Sunday, January 20, 2008

Coward is a Hero

This is a bit different from our standard fare but when I read about it I just felt compelled to share. It's also nice to have a break from all the government crimes and politics (is that redundant?) we normally cover.

Here is an absolutely amazing feat of skill and professionalism:
Inquiry Finds Power Failure in London Jumbo Jet Crash

Both engines on the British Airways jumbo jet that crash-landed just short of a runway at London’s Heathrow Airport on Thursday failed to respond to a demand for more power during the final few moments of the flight, British investigators said Friday.
[...]
Part of the main landing gear was torn off and another part was jammed up into the wing; the airplane plowed on its belly across open grass before slowing to a halt when it hit the tarmac. The 136 passengers and 16 crew members exited through emergency slides.

Several passengers told British news organizations that they had been unaware of the emergency until it was over. “It was a very quiet, normal flight. I didn’t have the feeling we had crashed until we left the plane,” said Jerome Ensinck, a passenger. “When you look at the plane you realize it could have been way, way worse,” he said in a television interview.
Now aside from the fact that the headline is probably wrong, (I read the initial report and it seems to say that the engines didn't respond with more power, not that they failed completely, and the plane didn't crash, it had a forced landing, (Forced landing is defined as the inability to continue flight due to the consequences of damage, uncontrolled fire or thrust loss where imminent landing is obvious but aircraft controllability is not necessarily lost.)

Obviously this dedicated crew did everything right. On final approach, at 600 feet and 2 miles from the airport, (about 45 seconds from a normal landing), with co-pilot John Coward at the controls, they reacted immediately to the emergency and brought the plane in safely. The only serious injury was a broken leg, and while I can't find the cause in subsequent reports I'm willing to bet that it was during evacuation.

Here's part of the Captain's statement:
Captain Paul Burkill explained that it was actually First Officer Coward "who was the handling pilot on the final approach, and did the most remarkable job."

"As Captain of the aircraft I am proud to say that every member of my team played their part expertly yesterday, displaying the highest standards of skill and professionalism," Burkill said. "Flying is about teamwork, and we had an outstanding team on board yesterday."

Burkill also singled out cabin service director Sharron Eaton-Mercer: "It was typical of her selflessness that she took time to check that we on the flight deck were all right before going down the chute herself."
Video and full statement here.

Having had 2 engine outs in an experimental aircraft where I was the pilot and only SOB, (Soul On Board ... or sunnavabitch, because I did the building and the maintenance;-), I can tell you it's somewhat disconcerting to not have the throttle respond and realize there is no way you're going to make it to an airport. And that was in a plane that landed at less than 60 mph while flying over fairly flat land and green fields. I can't imagine doing it at 170 mph with 151 passengers ... over London.

Kudos to the crew. Big, BIG, kudos to the crew!