a way out of the plane. >> planes flying at high speed,
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dangerously off course. >> it was just the loudest, scariest sound. >> dramatic animation puts you up close and inside troubled planes the moment they crash back to earth. when a plane in normal flight is flown below a safe altitude and slams into the ground, it's a deadly type of accident known as controlled flight into terrain. automation and training have cut fatalities in half since 2010. but technology hasn't eliminated the problem. >> so what you see is the appropriate use of automation
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and the training and execution of the appropriate use. that's the key element. pilots have to maintain their manual handling skills. but they also have to maintain the ability to properly manage and use automation. >> before advances in technology, flying in dark skies and bad weather was even more complicated. november 28, 1979. air new zealand flight 901 has just taken off from auckland airport. the dc-10 gracefully spreads its giant wings out over the south pacific. for the third year in a row, air new zealand is offering popular sightseeing flights to one of the most remote and fascinating places on the planet,
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antarctica. >> air new zealand promoted it to be a special event to see the bottom of the world. they were selling an experience. >> but just minutes from their final destination, a terrifying explosion shatters the silence. it's so loud it seems one of ant arcty can a's largest volcanos is coming to life. it's summer in new zealand. the captain is proud to have drawn a plum assignment. >> it was a privilege to get those flights. he was thrilled to be getting the last one, which was the 28th of november. >> this is captain collins and first officer greg cassin's first flight to antarctica. 19 days before takeoff, they are briefed on co-order naninates t take passengers over a sound. >> they were careful to device a complex but easily flown route
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that gave the passengers the maximum view. and they let down over water, then they would turn and come back so they could -- you could see the different mountains and so forth. >> a house builder, seen here on board the flight, is one of 237 passengers. he has been looking forward to it for a year. >> there was lobster and champagne and caviar. they would have had a wonderful time. he wanted to see what antarctica was like. >> on a typical flight, passengers get a once in a lifetime view of natural wonders like stunning 12,450 foot mount arabis. an active volcano named after the gateway to the under world. th their personal tour guide none
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other than antarctic explorer peter mulgrew. >> everybody up here is saying this is just like a great new world. i'm sure it is for all of you back there. >> because air new zealand's dc-10s never touch down during the eight-hour flight, pressure is on the pilots to only descend as low as safely possible. >> he was trying to show his passengers something for what they paid for. after all, this was official sightseeing flight. >> there's an expectation that when you get on that airplane, i expect that we're going to fly down and i will see the penguins and i will see terrain and i will really get to be a tourist and sight see. >> antarcti asharctica is as das beautiful. this deputy police officer is stationed at scott base at the foot of mount arabis. >> i had to keep a radio log of
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all the field parties that were out and what they were doing just for safety sake. >> 40 minutes from their frozen destination, passengers on flight 901 are standing at the windows eager for their first glimpse of the endless expansion of ice. captain collins radios to find out about local weather conditions on ross island. and learns there's a huge problem. >> that particular day, the mountain was completely whited out. >> robinson cautions captain collins about low cloud cover that descends to 2,000 feet. >> it was very keen to let him know he shouldn't come near ross island. >> robinson recommends making a short detour west over the mainland where the weather is much better.
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that's where keith woodford is stationed for the day. >> i was over in the dry valley about 150 kilometers away. we were in brilliantly fine weather. >> captain collins ignores the advice and just after noon he begins his dissent. air traffic control confirms a low overcast and reports of light snow. but below the clouds, visibility is about 40 miles. collins announces to passengers he is hopeful he can descend low enough to give them a good view of ross island. he spots a hole in the cloud cover and is cleared by air traffic control for a visual dissent. the four man crew is having trouble spotting landmarks through the clouds as peter mulgrew walks up to the cockpit. >> peter was asked why aren't
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you commentating. it's hard to say anything when you can't see anything. they are having problems making contact with air traffic control. sure of his safe position, captain collins continues his dissent. then the captain's confidence is shattered. collins tells his crew that conditions, quote, don't look good at all and that he will have to climb out of it. ominously, a minute later, all transmission from flight 901 stops. >> then i started calling the field parties that were still on listening to watch to see if heard thinking of the aircraft. it was negative. no one heard anything.
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>> it's late afternoon when the missing jet makes international headlines. coming up, the mystery of what happened to air new zealand flight 901. >> when we came around the side of the mountain and saw the total devastation, i was shocked. it did not look like a plane. ♪ [engine revs] ♪ ♪ [engine revving] the all-new audi a4 is here. type 2 diabetes doesn't care who you are.
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it's just before 1:00 p.m. on november 28, 1979. air new zealand flight 901 is about to give passengers, like frank christmas, seen here on board, an up close view of one of the most remote and forbidding places on earth, antarctica. >> ladies and gentlemen, the
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aircraft now is just over 10,000 feet. >> i think he was excited to think he was the commentator on board that would tell them all about the island and everything else. >> today, the weather isn't cooperating. majestic mount arabis is in clouds. the pilot asks air traffic control whether it's possible to begin his descent. >> they got instruction at jim's request to circle lower and be able to show the passengers something of the area. >> 237 passengers are straining to get a look of landmarks that they should be seeing any minute. when suddenly, the ground proximity warning system blairb out in the cockpit. the flight engineers starts to
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read off their altitude. 500 feet, 400 feet. the captain realizes something is terribly wrong. and calls for maximum thrust. the jet's note tilts up ten degrees and they start to climb. as they pull up, the dc-10's underbelly and wing engines gouge into the icy slope of mount arabis at 300 miles an hour. 70 tons of jet fuel ignite the cabin. the tail engine breaks off and roars up the slope along with a horrifying trail of burning wreckage. ted robinson radios the crew. he is met with silence. >> we kept calling 901.
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no one heard anything. >> there is still hope for finding survivors at 7:00 p.m. when air new zealand flight ops calls maria and asks if she's alone. >> he said, i don't want to alarm you but jim's flight is late. we haven't heard from him for a while. i suggest you get somebody to be with you. >> the weather is so bad, it's 12 hours before rescuers finally spot the crash site. from the air, it looks like a smudge in the snow. >> when we came around the side of the mountain and saw the total devastation, i was shocked. it just did not look like a plane. >> due to the speed and force of the crash, they determined all 257 people on board died instantly.
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keith woodford has his own ideas about how this could have been avoided. >> if they had acted ten seconds earlier, there's a chance the plane would have been able to climb out of it. so close. >> why was the plane flying so close to the volcano? it turns out the pilot and crew weren't where they thought they were. est investigators discover on the morning of november 28, air new zealand flight ops changed 901's final flight co-ordinate. instead of flying their usual route, the jet's route was shifted 26 miles to the east and directly into mount arabis. >> the co-ordinates shift men the airplane was over a place the pilots didn't understand.
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clearly, the pilots couldn't see the mountains or they would have flown around it. >> in june 1980, the office of air accidents releases its findings known as the chippendale report. it cites pilot error for flying at low level in an area of poor visibility when the crew was uncertain of their position. in april 1981, a parliamentary investigation known as the man report absolves pilots from any blame. instead, peter man faults incompetent airline procedures which change flight co-ordinates without warning. in a subsequent appeal by air new zealand, the new zealand court of appeals faults man for overstepping his authority but does not overturn his findings. the people of new zealand have never gotten a clear answer to questions about exactly who is
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to blame for flight 901. >> everybody has opinions. but a lot of the evidence just has never been considered. >> one thing both reports agree on, weather was a key factor. >> the record shows that they had thought they could get into clear air below the cloud at about 2,000 feet. >> a weather condition called sector whiteout made the flanks of mount arabis seem to disappear. the illusion caused the approach to look identical to the approach they believed they were flying. >> they were seeing what they expected to see. a cloud base above them, a bay or whatever in the front. mountains to either side of them. exactly what they expected to see. >> the whiteout conditions are very, very, very real.
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to be able to tell what's ice and what's overcast skies, the color is the same. you cannot really differentiate it. >> ted robinson has never been able to make peace with the fact that the crew didn't heed his advice to detour over the mainland where the weather was clear. and that he never had his say in front of office of air accidents investigators. >> i maintain that i should have been called to the inquiry. >> maria collins says she never asked for sympathy. >> i miss him! still. >> feels her husband's reputation has been unfairly tarnished despite the man report clearing him of responsibility. >> why would he ever in that situation jeopardize anybody's life, let alone your own? >> for passenger frank christmas' daughter, the
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emotional scars run deep. >> i hated the word mount arabis. i just did not even want to know about it. but when i got there and saw it, it's the most beautiful place on earth. i am consoled 100% that dad's final resting place is in such a beautiful place. >> coming up, american airlines flight 965 explodes into a mountainside in the dead of night. >> it was just the loudest, scariest sound i heard. i have asthma... ...one of many pieces in my life. so when my asthma symptoms kept coming back on my long-term control medicine. i talked to my doctor and found a missing piece in my asthma treatment with breo. once-daily breo prevents asthma symptoms. breo is for adults with asthma not well controlled
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a boeing 757 about to land descends over 1,000 feet a minute through a dark and narrow mountain valley. when things in the cockpit start to unravel. >> the crew got so distracted in trying to program the approach
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in, they lost track of not only their altitude but actually their flight path to the airport. >> an alarm in the cockpit warns the plane is closer to the ground than the crew apparently thinks they are. >> pull up. pull up. >> the pilot applies maximum thrust and desperately tries to pull the plane up. passengers can feel the dramatic shift in speed and direction. >> when that nose of that plane pulled up and we started flying up straight into the sky, i closed my eyes. >> but it's too late. the jet slams into the side of a mountain. >> i could actually feel the sound. >> at miami international airport, american airlines flight 965 takes off an hour
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after sunset and is cleared to climb to a flight altitude of 37,000 feet. it is december 20, 1995. in a little over three hours, the twin engine boeing 757 is scheduled to land in columbia, just in time for the holidays. >> it was my birthday. my 21st birthday. the trip to go back home was a gift for my birthday and to celebrate christmas and new year's. >> mercedes' family was on standby for the flight during a two-hour delay because of a snowstorm in the northeast. they end up getting the last three seats. miami-based crew captain nicholas tafuri spots lights far below dotting columbia's northern coast. this is his 14th flight to cali. tonight his first officer is don
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williams. just after 9:00, they begin their descent and plunge into darkness in a narrow corridor between the towering mountains that top out at over 18,000 feet. >> when you fly over terrain that doesn't afford a lot of lighting, back lighting, it's like flying into a black abyss. >> adding to the danger, three years before, anti-government gorillas destroyed the radar station. it wasn't replaced. air traffic control can't tell when planes are off course. that means 965's pilots will be relying on radio navigation beacons to giuide them safely through the narrow mountain corridor to orunway one. >> flying in areas where there's no radar, where there is limited air traffic control services, putting additional workload on the pilots. but it's not anything out of the ordinary.
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>> the weather is calm and clear. so air traffic control offers a straight in approach to runway 19. the crew accepts the runway change, even though first officer williams says they will have to scramble to make it in time. >> a runway change is not an unusual circumstance. the thing you have to recognize is if it shortens the distance that you have to fly to get to the end of the runway, can you get down in time? >> the jet is falling more than 1,400 feet a minute as pilots fall further behind their landing checklist. suddenly, flight 965's ground proximity warning system sounds in the cockpit. >> pull up. pull up. >> they are a few hundred feet from a mountain top and coming down fast. the 757's huge engines
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accelerate as the captain tells his first officer to pull up. >> all of a sudden you are going straight into the air like you are on a rocket or something. it was just pure panic. >> pull up. pull up. >> coming up, chaos breaks out on board american airlines flight 965. >> i kept on saying, just straighten it out, just straighten it out.
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i'm richard lui. isis claimed responsible for attacks at a state-run gas plant in baghdad earlier today. that killed 14 people. officials say several militants attempted a second attack. president obama taking aim at donald trump today during a commencement speech at rutgers universi
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university. he echoed similar criticisms made before. back to "why planes crash." december 20, 1995. american airlines flight 965 is about to begin its descent to colombia. the boeing 757 approach's is through a narrow corridor in one of the world's tallest mountain ranges. 155 paern passengers are on boa. they are eager to be reunited with relatives waiting for them at the airport. >> you could just tell everybody was excited because this was a christmas back home flight. >> air traffic control clears flight 965 to descend to 15,000 feet and proceed.
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they instruct flight attendants to prepare for landing. then air traffic control offers and the captain accepts a runway change that will speed up their arrival time. first officer don williams says he will have to scramble to get down in time for the shorter approach. >> modern jets are so aerodynamically efficient, one of the greatest challenges in flying them is getting them down and getting them to slow down. speed brakes or flight spoilers are devices used to help increase the descent rate to help it slow down. >> the captain deploys 965's speed brakes and types in the navigation computer the letter r for roso, the code for the radio beacon a few miles short of the runway. instead of flying towards the beacon, the jet makes a turn to the left away from cali. seconds later, the first officer
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williams says three words that cause tension in the cockpit to soar. where are we? the flight management computer has sent the plane in the wrong direction. >> the instrument basically said, well, what you put in this box says that you need to make a turn and go back that direction. that created a situational position confusion for the flight crew. >> first officer williams has taken manual control. the crew ly tries to figure out where they are and what's going on with their computer. >> the longer the crew talks about it, the more uncertainty there is that things are what they believe. >> out of nowhere, the ground proximity warning system blares out. the crew is unaware there's a
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mountain directly ahead. the first officer goes to full power and tilts the nose up so much a stall warning erupts in the cockpit. there's mayhem in the cabin. >> i remember hearing people crying and screaming. i was terrified. >> mercedes' mother and father help prepare her for the worst. >> through all of that chaos, i remember hearing my mom's voice. her voice calmed me down because she was actually praying. i was holding on to my dad's hand at the same time. >> 12 seconds after the warning alarm goes off, the sound of splintering trees shatters the silence on a mountainside at 8,900 feet. trees impale the jet's hull and 17,000 pounds of fuel explode on impact. >> it was just the loudest, scariest sound i had ever heard.
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>> the destroyed jet's wreckage spills over the top of a ridge. tragically, if a jet had gained just 200 more feet in altitude, they would have cleared the mountain. unconscious and seriously wounded, mercedes is trapped overnight in the wreckage. she finally comes to early the next morning. >> i was just asking god, you know, please give me a second chance. i just want to get off this mountain. please, send people to save us. >> her prayers are answered when she hears a helicopter. >> i remember two of the other survivors were jumping up and down and waving their arms. >> mercedes is too badly injured but using a scrap of metal to alert rescuers to their location. >> i told them, i can't leave without my parents. >> mercedes doesn't know it yet,
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but her mother and father are among the dead that include 149 other passengers and all eight crew members. mercedes, one of only four survivors, is in critical condition with internal injuries and a broken pelvis. >> my intestinal area had to be operated on and rerouted to get better. >> black boxes recovered intact prove the boeing 757 was functioning perfectly. now investigators have to find out what caused the jet to crash four minutes before it was supposed to land. according to colombia's civil aviation authority, it comes down to a simple key stroke. flight 965's crew misprogrammed the crucial final co-ordinate into the flight management computer.
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they typed letter r for rozo beacon near cali's airplane. the system interpreted it as bogota's romeo beacon 132 miles to the east and behind the plane. the mistake reroutes flight 965 directly into a 9,000 feet mountain. >> had they typed in rozo, that would have come up. but they didn't know. that was one of the lessons learned coming out of this accident. >> colombia's civil aviation authority releases its final report in september 1996 and finds probable cause was primarily pilot error. the flight crew didn't adequately plan and execute their approach and lacked situational awareness. and they didn't revert to basic radio navigation when computer navigation became confusing in a
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critical phase of the flight. colombian investigators also cite the crew's failure to retract the speed brakes which prevented flight 965 from gaining enough altitude during its escape maneuver. >> out of this accident came a design change that if you called for maximum power for cfit escape maneuver, if the speed brakes were deployed, that they would automatically retract. >> american airlines agrees pilot error led to the crash. but is disappointed investigators did not also fault flight management computers and the lack of a radar approach. the ntsb releases its own recommendations a month later. that the faa develop a mandatory controlled flight into terrain training program using realistic simulators to better train pilots to fly into mountainous areas and that the faa examine
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the effectiveness of enhanced ground proximity warning equipment to provide pilots with an earlier warning than the 12 seconds they had on flight 965. >> the cali accident was one of the true industry game changers. after this accident, the recognition of the critical need for predictive technology revolutionized aviation safety and the control flight into terrain accident went down dramatically. >> out of all the planes that were in the sky that day, why our plane? why us? >> mercedes still struggles to make sense of a world without the two cherished people she lost that night. >> i would do anything to turn back time and just be able to hug them and tell them how much i love them. >> mercedes was driven to share
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the lesson she learned from her brush with death and today she travels the world as a motivational speaker. >> it's about realizing that every day you have a brand-new second chance at life at work at your career, with your family. >> pull up. >> coming up, a speeding jet lost in the fog. it's your home. it's everything you've always wanted. and you work hard to keep it that way. ♪ sometime maybe too hard. get claimrateguard® from allstate. it helps keep your homeowners' rate from going up just because of a claim. call an allstate agent first. 888-429-5722 accident forgiveness from allstate will keep his rates from going up. but not his blood pressure. michael james!
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do not take if allergic to farxiga or its ingredients. symptoms of a serious allergic reaction include rash, swelling, or difficulty breathing or swallowing. if you have any of these symptoms stop taking farxiga and seek medical help right away. do not take farxiga if you have severe kidney problems, are on dialysis, or have bladder cancer. tell your doctor right away if you have blood or red color in your urine or pain while you urinate. farxiga can cause serious side effects, including dehydration, genital yeast infections in women and men, serious urinary tract infections, low blood sugar and kidney problems. stop taking farxiga and call your doctor right away if you have signs of ketoacidosis, which cabe serious or life threatening. farxiga. we are everyday people. ♪ i am everyday people, yea, yea. ♪ ask your doctor if farxiga is right for you and visit farxiga.com to learn how you can get it for free.
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a plane descends through the fog on a cold winter night in northern france. >> it was snowing, freezing and low visibility and dark clouds at low altitude. >> then without warning, the terrifying sound of a jet being torn to shreds as it slams into
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the side of a mountain. >> the noise was so huge. i didn't hear anything else. >> january 20, 1992. 6:20 p.m. air interester flight roars down and takes off from france on a short commuter flight. 90 passengers are on board, most business travellers, and six crew members. graduate student nicholas scorius is in the last row of seats. >> i was visiting my girlfriend who was living in strasburg. >> the captain and the first officer are in the cockpit of the revolutionary air bus a-320.
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the world's first commercial airliner to have completely computerized controls. its bold advertisements declare a superior intelligence has arrived. >> similar to what you have on your home computer when you are trying to fly a flight simulator with the joy stick. it's all computer controlled. you are never physically moving the flight control. >> it was a regional sort of airline. so this was a bit of an upstart carrier. but they were a highly motivated group that wanted the airline to succeed. >> part of that success depends on competing with france's high speed train system. putting pressure on the crew for an on time arrival. >> you had to get it on the ground, in the gate, off loaded, loaded, turned back in the air and you are racing the clock. >> flight 5148 is routine until air traffic control tells the
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crew they will have to land on a different runway. because of a change in wind direction, the active runway is now runway 5. >> when there are last minute changes such as route changes or runway changes, pilots don't like that. they have programmed the computer to fly a particular route to get to the airport. >> complicating things even more, air traffic control recommends a non-precision approach, a type of manual landing the pilot has had very little experience flying in his brand-new computerized jet. >> non-precision approaches do not have the electronic vertical guidance. in this case, that was part of the issue. the descents require a lot of preplanning using a procedure that they don't use a lot. >> air traffic control doesn't know it, but the pilot wants to stick with his initial flight plan and make a precision
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approach to the original runway. then once flight computers have gotten the air bus into position, he will go manual and circle to land at the new runway. runway 5. flight 5148 begins its descent. they plan to land in 15 minutes. but there's growing tension and a growing problem in the cockpit. the captain is getting behind his breakthrough jet. >> getting behind the airplane is a widely used statement to say that the pilot's thinking of what's going on is behind where the airplane actually is. >> at 7:13, the captain finds out he will have to switch to manual earlier, otherwise he will have to wait for three other jets scheduled to take off from the same runway. >> if you are going to fly that kind of approach, and you have never done it before, that in and of itself can become a
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distraction. >> with zero visibility and icing conditions in the fog the pilots are having trouble keeping track of the air bus' horizontal position. the plane ends up almost a mile left of where they should be on approach to runway 5. at 7:19, landing gear is down and locked. but the air bus is descending too fast. passengers are completely unaware of the serious problems in the cockpit. >> i didn't notice something strange. it was a quiet, normal flight. >> just as passengers are asked to make sure their seat belts are fastened, a low altitude sensor rings out in the cockpit. a second later, a monstrous crash into a mountaintop. coming up, a passenger is terrified he will die in the
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an any bus is on it way to france. it was one of the most technology advanced airplanes in the world particularly in early days. >> it's a raw, foggy night january 22nd, 1992. a wind shift causes a runway change that complicates flight 5148's approach. instead of an automated precision landing, pilots will have to make a manuel non-precision landing. >> it's a high-demand requirement to change a runway for pilots when they are in
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close to the airport. >> the captain turns on the plane's wing deicers and makes a left turn on to final approach but he's having trouble. there is zero visibility and they are almost a mile out of position to the left of the runway. they are descending way too fast at 3300 feet a minute. then out of nowhere, a low altitude warning. >> 200. >> one second later, the airbus slams into the ground. >> the noise of the decisidesen was so huge. >> the plane's under carriage tears off as it plows through the woods. >> you are going right, left, hitting your head in the front of the seat.
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>> the last seven rows including nicolaus' seat scurry off. >> i realize the airplane was complete he disintegrated. i was completely terrified. >> he escapes out into the snow. but he hears another survivor trapped in the wreckage. a panicked mother trying to save her baby girl. >> the mother was not able to move so i have to take the baby. >> the mother and daughter and seven other passengers survive more than four hours on the snowy mountain waiting for rescuers to arrive. the horrific crash claims 87 lives including both pilots and three crew members. in november 1993, france's ministry of tourism releases the
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official report. investigators site a chain of causes. first, the crew was late in modifying their approach strategy. and did not properly configure the plane for landing. >> the sequence of events in this accident was in a very compressed time scale. they can't process or assimilate the process fast enough to identify it, correct it and execute. >> but the fundamental cause sited by investigators is the pilot's failure to correct the abnormally high rate of descent of 3300 feet per minute. investigators say the error occurred because of confusion about a crucial knob that controls both vertical speed and flight path angle. >> they mistakenly believe they were setting up a 3.3 degree descent profile, but with the mode selection they had made they set up a 3,300 foot per
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minute rate descent. >> the design was poor. it should have been a button that identified what mode you were in or should have been two separate panels. >> other causes sited in the investigation, below average crew interaction and poor communication and absence of a ground proximity system that deprived the crew of one final warning opportunity. >> given this was a short haul operation they were going to get a lot of nuisance warnings. >> air enter defended the lack of a ground proximity warning system saying it would not have prevented the crash. by the end of the year, europe's joint aviation authorities require all air transport aircraft to be equipped with a ground proximity warning system. airbus modify the a 320's flight
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control unit so a vertical speed setting would be displayed as a four-digit number preventing confusion with the flight path angle mode. it increased pilot training for the a 320. >> the most central deal, you can't compos a crew with two person with less than 300 hours of flight on airbus a 320. >> translator: i am heart broken. >> the sadness endures for he who lost his son a flight attendant in the crash. he still can't accept the moment that took down flight 5148, the turn of a knob that began their lethal loss of altitude. >> translator: they had 17 seconds to realize they weren't about descent. they weren't aware. why?
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because they put their trust in the automation. >> in the aviation community weighing the benefits and risks posed by automation is an on going debate. >> manuel handling skills are critical and the appropriate use of automation balanced in keeping manuel flying skills is one of the current and future industry challenges that we have and we're struggling with it. ♪ ♪ >> painful memories of the crash are now etched in stone. but nicolaus will always give thanks for being one of the few survivors that snowy night. >> you quickly realize you're not invincible and you are human so, you know, life goes on.
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fire breaks out in the cabin of a dc-9 minutes after take off. the pilots lose control and the plane plunges nose first into the everglades. >> when that nose drop occurred, i realized it was going to crash. >> an md-1 1 crashes after smoke mysteriously fills the cockpit. >> the airplane was burning up around them. >> about two hours into a flight, a dc-9 fills with smoke and loses all of its electrical systems. >> a mayday, we're going down. >> we thought everybody could

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