tv Why Planes Crash MSNBC August 16, 2015 7:00pm-8:01pm PDT
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. >> and i thought to myself, you have to find a way out of the plane.
>> planes flying at high speed dangerously off course. >> it was the loudest scariest sound i had ever heard. >> dramatic animations put 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, sit a deadly accident known as controlled flight end in terrain. automation and training have cut fatalities in half since 2010, but technology hasn't eliminated the problem. >> 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 the 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, 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 antarctica's largest volcanos is coming to life. it's summer in new zealand and captain jim collins is very proud to have drown one very plume assignment it was a privilege to get one of those flight as hen was privilege to be getting one the last one. >> this is the captain's first flight to antarctica. 19 days before takeoff they're briefed on coordinates that take the passengers out over the sound. >> they were careful to devise a complex but easily flown route that gave the passengers the
maximum view. >> new plymouth house builder frank christmas seen here on board of the sold-out flight is one of 237 passengers. he's been looking forward to it for a year. >> there was lobster and champagne and caviar. they would have all had a wonderful time. he was wanting 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 erebus an active volcano named after greek mythology's gateway to the underworld. their personal tour guide -- >> the aircraft is lowering its altitude now -- none other than peter mulgrew seen on an earlier
flight. >> this is like a great new world and i'm sure it is for all of you back there. >> because air new zealand's dc-10s never touch down many in antarctica during the eight-hour flight, pressure is on the pilots to descend only as low as possible. >> this was a visual sightseeing flight. >> this is an expectation that when you get on that airplane, i expect that we're going fly down there and i'm going to get to see the penguins and i'm going to get to see the terrain and i'm going to get to be a tourist and sightsee. >> but antarctica is as dangerous as it is beautiful. deputy police officer ted robinson is stationed at scott
base at the foot of mount airbus. >> i kept a log of everyone that was out and what they were doing just for safety sakes. >> 40 minutes from their frozen destination, passengers on flight 901 are standing at the windows, eager fir their first glimpse at the endless expanse of ice. >> captain robinson radios to find out about the current weather conditions and learns there's a huge problem. >> that particular day the mountain was completely whited out. >> robinson cautions captain collins about the low cloud cover that descends to 2,000 feet. >> i was keen to let him know that he shouldn't come anywhere near ross island. >> robinson recommends making a short detour west over the mainland where the weather is much better. that's where mountaineer keith
woodford is located. >> we were in brilliantly fine weather. >> but captain collins ignores robinson's advice and just after noon he begins his descent. 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's 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 descent. but the four-man crew is having trouble spotting landmarks through the clouds as peter malgrew walks up to the cockpit. >> peter malgrew asked why aren't you commentating. to which his reply was, it's
pretty hard to say much when you can't see anything. >> still sure of his safe position over the sound, captain collins continues his descent. then at 1500 feet, the captain's confidence is shattered. collins tells his crew that conditions, quote, don't look good at all and that he'll 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 our listening watch to see if they had heard anything over the aircraft.
it was negative, no one had heard anything. >> 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 just did not look like a plane. if you have moderate to severe plaque psoriasis. isn't it time to let the real you shine through? introducing otezla, apremilast. otezla is not an injection, or a cream. it's a pill that treats plaque psoriasis differently. some people who took otezla saw 75% clearer skin after 4 months. and otezla's prescribing information has no requirement for routine lab monitoring. don't take otezla if you are allergic to any of its ingredients. otezla may increase the risk of depression.
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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 the powerful dc-10, an upclose view of one of the most remote and foreboding places on earth, antarctica. >> ladies and gentlemen, the aircraft is just over 10,000 feet.
>> dave was excited to think that he was the commentary on board that would them all about it. >> but today the earth isn't cooperating. majestic 12,000 foot mount airbus is shrouded in clouds. collins asked air traffic control if it's possible to make his descent. >> they got destructions at jim's request to circle lower and be able to show their passengers something of the area. >> 237 passengers are straining to get a glimpse of land marks, like the station they should be seeing any minute. when suddenly the warning system blares out in the cockpit. [siren sound] the flight engineer starts to read off their altitude. 500 feet. 400 feet. captain collins realizes
something is terribly wrong and calls for maximum thrust. the jet's nose tilts up 10 degrees and they start to climb. but as they pull up, the dc-10's underbelly and wings gouge into the slope of mount erebus an active volcano. 70,000 tons of jet fuel ignite the cabin creating a horrifying trail of burning wreckage. department police officer ted robinson radios the crew. he's met with an eerie silence. >> we kept calling 901. others were also calling flight 901. no one had heard anything.
>> there's still hope for finding survivors at 7:00 p.m. when air new zealand calls marina collins and asks if she's alone. >> and 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, coroners determined all 257 people on board died instantly. mountaineer keith woodford has his own ideas how new zealand's
deadliest aviation disaster could have been avoided. >> if they had reacted 10 seconds earlier, there was a reasonable chance that the plane could have been able to climb out of it. so close. >> but why was the plane flying so close to the volcano? investigators discover that on the morning of november 28th, air new zealand flight ops changed 901's final flight coordinate. instead of flying their usual route down the middle mcmurdo sound, the jet was shifted over lewis sound and directly into mount erebus. >> clearly the pilots couldn't see the mountain 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 about their position. but in april 1981, a parliamentary investigation known as the mann report absolves pilots from any blame. instead, justice peter mann faults incompetent airline procedures which changed flight coordinates without warning. in a subsequent appeal by air new zealand, the new zealand court of appeals faults mann for overstepping his authority but does not overturn his findings. the people of new zealand have never gotten a clear answer to
questions about who exactly is to blame for flight 901. >> everybody has got opinions, but a lot of the evidence just has never been considered. >> but 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 erebus seem to disappear. causing it to look identical to the approach they believed they were flying over mcmurdo sound. >> they were seeing what they expected to see, a cloud base above them, a bay or whatever in the front, mountain to either side of them. exactly what they expected to see. >> these whiteout conditions are
very, very, very real. to be able to tell what's ice and what's overcast skies? the color is the same. and you cannot really differentiate it. >> ted robinson has never been able to make peace with the fact that the crew did not heed to his advice to detour over to the main lade land where the weather was clear and that he never had his say in front of the accident investigators. >> i maintain that i should have been called to the inquiry. >> maria collins says she's never asked for sympathy. >> i miss him. still. >> but feels her husband's reputation has been unfairly tarnished. >> why would he ever in that situation jeopardize anybody's life, let alone your own.
>> for passenger frank christmas's daughter, the emotional scars run deep. >> i hated the word mount erebus. i just did not want to know about it. but when i got there and saw it, it's the most beautiful place on earth. and 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 had ever heard. pain from your day can haunt you at night, don't let it. advil pm gives you the healing sleep you need, helping you fall asleep and stay asleep so your body can heal as you rest. advil pm. for a healing night's sleep.
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mountain valley when things in the cockpit start to unravel. >> the crew got so distracted in trying to program the approach in, they lost track of not only their altitude but actually their flight path to the airport. >> the pilot applies maximum thrust and desperately try to pull the plane up. passengers can feel the dramatic >> when the nose of the plane flew up and we wanted flying straight up into the skies, i closed my eyes. >> 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 after sunset and is cleared to climb to a flight altitude of 37,000 feet. it's december 20th, 1995. in a little over three hours, the twin engine boeing 757 is scheduled to land in cali, colombia just in time for the holidays. >> it was my birthday, my 21st birthday. so the trip to go back home to columbia was a gift for my birthday and to celebrate christmas and new year's. mercedes ramirez's family was on standby because of a two-hour delay. they end up getting the last three seats. miami based crew captain spots lights down below dotting colombia's cost. tonight his first officer is don williams. just after 9:00, they begin
their descent and plunge into darkness in a narrow car door between the towering mountains. >> 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 guerrillas destroyed the air station and it wasn't replaced. they can't tell when aircraft are off course. the pilots are relying on the radio navigation beacon to guide them safely through the narrow corridor to runway 1. >> flying in areas where there is no radar, where there is
limited air traffic control services puts additional workload on the pilots. >> the weather in cali is come and clear so the air traffic offers a straight in approach to runway 19. the crew accepts the runway change even though first officer williams says they'll have to scramble to make it in time. >> a runway change is not an unusual circumstance. the thing that 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 descending more than 1400 feet a minute, as pilots fall further and further behind their landing checklist. suddenly flight 965's ground proximity warning system sounds in the cockpit. >> pull up. >> pull up. >> they're a few hundred feet from a mountaintop and coming down fast. the 757's engines accelerate as the captain tells his first office tore pull up.
>> all of the sudden you're going straight into the air like you're on a rocket or something. so it was just sheer panic. [siren sound] >> pull up! pull up! coming up -- chaos breaks out onboard american airlines flight 965. >> i kept on saying, just straighten it out, just straighten it out. no student's ever done the full hand raise in ap calc. but your stellar notebook gives you the gumption to reach for the sky. that's that new gear feeling. this week, these office depot brand notebooks just one cent. office depot officemax. gear up for school. gear up for great.
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now we're going to take you back to the msnbc special. december 20th, 1995, american airlines flight 965 is about to begin its descent to cali, colombia. its approach is through a narrow corridor in between one of the tallest mountain rangers, the andes. 155 passengers are on board, including mercedes ramirez and both of their parents. they're eager to be reunited with relatives waiting for them at the airport. >> you can 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 to cali. the captain instructs the flight attendant to prepare for a
landing. and then they accept a runway change that will speed up their arrival time. but first officer don williams says he'll 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 breaks or flight spoilers are devices used to help increase the descent rate to help it slow down. >> the captain deploys 965 speed brakes and types in the letter r for rozo, the code for the radio beacon a few miles short of the runway. but instead of flying towards the beacon, the jet makes an almost imperceptible turn to left away from cali. second later the first officer says three words that cause
tension in the cockpit to soar. where are we? it's inexplicably sent the plane in the wrong direction. >> the instrument said what you put in this box says you need to make a turn and go back in that direction. well that created a situational position confusion for the flight crew. >> first officer williams has taken manual control while the crew desperately try to figure out where they are in the dark and what's going on with their computer. >> the longer the crew talks about it, the more urn certainty there is that things are what they believe. >> out of nowhere, the ground proximity warning system blares out.
the plane is at 9,000 feet but the crew is unaware there's a towering mountain directly ahead. >> pull up! >> 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 just remember hearing people crying and screaming and 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 [siren sound] >> 12 seconds after the warning alarm goes off, the sound of splintering trees shatters the silence on a mountainside at 8900 feet. trees impale the jet's hull as 17,000 pounds of fuel explode on impact. >> it was just the loudest
scariest sound i'd ever heard. >> the destroyed jet's wreckage spills over the top of a ridge. tragically if the jet had gained just 200 more feet in altitude they would have cleared the mountain. >> 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. just please, send people to save us. >> her prayers are answered when she hears a helicopter. >> i remember that two of the other survivors were jumping up and down and waving their arms. >> mercedes is too badly injured to get up but uses a shiny 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
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 gi track 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 columbia civil aviation, it comes down to a key stroke. the crew misprogrammed the final coordinate into the flight management computer. they typed the letter r for the
rozo navigational beacon near cali's airport. but it interpreted the r as a beacon 132 miles to the east and behind the plane. the mistake reroutes flight 965 directly into a 9,000 foot mountain. >> had they typed in rozo, that way point would have come up. but they didn't know that. and that was one of the lessons learned coming out of this accident. >> columbia's civil aviation
authority releases its final report in september of 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 critical phase of the flight. colombian investigators also cite the crews's fail your to retract the speed brakes which prohibited it from gang enough altitude during the escape maneuver. >> out of this accident came a design change that if you called for maximum power for an escape maneuver, that 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 end of terrain training program using realistic simulators to better train pilots to fly into mountainous
areas and that the faa examine the effectiveness of the ground proximity warning equipment to provide pilots with an earlier warning than the 12 second 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 rate accident type went down dramatically. >> out of all of the planes that were in the sky that day, why, why our plane? why us? >> mercedes ramirez still struggle 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 the lesson she learned from her brush with death and today she traveling the world as a motivational speaker. >> it's about realizing that every day you a brand new second chance at life, at work, at your career, with your family. coming up -- >> a speeding jet lost in the fog. 40 sterilize sites. multiple foreign objects in the body. tweezers. (buzz!) (buzz!) if you're the guy from the operation game, you get operated on. it's what you do. (buzz!) if you want to save fifteen percent or more on car insurance, you switch to geico. it's what you do.
>> the noise of the disintegration of the airplane was so huge, i didn't hear anything else. >> january 20th, 1992, 6:20 p.m. air inter flight 5148 roars down the runway and takes off from lyon, france on a short commuter flight to strasbourg. 90 passengers are on board, most of them business travelers and 6 crew members. graduate student nicolas is in the last row of seats. >> i was visiting my girlfriend who was living in strasbourg. >> captain christian hekay and joel sherabin are in the cockpit of the revolutionary airbus a320, 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're trying to fly a flight simulator with the joystick. it's all computer controlled. you're never physically moving the flight controller. >> airinter 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. >> we have to get it on the ground, in the gate, off loaded, loaded, turned, back in the air and you're racing the clock. >> flight 5148 is routine until air traffic control tells the
crew they'll 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 runway changes or route changes, pilots don't like that, because they've already programmed the computer to fly a particular route to get to the airport. >> complicating things even more, air traffic control recommends a nonprecision approach, a type of manual landing the pilot has had very little experience flying in this brand-new computer sized jet. >> nonprecision approaches do not have the electronic vertical guidance, and 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 approach to the original runway.
then, once flight computers have gotten the airbus into position, he'll 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. captain hekay 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 switches to manual even earlier. otherwise he'll have to wait for three other jets scheduled to take off from the same runway. >> if you're going to fly that
kind of approach and you've never done it before, that in itself can become a distraction. >> with zero visibility in the fog, pilots are having trouble keeping track of the airbus' 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 airbus is descending way too fast at 3300 feet a minute. passengers are completely unaware of the serious problems in the cockpit. >> i did not 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. >> 200. >> a second later, a monstrous crash into a mountaintop. coming up -- a passenger is terrified he'll die in the wreckage. >> i thought to myself, you have to find a way out of the plane.
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an airbus a-320 jet, called the world's most intelligent airplane is on descent from lyon to strasbourg, france. >> it was one of the most technologically advanced airplanes in the world, particularly in its early days. >> it's a raw, foggy night. january 22nd, 1992. a wind shift causes a runway change that complicates flight 5148's approach. >> it's a high demand requirement to change a runway for pilots when they're in close to the airport. >> captain christian hekay turns on the plane's wing de-icers and makes a left turn on to final
approach, but he's having trouble. there's zero visibility and they're almost a mile out of position to the left of the runway. they're 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 mont saint-odile. >> the noise of the disintegration of the airport was so huge that i didn't hear anything else. >> the nose section disintegrates when 1200 gallons of jet fuel ignite. the plane's undercarriage tears off as it plows through the woods. >> we are going right, left, putting your head in the front of the seat. >> the last seven rows, including nicolas scuoria's seat shear off from what's left of
the plane. >> i realize that the plane was completely 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 transport and
tourism releases its official report. investigators cite 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 particular accident was in a very compressed time scale. they can't process or assimilate the information fast enough to identify it, understand it, correct it and execute. >> but the fundamental cause cited 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 believed that 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-minute rate, which is plane struggled to make.
>> the ergonomic design was poor. >> it should have either been a button that identified what mode you were in, or it should have been two separate panels. >> other causes cited in the investigation -- below average crew interaction and poor communication and the absence of a ground proximity warning system which deprived the crew of one final warning opportunity. >> given that this was a short haul fast operation, they were going to get a lot of nuisance warnings, and they didn't want that presented to the flight crews all the time. >> airinter defended its lack of a ground proximity warning system saying it would not have prevented a crash. by the end of the year, europe's joint aviation authorities require all transport aircraft to be equipped with a ground proximity warning system. airbus modified the a-320's flight control unit so that a vertical speed setting would be displayed as a four-digit
number, preventing confusion with the unit's flight path angle mode. airinter also increased pilot training for the a320. >> after this, you can't compose a crew with two persons with less than 300 hours of flight on airbus a-320. >> translator: i am heartbroken. >> the sadness endures for hubert who lost his son hue, 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 that they were in a bad descent. they weren't aware. why?
because they put their trust in the automation. >> in the aviation community, weighing the benefits and risks posed by automation is an ongoing debate. >> manual handling skills are critical. and the appropriate use of automation balanced in keeping manual flying skills is one of the current and future industry challenges that we have. and we're struggling with it. >> painful memories of the mont saint-odile crash are etched in stone. but nicolas scuorias will always give thanks for being one of the survivors that night. >> you quickly realize that you are not invincible and you are human. so, you know, life goes on. due to mature subject matter
due to mature subject matter viewer discretion is advised. it's hard living with somebody's blood on your hands every day. >> after running a man down with his car, one inmate prepares for life behind bars. >> when i wake up, i see something that i can't change. >> hazard to conversation. >> accused of knowingly exposing women to the hiv virus, another inmate must be housed in segregation for ow