Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Lidle crash

A few weeks ago, I detailed my first flight. The one where we left Teterboro, flew down the Hudson River, circled Lady Liberty and headed up the East River and across Central Park back to the Jersey side.

So it was more than unsettling to see Wednesday that Cory Lidle and his flight instructor died while flying the same exact route.

Quite a few people have asked me what I thought of the sad events. Without some specifics, it's hard to say. And it's hard to get too far into an estimate with so many facts still missing. Still, there are some things apparent right from the start, if I'm playing NTSB investigator.

A good deal of flying is about managing risk. Just like driving a car, you can never completely eliminate danger. But you can minimize your exposure to it. We teach the PAVE acronym -- pilot, aircraft, enVironment and external pressures.

Usually we use this at the beginning of a flight to analyze our risk, but it works well in reverse.

1. Pilot

This is an all-too common theme in accident reports. Rich guy gets his private pilot's license. Being rich, he quickly goes out and buys a swanky new plane -- something that's a little too advanced for his initial skill level.

The insurance companies typically only require about 10-15 hours of training in the plane, and off goes your rich guy into the blue yonder.

At 85 hours of flight time, Lidle was an extremely low-time pilot. Risk goes up. In addition, he had only bought the plane, an SR-20, a few months ago, so he's likely got only a little bit of his total time in that type of plane. Risk goes up.

Let's speculate a little and say he didn't fly much during the last few months because he's been busy pitching for a crappy team. So his limited flying skills are rusty. Risk factor goes up.

Next, look at the flight instructor on board. This is pure speculation. But I'd be interested to know how much time he had specifically in the SR-20, because I'm guessing it's not much.

The FAA requires that instructor's have a mere five hours in a specific make and model of plane before being cleared to instruct in it. All I need is my basic instructor's license. Nothing more. Obivously, if Stanger has just as little time as Lidle in the make and model, risk factor goes up.

2. Aircraft.

From all indications, the engine was running at the time of impact.

There have been reports that there was a fuel problem aboard. Even so, short of the plane spontaneously exploding like TWA 800, there's so reason that if they had lost their engine, they wouldn't have been able to establish a gentle glide down.

Short of that, this particular plane is equipped with a parachute. Why didn't they deploy the chute?

3. Environment.

The weather at Teterboro was about 3 statute miles of visibility shortly after the crash, and conditions seemed like they were marginal. The minium requirement for VFR flight is 3 statute miles and a 1,000-foot ceiling.

Even if it was 5 SM, it would still be considered marginal conditions. Risk factor goes waaay up.

The most common cause of fatal aviation accidents is people flying VFR -- visual flight rules -- into instrument conditions. Now, video of this accident seems to show that these guys should have been able to see that building coming straight at them, so it doesn't seem to fit that they were flying blind in the soup.

But visibility might have been just poor enough where they lost track of where they were, a loss of situational awareness.

4. External pressures

You'll see a lot of accident reports of people itching to get somewhere, so they take off in questionable conditions. It doesn't seem like that would be much of a factor here. These guys had a hotel reservation in Nashville that night, but obviously had time to do a NYC sightseeing flight, so I don't think they were pressing to get somewhere.

So add it all up.

Not much when you look at each part separately, but when you combine all those raised risk factors, it's a recipe for trouble.

What actually happened to those guys? We'll probably never know.

Maybe they had some sort of fuel problem, and instead of following the emergency procedure, they panicked and went into that unnecessarily steep turn.

Maybe they got distracted dealing with that problem. One of the primary things we teach when dealing with an emergency is simply but important. Fly the plane! You'd be surprised at how quickly people get distracted from everything else going on and forget to fly the damned plane.

There's a famous example of this from an Eastern Airlines crash in the Everglades that came in the 1970s. These guys were on approach into Miami at night in an L-1011 when they noticed a landing-gear indicator light failed to illuminate -- the gear might not be down.

So they got a clearance to fly west of the airport for a while while they investigated the problem. There's three guys in the cockpit. They're all focused on the gear-position light problem, so much so that no one notices that they must have brushed up against the yoke and disengaged the auto pilot.

Silently, the plane began a descent from its circling altitude of 3,000 feet into the black night of the Everglades. All the while, the three pilots are befuddled by the gear light. At long last, the last voice captured on the CVR is "Hey, we're still at 3,000 feet, aren't we?"

Two seconds later, the plane crashes.

The investigation revealed the gear light simply needed a new bulb.

Anyway, that was a little long-winded, but fly the plane.

In regard to Lidle and Stanger, I'm not sure this comes into play. But there's no earthly reason a fuel problem would result in that awful steep bank into the apartments unless these guys were maybe so focused on the problem, they forgot to pay attention.

Worse comes to worse, pull the chute and glide into the river.

That obviously didn't happen, and we're left to wonder what went wrong.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 05, 2006

protecting our passwords

In old times, the guards of castles and medieval fortresses first used passwords as means of granting access to kings and queens. No one could cross the moat without ye knowing thy old password.

These days, passwords are also known as PINs and secret codes and crap like that. We need them for a lot more than crossing into the kingdoms of yore. We use them for just about everything. We practically can't take a leak without first punching in our access codes.

Given the almost-constant need for such stuff, we have taken to spicing up our passwords. There's a certain art form to developing such crucial, secret words. They say something about us. We use them, in a way, to define who we are and what we stand for.

I'd be willing to bet that Sandman has some sort of code that reflects his interest in a certain New York baseball club, sure as I have some that indicate an angst-ridden support for a team that wears brown and orange on Sundays in the fall.

In rare cases, passwords are elevated to greatness. Thus, I present you, the top three passwords in world history:

3. Super Password

As promised, no ordinary passwords make this list. In fact, this one is just plain Super.

If you don't remember the classic game show that ran from 1984 to 1989, you are letting some of the best in television gaming history pass you by. Hosted by the always-classy Bert Convy, Super Password was a staple in the weekday lineup.

Contestants were matched with a C-list celebrity, who attempted to communicate the password to the befuddled contestant using a series of clues. The puzzles got harder and harder as the game progressed, and winning contestants got to attempt a Cashword puzzle that was especially difficult.

It should be noted that Super Password occasionally upped its game and got top-of-the-line celebrities to intermingle with its lowly contestants. Local Shill's uncle, Richard Kline, was a regular contributor to the program.

When I was a lad, I used to fake illness so I could stay home from school and watch Super Password and Press Your Luck, among others. Fond memories.

(Regrettably, the hosts of these shows are both dead. Convy died of brain cancer in 1991 and Tomarken perished in a San Diego plane crash within the last year while piloting a flight for a charity that offers poor patients transportation to medical help).

2. Brocktoon.

You may remember this password from a 1991 episode of Saturday Night Live that featured Tom Hanks, as well as Luckytown-era musical guest Bruce Springsteen.

Members of the Mr. Belvedere fan club are meeting in a room with chairs, a setting reminiscent of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Tom Hanks is the chairman of the group, and the first order of business is deciding on a nickname for Mr. Belvedere.

But it's not just any nickname, it is a nickname that only members of this exclusive group know so they can identify each other in a strange town. A password, if you will.

"The Man Who Rides Alone" is quickly rejected, as is "Beacon of Bliss." Then someone offers up, "Brocktoon," which is put to a group vote and approved. There is a fan of Brocktoon who wants to kill him in Hinckley-esque fashion to impress a girl. But that vote fails.

Later in the skit, the rules and regulations of Belvedere fandom are discussed after it is learned that a fan has been killing Mr. Belveder's house pets. One fan recites, "I should like watching Mr. Belvedere a lot. I should not want to masturbate at the end of every episode."

It just gets more bizarre from there. Classic stuff. You have to wonder if it was written by Farley when he was high on coke.

1. Bosco.

In another incident of Seinfeld's brilliance, an entire espisode of the show is crafted around George Costanza's reluctance to give his ATM code to his fiancee, Susan.

While watching the comatose mother of J. Peterman, who is outside a hospital room discussing care with doctors, George cannot contain his secret any longer. Figuring the woman is near death, he says:

"I really should be getting back to my fiancee. You know, we, uh, we had this big fight yesterday and, uh, well she, wants to -- to know my secret code. I don't know. I can't tell her. The funny thing is, you know, I would really love to tell someone 'cause it's killing me.

"You uh, you wanna know what it is? It's Bosco. You know, the chocolate syrup? I love that stuff! I pour it in milk. It's my favorite drink. Hoo-hoo boy, that is a relief!"

Naturally, it becomes anything but a relief when Peterman's mother suddenly awakens from her coma and begins screaming "Bosco! Bosco!" to the alarm of her doctors. After uttering the secret word in her trance-like state a few more times, Mrs. Peterman passes away, leaving her final words a mystery to everyone but George.

Fast forward to the end of the episode. George rushes to a fire with Peterman following the funeral of his mother. There's a man stuck inside a smoke-filled ATM vestibule.

Peterman: "Look, there's a man in there. Get out of there, you're in danger!"

Man: "But my sleeve, it's stuck in the machine. It ate my card!"

Peterman: "George, give me your ATM card."

George: "I don't have my ATM card."

Peterman: "George, you're obviously lying. Anyone cans see that!"

George pulls out his wallet, Peterman grabs the card and it fits into the slot. But the door is jammed, so Peterman slides the card under the door to the man, who grabs it and slams it into the machine.

Man: "Now give me your code!"

George: "What?! Why?"

Man: "The machine won't open without the code!"

Peterman: "George, give him your code!"

George: "But I-I-I..."

Peterman: "There's no time George. Give him your code! Shout out your code, man!"

Thus ends another chapter in Seinfeldian brilliance.

Labels: , , ,