Newsflash: Transportation is Dangerous

It’s been in the news (at least, in the medical worlds’ news) that there are a lot of EMS helo crashes this year: 

The Associated PressThe five-member National Transportation Safety Board in January 2006 urged the Federal Aviation Administration to take a series of steps to improve the safety of EMS helicopter flights.

At a meeting Tuesday, the safety board acknowledged that the FAA is working on the proposals, but not quickly enough. Over the past 11 months, nine emergency medical helicopters have crashed, killing 35 people.

Interestingly, the NYTimes is on point today with an article about the untimely deaths of politicians, musicians, etc, with the common denominator being that they’re ‘unscheduled’ (charter) flights. 

New York TimesThey fly to the next gig or the next game, to the next political rally or the next board meeting — another day, another town, and another ride in a corporate jet, chartered plane, helicopter or whatever other conveyance seems convenient, sometimes regardless of risk.

When their planes crash, the headlines name another musician, politician or athlete killed in an aviation accident: Will Rogers, Knute Rockne, Otis Redding, Hale Boggs, Rocky Marciano, Thurman Munson, Rick Nelson and John G. Tower, to name just a few. The song "American Pie" memorializes the crash in February 1959 that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J. P. (The Big Bopper) Richardson.

Because they are busy and prosperous, prominent people often fly in planes not operated by major airlines. By doing so, accident statistics show, they increase their chances of crashing.

(Wikipedia listing of deaths by aircraft of the rich and powerful here).

Airlines have their outstanding safety record because they work terrifically hard (and well) at doing the same thing the same way every time, managing risk, and by avoiding anything that’s been historically risky.  That doesn’t mean they’re perfect, or that accidents don’t happen, but when you’re looking for a safe transportation baseline the scheduled airlines are where to start.

EMS helos are, by definition unscheduled.  They are, with a few exceptions, expected to be available every minute of every day.  They also don’t have the luxury of flying into well lit, organized airports, they’re landing in areas with trees, wires, etc.  There are a lot of things the NTSB has recommended, and hopefully they’ll help.

So, you’ll avoid an accident if you take the ground ambulance, instead, right?  Umm, no.  EMS crashes happen as well.  Per the CDC:

MMWREMS personnel in the United States have an estimated fatality rate of 12.7 per 100,000 workers, more than twice the national average (1). This report documents 27 ambulance crash-related fatalities among EMS workers over a 10-year period.

(Before you point out that 27 isn’t a big number, read the limitations section of the paper).  Here’s a somewhat less scientific but much more inclusive list of EMS crashes, from the EMS Network.

The WSJ Health Blog points out a real concern: if a helicopter is always available, it’ll get used, sometimes when it shouldn’t be:

Medical helicopters have been under scrutiny for a while now. In 2005, the WSJ reported that air ambulances are often used to transport patients who are “minimally injured,” and who could make it to a hospital faster and more safely via ground transport.

Helos on the ground don’t pay for themselves, so there’s a bias to fly.  I understand it, but we all need to understand there are risks to everyone.

None of us like helos falling out of the sky, and it’s always going to be risky.  Steps should continue to be taken to mitigate risks in all transportation, but remember that all unscheduled travel is risky.

Medical helicopters collide, killing at least 6 – CNN.com

Medical helicopters collide, killing at least 6 – CNN.com

Medical helicopters collide, killing at least 6

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Six killed includes one patient; one critically injured
  • Collision sets fire to 10-acre area near Arizona’s Flagstaff Medical Center
  • “We’ve got lots of heaps of metal to go through,” fire captain says

(CNN) — At least six people were dead and one critically injured Sunday after a midair crash between two medical helicopters near a hospital in Arizona, authorities said.

The collision, at Flagstaff Medical Center in Flagstaff, Arizona, set fire to a 10-acre area, according to fire officials, and another two rescue workers were injured by a secondary explosion after the crash.

The helicopters collided at roughly 3:45 p.m. local time, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Heartbreaking.

Eclipse 400 – Video – Eclipse 400 over California

My brother, the Aerospace Genius, wrote last week to tell me the airplane his company was involved in, now called the Eclipse 400, is a go!

Here’s a video:

Eclipse 400 – Video – Eclipse 400 over California  and here’s some pictures:

For only about 1.3 million you can have your own personal jet.

If you get one, let me know.  I can probably get my brother to autograph it.

F-16 takes out tyranical suburban!! – SportsCarForums.com

F-16 takes out tyranical suburban!! – SportsCarForums.com
Sobering shot of an SUV that got lit up by mistake, by an F16 driver near the air-ground gunnery range outside Dugway, Utah. The ‘light paint and body damage’ is the result of a one-quarter-second burst by the fighter’s 20 mm gun, which fires about 3000 rounds per minute. An estimated 70 rounds left the gun; the results are as you see here.

Geez.  Read the article for the occupant injuries (survivable).  Friendly fire isn’t.

Mere Rhetoric: TSA’s Idiotic Pilot Handgun Regulations Kept Classified, End With Accidental Firing On Flying Plane

So, here’s what happened, as a follow up to the initial post:

Mere Rhetoric: TSA’s Idiotic Pilot Handgun Regulations Kept Classified, End With Accidental Firing On Flying Plane
…On March 22, pilot James Langenhahn was stowing his Heckler & Koch USP .40, issued to him by the Department of Homeland Security… while his co-pilot prepared to land the plane. As he was placing the pistol… it discharged a single shot which exited the left side of the plane, doing little damage… Some pilots say it was an accident waiting to happen.

Seems like an accident waiting to happen to me, too. Read the post for insight as to why this happened, and will probably happen again.

Pilot’s gun discharges on US Airways flight

Pilot’s gun discharges on US Airways flight 12:14 PM | Local News | News for Charlotte, North Carolina | WCNC.com | Top Stories

CHARLOTTE, N.C.– A gun carried by a US Airways pilot accidentally discharged during a flight from Denver to Charlotte Saturday, according to a statement released by the airline.

First, I’m betting they had to take the plane out of service to clean up the cockpit.

Accidental discharges (mistakes in weapons handling and safety) (which is not “the gun just went off”: that doesn’t occur) happen eventually to everyone who handles weapons enough. The very very experienced range masters where I go will confess to accidental discharges, and do so to educate how their mistakes occurred and the lessons they learned. (These lessons invariably wind up being ‘get your finger off the trigger, and don’t let yourself get distracted’).

Most AD’s are non-events in the permanent-damage category, though I can certainly see how the cockpit of an aircraft would provide dozens of chances at a bad outcome. I wonder if the TSA and the airlines have a procedure that covers this? Probably it is ‘land safely, let’s talk about it on the ground’.

I was aware of the cockpit armed pilot program (or whatever its Orwellian name is), and thought it a good idea. Given the frequency of AD’s I still think it’s a good idea, but confess I hadn’t given weapons handling accidents much thought. Now I will, and here’s something else to get the flying public a little more anxious.

Update: Pilot suspended, from the armed flight deck officer program, and from fight status.

I got there fine

More later.

The thrill of modern air travel

Currently I’m stuck on a plane waiting for the airline to stuff this plane to the hills. Bad weather at DFW is causing a chain reaction of flight cancellations, so the airline decided to wait for more passengers to get our 95% full flight up to 100%.

Murphy then stepped in, and broke the APU, causing another delay waiting for maintenance to check it out. The pilot tells us its not a no go item, but still has to be checked before flight.

Did I mention the weather is cold and rainy with occasional sleet? So well get to drive before we go, adding to the fun.

This is after going to the wrong terminal to start the trip, then needing th get back in the car and drive all over DFW. Amusingly, apparently there’s no way to drive straight from terminal C to D. Awesome.

More to follow

Update: the flight crew decided to give away headarts for free, then in the same announcement said “we have only a limited amount, so if you don’t need one don’t take one. Silly. I don’t need one, I have a blog.

Update2: after waiting 30 minutes for an air start vary (because the APu is dead) we started up and taxied. Out, to sit and wait for deicing, which was of course stopped for 30 minutes due to the snow falling faster than the deicing could remove it. Now deicing has resumed, but we don’t know where we are in line.

A couple of observations: every time we make any positive move ygr flight attendants tell us to shut off the electronics, which we all do, until further progress is obviously futile, then they all go back on.

Aldo, and this is going to sound petulant, but were now stick in the middle of an airport because of a decision to intentionally delay this flight to accompfate about 5 people who were bumped from other cancelled flights. A decision made with the knowledge that a snowstorm was coming. Genius.

Ill bet American is really happy with their load factor on this flight to nowhere.

Update3: we’ve been sitting here for 2 hours, and non of the planes have moved. There if a de ice station we can see, which seems to intermittently spray off one plane, which hasn’t moved in two hours.

It looks like this trip is toast, but nobody will make the decision to cancel the flight

I can hear the occasional departure, but its not coming from our line

Update4. Three planes have suddenly left th de ice stand but none are taking their places. Aldo, as there are two lines waiting its hard to tell what is next.

Update 5. A mere 4 1/2 hours after our scheduled departure time were finally being deiced. The pilot tells us we’re going directly to the runway afterward.

When Nations Act Like Adolescents

I read this on CNN:

Russian bomber buzzes U.S. aircraft carrier – CNN.com

WASHINGTON (CNN) — American fighter jets intercepted two Russian bombers, one of which buzzed a U.S. aircraft carrier in the western Pacific over the weekend, U.S. military officials told CNN Monday.

One of them twice flew about 2,000 feet over the deck of the USS Nimitz Saturday while another flew about 50 miles away, officials said. Two others were at least 100 miles away, the military reported.

U.S. Defense officials said four F/A-18A fighter jets from the Nimitz were in the air.

The Russians and the U.S. cartrier did not exchange verbal communications.

First, they’re Bears, and turboprops aren’t pure jets. CNN should know better, but apparently don’t.  This isn’t the first time they’ve gotten something basic wrong.

Second, on reading this, it strikes me this is very much like kids taunting adults, sure in the knowledge that adults will act with restraint while they ‘show the man’ their power.  If the Russians thought for a second we’d shoot them down they wouldn’t take such a deliberately provocative action, but a) they’re impotent, know it, and it bugs the heck out of them and b) they can count on the US ‘adults’ to not shoot them down for acting out.  Restraint is the hallmark of the modern warrior, popular opinion to the contrary.

Impotence and strength aren’t always what they seem at first glance.

Proud Brother Moment

My brother (The Aerospace Genius as I’ve dubbed him) was the lead engineer developing this plane:

It was unveiled at Oshkosh this year, as a surprise. It was a little easier to keep the secret, as this single-engine plane went from first meeting to first flight in 200 days! Way to go little brother (and the very capable company he works for)!

No, I’m not buying one (I’m just a doctor), but if I hit the Lotto it’d be on my short list.

Mechanical Carrion and a Tomcat

An F-14 Tomcat.  It’s kind of hard to watch.

Oh, and just mute the 30 second entitlement propaganda at the beginning.

Update: the video linked above is now gone.  Probably just as well; I’d rather remember it flying.

COMAIR crash and Tower Staffing

CNN.com – FAA: Tower staffing during plane crash violated rules – Aug 29, 2006

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Federal Aviation Administration on Tuesday acknowledged that only one controller was in the tower, in violation of FAA policy, when a Comair jet crashed Sunday while trying to take off from the wrong runway in Lexington, Kentucky.

Forty-nine of 50 people aboard were killed.

The acknowledgment came after CNN obtained a November 2005 FAA memorandum spelling out staffing levels at the airport. The memo says two controllers are needed to perform two jobs — monitoring air traffic on radar and performing other tower functions, such as communicating with taxiing aircraft.

And utterly none of that matters.  Yes, it’d have been nice if there had been two controllers.  Maybe they could have averted the disaster, and this utterly meaningless loss of life.  Maybe not.  That’s all speculation at best.

What does matter is that a professional aircrew didn’t follow their procedures, and didn’t do even a basic review of their compass heading prior to taking off.  Those checks should have told them they were on the wrong runway, and the Captain of the Ship doctrine applies in a plane as much as it does on a ship.  If it happens on your watch, it’s your fault, whether you were asleep or on the bridge.

I’m sorry for the loss of life, and I’m glad I wasn’t there, but the Tower controller didn’t have control of the throttles or the brakes on that jet.  Only the aircrew did, and that’s where the responsibility lies.  Period.

911 Case Study: Pentagon Flight 77

I have no use for 9-11 conspiracy theorists. Period. It takes a particularly diseased mind to blame multi-level government conspiracy for deeds claimed by our enemies as their own action on the US.

However, I found this to be terrifically interesting: an astonishingly well-done video of the crash into the Pentagon of AA Flt. 77.

(My first YouTube embedded movie!)

This will not influence those who want to Blame America First, but is an excellent coverage of the crash, and an explanation of some minor details.

via LGF

How to crash a Predator

via the NTSB, the Border Patrol has a Predator crashed : CHI06MA121

 Hat tip to the AG for the link.

B-52 Model Airplane

Completely non-medical.

Another of those email-forwards, here’s a (really huge) video of an RC model B-52 (which is really, really huge for a scale model).

How huge? A picture, 1K words, etc:

Here’s the link, just be aware it’s as big a file as the model.