Sunday, April 11, 2010

The role of VIP weight-throwing in air crashes

The recent death of the Polish President, Lech Kaczynski, in an air crash has again put the spotlight on the power equations in a cockpit.

Mr Kaczynski (and a host of senior figures) died when their plane crashed while trying to land in thick fog. What went wrong? According to this report in the Independent newspaper, 'VIP syndrome' is being blamed. Apparently, because of the bad weather in the area, air traffic control directed the plane to land at another airport. But the pilots didn't listen and continued their approach to the runway. Why didn't the pilots heed the warning?

The suspected reason (as of now): The President wanted to ensure he would be able to attend a function they'd gone for. So he over-ruled the pilot.

Viktor Timoshkin, a flight safety expert, was quoted as saying, ""Air-traffic control told him to take the plane to Moscow or Minsk. I'm certain that the pilot will have told the President about this, and got a firm reply that the plane must land in Smolensk."

The President was the boss of the plane and he over-ruled his subordinates, the pilots. The result was a disaster for everybody. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that something like this has happened. The world's worst aviation accident (the collision of two 747s at Tenerife), in which over 500 people died, was partly caused by the captain's refusal to listen to his flight engineer. The engineer had warned that another aircraft (invisible in a dense fog) was on the runway, right in the path of his own aircraft. The captain didn't listen, and the planes collided.

In India, a chief minister of a state was recently killed when his helicopter crashed in bad weather. Here too, the pilots didn't want to fly, but the minister insisted on doing so, so he could attend a function (the same as the Polish President).

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