"The only time an aircraft has too much fuel on board is when it is on fire."the organization's web site:
-- attributed to Capt. Ernest K. Gann
"Directly below the B-17 was a farmer’s field and the decision was made to land immediately. Approximately 1 minute and 40 seconds from the radio report of the fire, the B-17 was down safely on the field. Within that 1:40 time frame, the crew shutdown and feathered the number 2 engine, activated the engine’s fire suppression system, lowered the landing gear and performed an on-speed landing. Bringing the B-17 to a quick stop, the crew and passengers quickly and safely exited the aircraft."
But the key here was the rapidity with which the airplane was put on the ground once fire was detected. Fire in the sky gives you no time to waste. There have been far too many in-flight fires where time was either wasted or inadequate and tragedy ensued.
- ValuJet 592, the DC-9 that crashed in the Everglades in 1996 after a mis-handled shipment of oxygen generators ignited in the cargo compartment.
- Swissair 111, the MD-11 that crashed in the sea near Nova Scotia in 1998 after a fire started in the entertainment system's wiring. In that case the crew wasted precious time dumping fuel to avoid an overweight landing, allowing the fire to render the aircraft uncontrollable.
- UPS Flight 6, a 747-400F freighter that crashed in September of last year near Dubai. Fire on the cargo deck created smoke so dense that the crew could no longer see the flight instruments. Shipments of lithium batteries have been implicated in the disaster.
- The 2007 crash of a NASCAR-owned Cessna 310R in Sanford, FL. The accident (discussed in this blog HERE and HERE) where an electrical fire incapacitated the crew.
I wish that was the end of the story this week. We could regret the loss of a precious old airplane while rejoicing in the safety of her crew. But, fire in the sky wasn't done with us.the loss to fire of a blimp operating in Germany under contract to Goodyear. It's too soon to know the cause of the fire, but its consequences are tragically clear. The pilot got the airship close to the ground and told his three passengers to jump.
The airship pilot, Capt. Mike Nerandzic was a veteran of many years and many thousands of hours of blimp operations. He had to know exactly what would happen when 250 kilos of passenger weight suddenly exited the aircraft. Still, he told his passengers to jump, and they lived. The blimp shot upward and soon was completely ablaze. Mike Nerandzic, 52, from Australia, died in the fire.
Fire in the sky is a terrible thing. If it comes for us, there is so little we can do. We obsess about maintenance, we operate our systems conservatively, and we resolve to seek the ground at the first hint of spark or smoke. And we hope for the best.