By Joseph George www.emirates247.com
Was it undeclared cargo that caught fire on the ill-fated UPS cargo flight that went down in Dubai recently? Could a timely detection and an additional cabin crew have helped in better handling the situation?
Could a better co-ordination between Bahrain and Dubai ATS have resulted in a different ending? Why was the pilot airborne for almost 30 minutes after first detecting the fire, instead of landing the flight somehow, somewhere?
These are some of the issues that are being extensively discussed among the members of the airline community on an online forum following the crash of the cargo plane that killed both pilots.
Emerging facts indicate that a fire from the cargo section could have caused the blaze resulting in a smoke-filled cockpit, leaving the pilots helpless and near-blind to read the instruments in front of them.
On September 3, the Boeing 747-400 which left Dubai to Cologne in Germany crashed at a military base in Dubai less than an hour after taking off, killing both Capt Doug Lampe and First Officer Matthew Bell.
Discussing over a forum one of the Gulf Air pilot says he had the misfortune of hearing the whole chain of events while flying from Kuwait to Abu Dhabi.
“We were in Bahraini airspace when we heard the mayday of a ‘Fire on the Deck’,” and an immediate descent to 10,000′.
The captain requested vectors back to Dubai immediately. Within moments the cockpit was filled with smoke and the captain indicated he could not see any instruments at all.
With no visual reference and all instruments unreadable as well as difficulty relaying messages and getting information (he re-entered UAE air space but was still talking to Bahrain as he couldn’t change frequencies).
Altitudes, headings etc had to be relayed from the UAE to Bahrain to airborne aircraft to UPS and back again. The situation was a real mess.
“Although he wound up straight in for 12L at Dubai at 10 miles and 7,000′ he couldn’t circle because he couldn’t see anything. He turned south of the airport, blind, even as the altitudes were being read to him.
It was of no use. The aircraft crashed into a fairly unpopulated area,” the pilot recalls.
“En route to Iraq, I heard pretty much everything from when they declared their emergency overhead Bahrain due to smoke in the flightdeck, through their descent and pleas for altitude readouts because they couldn’t see their instruments, or change frequency, to hearing ATC shout ‘climb immediately’ and then calmly say ‘loss of radar contact’.”
“To hear the initial panic and plain fear during their transmissions (in real time as opposed to a DVR playback on a documentary) has been the most chilling event in my 25 years of flying,” he adds.
Meanwhile it has been urged that the presence of EVAS – Emergency Vision Assurance System could have further helped the situation.
“The solution to smoke in the cockpit has been around for years and it works. We have it installed on our aircraft and I’ve practiced with it in the sim. If the jet is flyable and you are in a condition to fly, you can.
Basically, it is a low-pressure clear bag that inflates in front of the pilot and presses up against the instrument panel and the window.
Don your smoke goggles and oxygen mask, press your face against the bag and you can see through the clear air
inside the bag enough to fly the jet. When not in use, it stays in a bag next to your seat.
Time will tell whether EVAS would have made a difference here,” adds another post.
Questions are also being raised as to why the pilots chose to return to Dubai?
“I still find it strange that they elected to go to Dubai when both Abu Dhabi airport and the Dubai World Central would seem closer as well as Doha International Airport,” wondered another.
Another pilot with years of experience says when the plane’s on fire, just land as soon as possible.
“I don’t mean ‘nearest suitable’…ASAP means land on the desert below you.
This is the single most important issue that should be understood…In any instance of smoke or fire warning or confirmation, it is imperative that the aircraft be put on the ground immediately, and if over water, ditching must be considered. History has shown that there is about a 10 minute window.
After that, it is unlikely to be a recoverable or survivable situation,” he observed.
Meanwhile reports indicate that the flight recorders have been sent to the United States for further analysis.