Wednesday, February 8, 2006

A Sad Story

It certainly could have been worse. The crew got out OK, and the protections designed to keep a fire in check worked long enough for that. It'll be a year before the investigation is complete.

But such a sad end to a magnificent and useful 40-year life. If this were my company, I would say that I had flown this very aircraft on three legs in December, and had logged many an hour in this very engineer's seat over the past four and a half years. Many preflight inspections performed, tires kicked, wells climbed into, accumulators and reservoirs and cables and lines checked, takeoffs, landings, boxes moved.

One last leg to deliver her crew safely home. Safely enough. Good night, old girl.


Anonymous said...

I'll be very interested to hear any more that you learn about this event. The official investigation will obviously take a long time, but even without knowing the specific cause of trouble it is still very interesting to hear the stories of the people involved and to get their account of what happened.

BrianAlt said...

Wow, glad no one was hurt. But I'm sure glad my package wasn't on there!

Lizzie said...

That is sad.

40 years old? How long do most planes live? Just curious.

wunelle said...

I have some other photos from this series, and one can tell that the health of the remaining packages is a really big deal.

It seems that--pending this long investigation--the fire began in one of the lower cargo holds and then spread up top. That must have been quite the blaze, as the compartments are designed to contain quite a bit without spreading. It sounds as though the flames were externally visible as the airplane came in to land. A bit like airplanes being shot up during war and getting their crews back home safe, the idea of this plane continuing to function while being devoured is, well--it makes one attached.

40 years is not unheard of for airplane usage. They are among the most expensive things in our normal lives. Though the design of the 727 is newer than the DC-8, we have 727 airframes that are older than these, the last of the DC-8 production run. Northwest Airlines is flying DC-9s--another Donald Douglas product--that date from the '60s--far beyond what they were expected to last. But it's worth noting that while they continue to operate these DC-9s, they have already parked their first Airbus A-320, an airplane maybe only 20 years old!

A couple of the DC-8s have been parked in the time I've been at this company, but most of the remaining 46 do not yet have their end clearly in sight. This is just damn bad luck, though maybe good luck for the crew--as I say, she brought them home.

Dzesika said...

Hmm ... how many crew are there on an average cargo plane?

Esbee said...

Thank God it was UPS and not the Post Office. UPS has computerized records of every package, so people won't wonder for a year and can have duplicates shipped immediately or apply for insurance, etc. They may even be able to figure out if packages were involved and, if so, which ones.

Kate said...

Forget the packages, the important part is safe. Fortunately, a certain pilot blogger who may or may not work for a certain package mover was posting comments on the blogs yesterday after this incident so I didn't need to worry.

This blogging thing is strange. It's like you guys have been added to my family and friends worry list. (I worry a lot. It's kind of my job.)

wunelle said...

Dzesika--Sorry there's NEVER a short answer! Newer airplanes have 2 pilots, unless they are doing long-haul operations--international stuff; then they have a third pilot to relieve the others during the course of the shift. Older airplanes (DC-8s, 727s, older 747s) have two pilots and a flight engineer.

Of course, all may have jumpseaters as well (though not this one on this night).

Esbee--I'd wager that UPS knows the whole banana already: what was lost, what remains, what likely caused it, etc. Given the location of the fire, it was almost certain to have been cargo and not the airplane.

Kate--That's so sweet! If any pilot-bloggers worked for that company and were not involved in the tragedy, they would certainly be grateful that their friends were looking out for them!


Joshua said...

I had a feeling very similar to Kate's. The first thing I thought when I saw the pictures was that you were hurt. Then my rational side told me you probably weren't, since you posted pictures. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Then I felt like an ass. I shouldn't feel relieved because one of my friends escaped harm, when I don't know if others have or have not done the same.

Anyway, I am glad you, and everyone else involved, is safe.

Esbee said...

I never had to worry. I didn't know a thing about it until Maglet called me and told me, and in the next breath, she told me you were fine. Telephoning about fellow Bloggers - where does that put us?

Kate said...

A preacher friend would say that we are a community. A caring community.

Heather B. said...

Am I the only dumbass who didn't know that there may (or may not be) a certain blogger who works for UPS?

And does this mean that I can never write about the time that they *claimed* my package had arrived and yet it hadn't and I may (or may not) have flipped my shit on them?

Either way, glad that this blogger is alive and well.

wunelle said...

Back from the dentist. Given the six figures he'll earn from the crown he's putting on me, he's damn glad I survived too!

I'm still amazed at a community--Kate is right--that springs up in this setting. But I'm certainly concerned if I read that one of my blog buddies (bluddies?) is distressed about something. Anyway, I'm touched that y'all think of me! :-)

As Joshua alluded, we can't help wondering at those who WERE involved. And they're all fine. They were taken to a hospital for smoke inhalation and released shortly thereafter. I know the fella who was flying co-pilot--my seat--and he was awarded an upgrade to the Captain's seat on the DC-8 a short while ago and is awaiting training. I wonder how he's feeling now: is this the airplane that nearly killed him, or kept him safe?

And Heather, you're not alone. It's just tough to get good information these days, and we can't be sure WHERE certain bloggers work... (Though the hints fly fast and furious and it doesn't take too much detective work to make that last step.)

Hey, if you figure it out, let me know! ;-)

Anonymous said...

There are many a C-130 out there that were built in 1962...and are currently still hauling thus and such into and out of Iraq...airplanes that are on their third war. Some of the T-37s that I flew came off the line in 1957. IKE signed the legislation to buy them. 40+ years is not too uncommon for military aircraft...jets that get bashed around more than an average comm. airliner.

So it looks like an electrical fire...or is there a chance that a pallet in the back had something in it that ignighted?

Good job getting the jet down safely. At least we have a loadmaster in the back that can have eyes on what is going on back there...and a ramp/door that we can jettison cargo if able.

I take it that the company will try to salvage what they can from the jet? And at what field did this happen?

wunelle said...

This occurred at PHL. I imagine there's a lot that's salvageable--engines, major gear structures, cockpit stuff. Of course, speculation runs wild about rehabilitating the old bird, but from the pictures that looks impossible to me. In any case, it would cost far more than it is worth, since I think they spent only about $2 mil per to buy them in the mid '80s (a hell of a deal, to look at the return 20 years later).

Myself, unless it was a bleed air leak coming in at the wing root, I just have to think it was something in the cargo. There's nothing but lighting around there, which is all protected by circuit breakers. Major electrical feeds would show problems on the engineer's panel (which maybe they did--we won't see the report for a long time yet).

Those are, I believe, Class E compartments. No extinguishing, but it would take a hell of a lot to get fire to spread from down below up to the main deck.

Anonymous said...

Bleed air leaks (the hot air taken directly from the engines...used for A/C, pressurization and anti-ice...for those who did not know what bleed air was) are very scary. Our jet has a manifold fail warning that detects uncommanded changes in pressures...and closes off the engine SOVs. Fairly automatic...but still scary...especially if you dont know where all that hot air was going. Like the wing tanks.

I've never been in the front end for a landing at PHL...been to WRI nearby. Do civilian ATP types ever consider using military fields as emergency diverts? I imagine this guy was fairly close to PHL at the time...with Dover and McGuire also close...both with runway to spare.

What odd things are people shipping that could spark? Do you even know if you have hazmat...or does your company even deal with that sort of cargo?

Bravo to the 'ol stick and rudder guys who did this safely...doing some of that pilot stuff.

green_canary said...

I'm so sad for the plane...

Mandy said...

Um...if you don't work for that company, you might not work with my cousin. How freaking weird would that be?

wunelle said...

Does your cousin not fly for the company that neither one of works for? What isn't his name?

wunelle said...

Talking to some other guys here when I returned to work, it sounds like this crew is lucky to be alive. Whatever it was--and it's really not known to any of the unwashed masses yet--was volatile to have not given much warning. If they'd been up at altitude or over water things might have turned out very differently (tho up at altitude one can depressurize and deprive a fire of O2).

The airport in PHL is right on the water. We don't see so much at night, but it's a pretty picturesque place. I think the speculation about what the hell could have been on the airplane to cause such a conflagration will drive a very intense investigation. We're all very interested to learn... or we would be if we worked there.

Mandy said...

My cousin's name isn't Todd G, and he doesn't work for the company that neither of you works least I think so. It's been a long time since we've chatted, but if memory serves, he doesn't work for the same company that you don't work for.