Wednesday 8 January 2014

Surviving Kegworth

Just yesterday I was on about Angus Wallace who was able to carry out a bit of light thoracic surgery at 10,000m with a coat-hanger and some table cutlery.  You'd like to ask what such a fellow did in his day job.  Turns out that he was an orthopaedic surgeon at Nottingham.  In his own theatre, with an anaesthetist and a full complement of kit, he was able to do a lot of good 25 years ago today.  Earlier in the day, British Midland Flight BD 092 from Heathrow to Belfast lost a fan blade (metal-fatigue) in one of its engines which was damaged.  The pilot and co-pilot contrived, through the classic set of circumstances typical of a 'normal accident',  to shut down the wrong engine as they diverted to British Midland Airport.  A key event was that, as the pilot went through a standard set of diagnostic checks to identify the nature of the emergency, he was interrupted by air-traffic control and never completed the protocol.  Pilots are temperamentally so calm and in-control that they are quite unable to say "Shut-up, I'm concentrating", although that might have been the correct response there, then.

Howsoever, BD092 came down just short of the runway, having struck the far side of the embankment of the M1 motorway and hop-scotched over the roadway to land on the near-side embankment and break into three pieces.  The plane didn't burst into flames and the motorway provided an additional handy access point for emergency services.  Just as well that the plane didn't burn because a number of the survivors had broken legs and wouldn't have made it in a hurry for the emergency exits. In all, 39 people died on impact and a further 8 succumbed to their injuries later.  The 79 survivors, 74 of whom were seriously injured provided data for a re-analysis of the brace position.  This was carried out over the next few days by Mr Wallace and others and over the next many months by Hawtal Whiting Structures, an engineering consultancy, who put a large number of crash-test dummies through their paces.  One key finding was that you should make sure that your feet and shins are braced under and behind the knees so they don't break against the underside of the seat in front of you. Also get your head right up against what it is going to impact with (the seat-back in front of you probably) rather that waiting for inertia to bring it forward at impact speed.  The current details can be found on Wikipedia.  So it's another hats off to Angus Wallace, who can not only think with his hands (and a coat hanger) but can also sort carefully and analytically through the data from an aftermath.

Now get this.  If you're flying out of the UK with a lap-passenger (one under the age of 2 like The Wean last year), the hosties  insist on providing you with a mini-seatbelt which threads through your own and prevents the bundle of joy flying out of your arms and down the aisle.  Flying from the US, however, the FAA forbids this arrangement believing that the mini-belts increase the probability of injury to the infant.  Clearly 'believes' in the operative word here because if there were any data there would be an agreed policy. There is a further belief that the brace-position is only required to ensure the availability of good dental records after The Event!

Risk assessment is interesting and worth spending some time on. You don't want to go to huge inconvenience and expense to avert an exceedingly rare event.  So don't bother with an FAA approved child-seat: you're more likely to develop a melanoma from the bruises it will undoubtedly make on your shins as you lug it about. Steve Levitt the economist has demolished the argument that child car-seats are anything other than a boondoggle for Britax.  I used to think, following runway conflagration of British Airtours Fl 28M,  that it would be handy to pack a large (turkey sized) oven bag in a pocket of your carry-on.  Pop it over your head while the flames whip through the cabin and you might make it to the door. The European Transport Safety Council ETSC dismisses this (PDF p24-28) as nonsense, but is defo worth reading for other survivability tips.

No comments:

Post a Comment