UPS crash linked to dangerous cargo

Dubai Crash

By K. Scarpati

September’s deadly Dubai UPS plane crash linked to rechargeable lithium batteries

Dubai CrashWe’ve all heard the saying “precious cargo,” but what about dangerous cargo?

Or explosive cargo?

Two United Parcel Service pilots were killed in a fatal crash in September last year, with a recent report suggesting that the reason for the plane crash rests with the cargo: a large shipment of rechargeable lithium batteries.

The rechargeable lithium batteries can suffer thermal runaway and cell rupture, which in some cases, can lead to combustion. That’s what the report suggests happened to the UPS plane.

At 32,000 feet and just 22 minutes into its flight, the crew reported to ground control in Bahrain that warning systems in the cargo compartments indicated a fire in the main deck, and that they needed to land as soon as possible.

That didn’t happen, however, as the Boeing 747-400F jumbo jet crashed near Dubai, killing both UPS pilots.

According to the report, smoke entered the cockpit of the UPS aircraft less than five minutes after the fire alarm sounded, engulfing flight instruments. Landing gear also reportedly stopped functioning, and the UPS plane ended up crashing just south of the Dubai International Airport.

That’s where I have an issue. If you’re a UPS pilot that’s expected to transport flammable material, shouldn’t Boeing design a plane that gives pilots like these at UPS a little more time to land safely?

Here’s a good test: call your best friend, or someone who can take a joke. Tell him that you’re in a building that’s on fire, and you need help. Try and figure out what to do; how are you going to get out of this situation? How much time do you think you have? What’s the safest course of action?

Now hang up the phone. How much time did that take? Probably two minutes, maybe three. Your friend is probably freaking out, but you’ve basically just placed a distress call, probably not unlike the one the UPS pilots phoned in from their doomed Boeing jet.

If you were a UPS pilot like the ones in this situation, you’d have three minutes max to find a suitable emergency landing location, descend over six miles and land safely, all with a fire that’s creeping dangerously closer. Good luck.

If UPS pilots such as these are going to be expected to transport such hazardous materials, Boeing and other companies are going to need to build more secure cargo departments to give the shipping company a chance should danger arise.

If not, maybe these rechargeable lithium batteries aren’t such a good idea. At the very least, UPS and other shipping companies should not transport such dangerous materials by air, where an on-board fire can be a death sentence.