Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Air France 358: The crash that should not have happened

It was considered a miracle nearly two and a half years ago. On the hottest day of the summer in 2005 and during a violent hailstorm, an Air France plane crash landed at the airport in Toronto, skidding off the runway and exploding in a ravine. Incredibly, all 309 passengers and crew survived.

At the time, a lot of people were asking what business did a plane have landing during such a weather event. Today, Canadian investigators ruled what most of us already knew. It did not. There was plenty of warning but the flight crew decided to land anyway, and as they did they got caught up in a tailwind which sped up the plane on landing, making it impossible to slow down or stop.

While the crew deserves credit for evacuating the plane in 90 seconds, as per protocol, they screwed up in one respect -- they apparently allowed the passengers to take their carry on bags with them. This actually wasted valuable time, as the last passengers left the plane just as it blew up.

The airport is also partly to blame. The runway is about 300 metres shorter than international standards and a prior fatal accident in the same ravine wasn't enough to get the airport to extend the runway as it should have. In my opinion, if the Toronto Airport Authority is collecting the highest landing fees and passenger take-off "charges" in the free world then certainly they have the cash to make this very simple adjustment. I've landed on the same runway a number of times and each time when the plane has taxied back to the terminal I've noticed that damn ravine and wondered, why is that there?

I'm not sure what civil penalty is appropriate, if one has been imposed yet. But considering that other near disaster -- the Air Transat flight from Toronto to Lisbon just a couple weeks before 9/11 that lost fuel over the Atlantic and crash landed in the middle of nowhere, again with everyone surviving, and the relatively paltry fine of $250k -- I'd say a forfeiture of $10 million to the feds is not out of the question. This is over and above the civil damages in the still-pending class action. Airlines need to understand that passengers and cargo are their business, their only business, and we'll take our money to the competition with better safety records if they don't smarten up.

UPDATE (9:40 pm EST, 0240 Thursday GMT): Did I say 1995???? Man, this weather's getting to me. It's 2005 of course.

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