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Home > Air Crash > What lesson can pilots learn from this air crash?
What lesson can pilots learn from this air crash?
Aviation - Air Crash
Monday, 14 November 2005 08:08

Hello Capt Lim,

After reading through your articles, I have just realized that an aircraft could land and stay afloat on water. How stable would it be? (Probably depending on sea condition?) I know a ship will not capsize if its CG (Center of Gravity) is not threatened even though it is in rough sea conditions.

Secondly, are pilots taught seamanship and *survival at sea* skills so that they can impart the essential knowledge of surviving at sea to the passengers if they were to crash-land at sea?

Lastly, what can you comment on this: "On 11 December 1998 a Thai Airways Airbus A310 HS-TIA crashed into a hill during its third attempt to land at Surat Thani Airport in bad weather. The ILS system was shut down at the airport, forcing the crew to use less accurate VOR signals. 101 out of 106 passengers and crew members perished."

What would most pilots do in such a situation?

Thank you once again.


Hi Asakura,

Yes, how long an airliner would remain afloat would depend on many factors. If it were fully intact after the ditching without any leaks on the body or if the sea is fairly calm, it could float for quite a while for the passengers to evacuate into their life rafts. (On the Boeing 777, there are 8 slide rafts with a capacity sufficient for 466 occupants.)

Pilots and all cabin crew undergo dinghy drills during their basic training. They are also tested on the emergency and sea survival procedures annually but not the details of seamanship like you do in your naval college.

Like any air accident, the Thai Airbus A310 crash was a tragedy. When I read more into the accident, there seems to be a pattern in most accidents that happened in bad weather. Let me refresh the accident:

On December 11, 1998, at Surat Thani, 500 kilometers south of Bangkok, a Thai Airways Airbus A310 crashed during heavy rain and burst into flames. Out of the 146 people on board, only 45 survived. It was stated that the cause of the accident was attributed to *pilot error*. There were three pilots on the plane - the captain and two co-pilots who did not survive. Investigators were unclear as to why the pilot was unable to use the landing aids into the airport as they were "operating perfectly."

In fact, for a safe landing in bad weather or poor visibility, the ILS (Instrument Landing System) should be the preferable equipment to use but where the accident happened, this precision landing aid was taken out during runway construction some months ago. But, according to the control tower personnel, all their VOR equipment (less accurate) were working at the time of the crash. They blamed the pilot for attempting the third landing.

Well, this is my opinion: Yes, the contributory cause of the accident was due to the lack of a precision landing system at Surat Thani - the ILS. The pilot should not have made the third attempt at landing if the ILS was not available. The captain should have diverted to Phuket, which had an ILS, or back to Bangkok instead of trying a third landing. I cannot understand why he did what he did. The president of the Thai Airways Pilot Association, cast doubt on reports that the pilot may have been unwilling to return to Bangkok, as he would have to answer for wasted fuel.

I once flew the Boeing 777 to Perth, Australia, on a stormy morning. The wind was in favor of another runway without the ILS. I only made one attempt to land on the less-accurate VOR approach. When I reached the decision height, I could not see the runway and aborted the landing. I did not want to try a second attempt, as I know the VOR was useless in bad weather. After going around and as soon as my minimum diversion fuel was up, I diverted to Adelaide - about two hours away - the longest ever diversion in my flying career! (I did that without hesitation, partly because there were no pressures on me to explain on the economical loss due to weather reasons)

What would most pilots do? Well, most would respect the weather if good landing aids were not available. Most would go around or divert if the weather were bad and live another day!

I always remember this since my basic flying training days in the United Kingdom. "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are never old and bold pilots!"


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