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Chiang Mai Citylife > Articles > 2006 > 2006 Issue 10 > Air Conditioned Nightmare

Air Conditioned Nightmare

 

Take another Valium, give me a double…and a bottle of wine…is it really meant to be making that noise? Bang! Thud! Plane banks, luggage falls, previously blithe air-hostess loses composure and starts screaming, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, fasten your seat belts, 23 seconds to impact, 22, 21, 20, 19…You imagine the plane hurtling through the troposphere, seat belt, what a joke; the plane breaks like a cracked egg and you spill out, plunging through freezing cold cumuli, terminal velocity, your past a slideshow in your head, spending the last few moments of your precious life watching strangers fall to earth…and if you’d stayed on the plane, the fiery crash or the watery depths of some heartless ocean, immolation or drowning?

 

 

It doesn’t bare thinking about, but most likely you’ve entertained the thought of being that ill-fated statistic who doesn’t check-in on arrival at some point in your life. You’re not alone.

The chance of you beefing up the statistics, you know full well, is about as likely as winning the lottery; this doesn’t bother you, the only statistic that would make you feel better has a zero in it. Research by Boeing found that 18.1% of American adults were afraid to fly and another 12.6% suffered anxiety when they fly. Another survey by Newsweek revealed that about 50% of American adults were occasionally frightened when they flew on commercial airlines. But you don’t need surveys, just look at fellow passengers when you take off; see who’s still chatting through turbulence, whose knuckles are gripping the hand rest.

The cause of an air crash is usually pilot error (53%), while other causes include plane malfunction, fires, ground control error, terrorism, weather conditions (taking off/landing) and even unidentified birds not looking where they’re going. If you’re worried about a spot of turbulence, then worry no more, as turbulence during flight very rarely results in harm to passengers, in fact, airsafe.com (a site covering many matters of flight safety) says that only one passenger fatality since 1980 was due to turbulence. The site lists injuries according to turbulence and they are usually from stray objects knocking out cabin staff, or brittle boned oldies going over on an ankle. Planes are built to handle appalling weather conditions. Airsafe also points out that the appearance of oxygen masks does not mean imminent death; it can be just a precaution and does occur infrequently.

Since 1943, 13,989 instances of aviation, commercial and non-commercial accidents have been recorded, writes Aviation Safety Network, but not all resulting in loss of human life. Another expert on ‘death on a plane’, planecrash.com, states that if you crash you have a 24% chance of surviving, although that obviously depends on the type of crash. Reading through the air crash records it seems that there are extremes: either most passengers survive or most die…sometimes all. Looking at the site’s when-things-went-horribly-wrong section you see that many air planes do actually land safely with no injury to passengers after considerable damage to the plane or after huge pilot error. Fortunately, if you don’t land safely, your death will probably be over within a matter of seconds. Even the pilots are often unsure what is happening until it’s all over. Some eerie cockpit voice recording transcripts you can read on planecrash.com reveal that oblivion is often unheralded. Last words from pilot: “Hang on, what the hell is this?” “What the **** is going on?’ “Mountains!” “What, there’s what? Some hills?”, “where are we?” What makes the transcripts so chilling is the way in which some start with the crew happily chatting about wives, furniture and housing prices not knowing, as you do, their imminent fate.

On a more upbeat note, aircrashinfo.com does have the stats stating that your chances of dying while on board one of the 25 best airlines – according to safety – is 1 in 10.46 million, and while on one of the 25 worst, 1 in 723,819…(49 ball weekly British lottery odds 13,983,816/1). Ratherthan bet on the lottery why not see what odds William HOI will give you on your flight going down and ever. dying? Your greed, perversely, might take the edge off cardiac arrest. Better still hat a flutter on your demise while behind the wheel of a car, the Department (: r Transport (UK) reported this year that Britons have a one in two hundred chance ะ ะ being killed in a road crash during their lifetime.

You have to ask yourself which airlines fall into the ‘worst 25’ category. Can you really decrease the risk of becoming a victim by choosing the right airline? It does seem that some airlines have more of a propensity to crash than others, it also seems that some countries are prone to host disasters more than others – the quality of landing strip, airport maintenance, ground control staff, emergency equipment all factor when concerning safety. Airline Accident Ratings researched (the worst) airline safety from 1981-2000 (last available data) based on number of flights, number of fatal accidents and the fatality rate of those accidents: 1.Cubana Airline, 2. China Airlines, 3. Avianca Colombian Airline, 4. TAM Airline, 5. Korean Air, 6.Egypt Air, 7. Indian Air Lines, 8. Taesa Airlines, 9.China Southwest Airline, 10.Aeromexico.

Dr. Todd Curtis, aviation safety analyst, author and publisher of books and websites on aviation safety, including airsafe.com, told Citylife, “On the possibility of accidents, I can say that because of decades of effort by many in the air transportation industry, accidents and other events that lead to injury and death are rare and mostly random. The risk isn’t zero, but it is so low that I believe that air travellers should make decisions on whether to fly an airline based on factors like the reliability of the airline rather than on the perceived likelihood of a crash.” If you do feel you have to plow through years of airline safety records, you might want to know beforehand that Emirates, Quantas, Jalways, Finnair, Eva Air and Quatar are among the airlines which (frequently used in Thailand) have no records of fatalities.

Delving deeper, the Aviation Safety Network attempted to find out which part of the plane is safest to sit in case of an accident. After collecting as much data as they could from 1959-2008 they found out that the safest place on average was the rear of the plane. Good odds for survival: Emirates, rear, belted up all the way to a first world country in good weather! Experts also say that in the advent of a crash it’s important to brace your body and tuck your head into your knees.

 

Disasters in Thailand

More people are choosing to travel by air in Thailand, the middle class is growing, the rich are getting richer and the poor, well, they are stuck with suicidal bus drivers smashing speed limits on grueling trips to Bangkok. But those with the money are flying, not just in Thailand, but across seas. In 2007 the Airports of Thailand Public Company Limited (AOT) handled 109 airlines, 399,055 commercial aircraft movements – 218,653 international and 180,402 domestic — and a total of 57,155,149 passengers –+ 35,946,481 international and 21,208,668 domestic. From 2006 aircraft movements increased by 11.42 percent while passenger numbers increased 6.95 percent and 17.37 percent respectively.

Consider yourself a Thai statistic, how many times did you fly abroad in 2007, how many domestic flights did you take? From the 57 million people that flew in Thailand in 2007, 90 people

 

 

“Good odds for survival: Emirates, rear, belted up all the way to a first world country in good weather”

did succumb to the nightmare of leaving temporal existence aboard an airplane. 2007 was a bad year for statistics, but still, considering the millions of passengers, 90 isn’t bad. On 16th September 2007 a One-Two-Go Airlines carrier on its way from Bangkok to Phuket crashed while trying to land in Phuket, killing 90 of its 130 on board. Weather conditions were to blame. Before that Thailand had been a good place to be a statistic with no commercial airline disasters for some time, although the nineties saw Thailand’s worst air disasters.

On 11th December, 1998, a Thai Airways carrier crashed off the runway and stopped in nearby swampland in SuratThani killing 101 of 146 people on the plane. A similar crash to that of in Phuket, but with more sinister implications. The aircraft made three attempts to land. It should have returned to Bangkok, as standard practice demands pilots should return if they cannot see the runway after 60 metres. On the first two attempts the pilot told the control tower that he could not see the runway clearly. First the authorities blamed pilot error but then it came to light that the ILS (Instrument Landing System) had been dismantled due to airport construction. The ILS sends out beams to provide the pilots with guidance in bad visibility. A fellow Thai pilot insisted, “In bad weather all pilots prefer the ILS system over the radio system.” The THAI management claimed the navigation systems at the airport were up to international standards but it was later found out to be just the opposite. Not only had the ILS been removed but in a cost cutting measure the airport had made the decision to remove every other track light on the runway, making the distance between lights 120 metres instead of 60. If that wasn’t bad enough, a set of Precision Approach-Path Indicator (PAPI) lights, usually installed at the approach end of a runway, had also been removed. PAPI lights, which are seen as different colours according to the altitude of the airplane, enable a pilot to judge his height and glide path. It’s no wonder the pilot couldn’t land. Another criticism of the crash is the fact that the flight was allowed to take off at all when weather conditions were so bad. THAI president ThamnoonWanglee assured the families of the dead that they would receive compensation for their losses. $us 100, 000 was initially promised, although the insurers later stated that payment would be made case- by-case according to the victim’s ‘station in life’. A lesser job, less earnings, meant less compensation. THAI is expected to receive millions in insurance for the plane.

Less controversial, but no doubt the worst crash in Thai history, was the Lauda Air flight on 26th May 1991 that killed all of the 223 passengers on board (many from Chiang Mai). The flight was scheduled from Hong Kong to Vienna with a stop in Bangkok. Only a few minutes after leaving Bangkok the pilot noticed a pilot advisory warning button flashing. After fifteen minutes of flight the engine stalled and entered an uncontrollable descent, the pilots attempted to steady the plane but it later broke to pieces and scattered over the jungle. The Accident Investigation Committee of the Government of Thailand determines the probable cause of this accident to be “uncommanded in-flight deployment of the left engine thrust reverser.”

Dr. Curtis says this about Thai aviation “I’ve travelled to Thailand on several occasions, and have flown in and out of Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai, as well as through other airports in Southeast Asia. I have no hesitation when it comes to flying with any of the major international carriers flying to and from Thailand, including THAI and AirAsia, or with any of the three airports I’ve visited in Thailand.”

Regardless, we all know no amount of extolling the safety of air flight or a breakdown of the statistics in favour of flying will convince the aviophobic to take flight, it seems air anxiety conquers numbers and logic. There’s always a dodgy pharmacy over here that’ll sell you anti-something or others to becalm you, there’s always the complimentary wine and the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire game…look at the cabin staff, imagine how they feel doing this every day, taking off, landing, turbulence, you and your incessant demands for more booze…poor souls, thank God they have the lottery!