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Singapore Airlines Flight 006 Crash Likely Due to Combination of FactorsAired October 31, 2000 - 1:23 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We just received a new time for a news conference from Singapore Airlines out of Los Angeles telling us more about the crash of their airline Flight 006 in Taipei, Taiwan; and that should happen in about seven minutes, and we will provide live coverage. Earlier the airline had said there were no known fatalities, so we hope to hear more about survivors from this devastating crash that, amazingly, so many people seem to be all right from.
We want to talk with Charles Feldman, CNN's correspondent based in Los Angeles. Charles is also a pilot.
So Charles I'm wondering, when you hear the witnesses describe the weather conditions as they took off, what does a pilot think when he hears such things?
CHARLES FELDMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me first give a very important disclaimer, and that is, Natalie, that airplane crashes are very notorious for turning out, very often, to be something other than what seems to be the apparent cause at first. By that I mean that most airplane crashes turn out to be a combination of factors, and only after considerable investigation do you learn what really was the cause.
Having said that, Natalie, wind would appear to be a fairly good candidate at the moment for being a factor in this crash. Now, not the wind per se; airplanes take off into all kinds of wind. If the wind, for example, as it ought to be, is coming right down the runway and the airplane takes off into that wind, the velocity is of fairly little significance, especially to an aircraft the size of a 747.
But, the weather conditions at the time may have set up -- and I say "may" -- a situation where two things could have happened. You have the situation of microbursts, which are often associated with thunderstorm activity. And what that means is you get a violent down- draft of air; and so, as the aircraft is lifting up, if it encounters that violent down-draft of air, and if the velocity of that air exceeds the capacity of that aircraft to climb it could slam down into the runway.
Another potential is, because of shifting wind conditions and what they call wind shear -- that's when the wind changes directions rather violently from north to south, say, or east to west -- the aircraft could lose lift. Now, the takeoff phase of a flight is probably the most critical phase and also the most dangerous. Why? The aircraft is fully loaded with fuel -- in this case the plane was going to be making a flight across the Pacific all the way to California.
It's fully loaded, it's at its heaviest and, therefore, it is at its most vulnerable. When it's lifting off the runway it needs to gain airspeed, it needs that all-important lift; it cannot afford to encounter something unexpected, like a change in wind or a microburst.
Now, remember I said before that often airplane crashes turn out to be a combination of factors. What we don't know, for example, is, was there a control problem with the aircraft on takeoff? Did the pilot experience any problems controlling the surfaces of the wing and tail that make the aircraft fly and maneuver? Was there a power-plant problem? The 747 has four engines, two on each wing. If, during that critical phase of takeoff, when the aircraft needs all the power it can get -- if there was any kind of problem with one or more engines, add to that any potential wind shear or microburst activity -- that could set up this domino effect that would lead to the crash.
But, again, I want to re-emphasize that disclaimer that I began with, and that is that, very often, at the beginning phases of an airplane crash, what looks like the obvious reason turns out, months and sometimes even years down the road, to not be exactly the reason why it crashed. So we all have to be very, very careful about speculating.
ALLEN: Absolutely; and people that were watching the video saw that this airplane broke into two. We've heard incredible stories from people trying to help people as they try to figure out how to get out of this airplane. With all that said, that you mentioned, we certainly don't know what all the factors are here; and, noting that many people, apparently, commented on the weather, what are the guidelines for deciding when a plane should or shouldn't take off -- or are there international guidelines as far as weather conditions?
FELDMAN: Well, you know, ultimately it's up to the pilot in command of any aircraft. Now, obviously, every airline has its own set of statistics that it tells its pilots it must adhere to and I don't know, frankly, what Singapore Airlines' might be.
But, basically, it is up, always, to the pilot in command of the aircraft, it's his or her ship. It's up to them to determine whether or not the flying conditions are safe for the crew, the passengers and the airplane. And as I said, you know, many people might say, well, gee, it was windy, should the plane have taken off in a driving rainstorm and wind?
Well, 747s and aircraft considerably smaller and much less sophisticated than 747s take off in bad weather and land in bad weather all the time. But that doesn't mean that it's always a safe condition. And that's why airlines and government regulatory agencies leave it up to the pilot in command. And that's a legal phrase, by the way, that's not just one of those phrases that gets tossed about willy-nilly -- it is a legal definition. The person who is in charge of that aircraft has the final decision-making authority on whether or not it is safe to take that airplane into the air. And it would appear obvious, since the plane did takeoff, that the pilot of that aircraft made the evaluation that, the weather notwithstanding, it was not beyond the capabilities of this 747 400 series which, by the way, is the newest in that series of aircraft.
It's a very sophisticated airplane. It has what's called a glass cockpit; and what that simply means is that a lot of the old instruments that you may have seen in old movies have been replaced by little television screens, flat screens. It's all electronic -- sophisticated computer systems. The aircraft is capable, at many airports, of almost landing itself, even in practically zero visibility. That gives you an idea of the kinds of weather conditions that that aircraft is capable of flying in.
And by the way, Singapore Airlines has an excellent safety record. It is an airline that is very respected in the aviation community. It is a market leader. it is consistently profitable. It has a very new fleet of aircraft by airline standards and, in fact, you may recall, Natalie, only a few weeks ago Singapore Airlines was in the news because of a competition between Boeing, which makes the 747 and Airbus, which is a European consortium that is trying to build a rival jumbo jet that's much bigger than the 747.
And the reason Singapore Airlines was in the news was all eyes were on it. The industry wanted to know if Singapore Airlines was going to buy that aircraft, because if it did, other airlines would follow. It did take orders on it, and that shows you the respect that that airline commands in the aviation industry -- Natalie.
ALLEN: CNN correspondent and pilot Charles Feldman. Charles, thank you for you information today.
FELDMAN: My pleasure.
ALLEN: Now to Lou.
WATERS: And, despite what Charles said about aircraft flying into driving rainstorms, we have considerable evidence that the weather conditions in Taiwan were more than a driving rainstorm.
Orelon Sydney's been checking her computers. We'll have more on that when we come back. And we're awaiting that Los Angeles press conference from Singapore Airlines. We'll get to it all as we continue.
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