On March 18 a FlyDubai Boeing 737 flying from Dubai to Rostov-on-Don crashed shortly after attempting to land, killing all 62 passengers and crew aboard. As we knew from the first day, the weather in Rostov-on-Don was horrible, with limited visibility and gusty winds. However, bad weather in and of itself doesn’t take down planes.
The pilots knew about the bad weather before departure, and loaded plenty of extra fuel in anticipation of some possible missed approaches. Around the same time time as the FlyDubai plane attempted to land, several other planes also had go arounds, and some ended up diverting to other airports.
In the case of FlyDubai, the plane attempted to land once, but had an aborted landing due to the conditions. Then they circled for about 90 minutes hoping for the conditions to improve. Then they came in for a second approach hoping for improved conditions, and they ended up aborting that landing as well. That’s when things got bad, as the plane crashed just moments after the go around.
Below is the footage of the plane going down at what appears to be a nose down angle. It’s horrifying to watch.
As usual, aircraft accident investigations can take years to complete, and intermediate reports are released every so often. Last week the most recent accident report was released, and it rules out a mechanical failure or violent weather as being the cause of the accident.
Popular Mechanics has a great explanation of what happened to the downed FlyDubai plane, according to the most recent accident report. Basically the crash was due to the pilots being disoriented, a phenomenon known as “somatogravic illusion.” Here’s the explanation:
During a go-around after an aborted landing, a plane tends to be lighter than normal since it’s at the end of its flight and has burned up most of its fuel. That means its thrust-to-weight ratio is relatively high, so when the pilot pushes the throttle forward from idle to full thrust the plane accelerates with unusual alacrity. This acceleration pushes pilots back in their seats, which to the inner ear feels exactly the same as tilting upward.
Black-box data show that as the plane started to enter the cloud after the second go-around, the flight crew briefly pushed the controls forward so that its rate of climb decreased, as if the pilots were momentarily disoriented. Then the plane returned to its previous rate of climb. For a few seconds, all was normal. The flight crew members were almost certainly following their instruments, as years of experience had taught them to do. Then, as if suddenly disoriented and unable to believe their instruments were correct, the flight crew pushed the stick far forward.
The pilots probably believed they were preventing the plane from getting too nose-high, which could cause the plane to stall and crash. But in reality they were taking a safe situation and turning it deadly. The lurch downward would have caused them to rise up in their seats as though on a roller-coaster zooming over the top of a hill. By the time they rocketed out of the bottom of the cloud and gained a visual sense of their orientation, they were in a 50 degrees vertical dive at more than 370 mph and just a few seconds from impact. There was no time to pull out.
In conjunction with the other factors involved, including horrible weather and fatigued pilots, that explanation certainly makes sense.
I’ll be curious to see the final accident report…