Compared to other forms of transport, air transport is considered to be the safest. However, airplane crashes are still a concern in the 21st century; despite concerted human efforts to prevent airplane crashes, statistics show that the trend has been increasing. According to Shanahan (2004), estimates show that nearly 85% of passengers and crew members affected by plane crashes can survive without serious injuries and death cases. Most crashes are survivable, but without the most feasible protective measures, serious injuries and death occur. Protective measures within aircrafts like restraint systems, seats and cabin strength are imperative in protecting passengers in the event of a plane crash (Shanahan, 2004).
The evacuation process of passengers and crew members during an aircraft accident is equally important; the emergency response to a plane crash contributes in defining the scale of injuries (Shanahan, 2004). This paper examines the crashing of flight 5401while landing at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 2004. During the crash, all the passengers and crew members survived the accident. The paper evaluates the factors that made the accident survivable, the aircraft design and post-crash factors, and the aspects that would have increased the aircraft’s crash survivability.
Description of the mishap and factors explaining the accident’s survivability
According to National Transportation Safety Board (2005), On May 9, 2004, Executive Airlines flight 5401 crashed at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. The plane skipped and bounced hard twice before coming to an abrupt stop at about 4,317 feet beyond the runaway threshold. According to the report, the captain of the aircraft was acutely injured; the first officer, two flight assistants and sixteen of the twenty two passengers had minor injuries; the other six passengers did not experience any injuries after the crash. The plane was considerably damaged after the crash. From the description of the accident, the survivability of the crash is attributed to various factors.
The interior configuration of the plane contributed greatly in enhancing the capacity of all the passengers and crew members to survive the accident. The National Transportation Safety Board (2005) highlighted that the airplane had the required cabin emergency equipments to respond to the impact of the crash. Fitzgerald (2010) highlights that aircraft accidents are inevitable, but fitting a plane with emergency systems helps in securing the lives of those on board. The aircraft had emergency exits on every side of the first row of the passenger seats (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005). Fitting the plane with emergency exits served as a strategic way of escape from the non-functional plane. Moreover, having the main entry door and the service door on opposite sides was important in enabling the passengers and the crew members to come out of the aircraft with ease. Therefore, from the report, it is important to note that the good condition of the interior safety systems of the aircraft were instrumental in preventing the passengers from serious injuries.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (2005), the cabin crew responded to the crash with haste and evacuated the passengers in time. During and after the mishap, the cabin crew members assessed the conditions of the plane and communicated to the passengers on the ensuing events. The panicking passengers were directed on how to avoid further injury by sitting near the rear of the airplane. The flight attendant coordinated the exit of the passengers from the plane through the service and main entry doors (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005). Having the main entry door on the left side of the fuselage and the service door at the right side of the aft fuselage gave the flight attendants to coordinate the evacuation process in an effective way. Executive Airlines gave training to flight crews on how to respond to emergency situations that might be injurious to those on board (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005).
The regular trainings came in handy as they enabled the flight attendants to take charge of the emergency response. Effective communication among crew members and maintaining a high level of assertiveness are important factors managing emergency situations (Shanahan, 2004). Fitzgerald (2010) agrees with this point by asserting that maintaining situational awareness by crew members increases the chances of survival in a crash. From a critical perspective, it is evident that failure to equip cabin crew members with adequate knowledge to deal with emergency situations is detrimental to the safety of the passengers. Hence, the ability of the flight attendants to manage the crash was a prime factor in avoiding serious injuries and deaths during the plane crash.
The emergency response at the airport was also pivotal in ensuring the survival of those in the flight. The Aircraft Accident Report by the NTSB (2005) asserted that the fire truck was between the Executive Airline’s operation’s area and the taxiway. The emergency response specialist in the fire truck witnessed the accident, and rushed to the site; noting that something was not right, he alerted the Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting station (ARFF), who collaborated with the airport’s operations coordinator to give medical attention to the injured flight personnel and passengers (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005). The strategic placement of the emergency response team at the airport played a huge role in ensuring that the passengers and crew members survived the plane crash without any death case.
According to the accident report by the National Transportation Safety Board, a post-crash analysis of the aircraft showed that the weld that joined the cap to the sleeve split during the accident. This led to the captain’s and first officer’s seats to have weld discontinues (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005). The report further points out that the captain’s cockpit seat become dysfunctional because the vertical loads in the plane did not complement with the certified ones. As a result, the plane’s third touch down fractured its trunnion leg. The fracture demonstrated the plane’s degree of vertical overload.
The post-crash analysis also highlighted that the left and the right elevators of the plane were mechanically disconnected (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005). The mechanical disconnection of the elevators meant that the plane could not recover from the hard landing at the runway. The NTSB report (2005) found out that the captain of the flight did not put in place the appropriate techniques of recovering from the bounced landings. The impact of the aircraft on the runway overwhelmed the pilot and limited his ability to control it. A critical analysis of the accident sequence shows that the captain had a problem with bounced landing recovery. The inability of the captain to recover from the bounced landing was emphasized in the accident report, with the Executive Airline’s manager admitting that the airline’s crew had not received bounced landing training (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005).
Recommendations of improving crash survivability
As discussed earlier, improving crash survivability calls for concerted efforts from the relevant parties. Firstly, it is important to ensure that the plane’s parts are in good condition while on transit. Servicing aircraft parts is extremely important in ensuring survivability in case of crashes (Fitzgerald, 2010). For instance, the inability of flight 5401 to accommodate the vertical load of the plane stemmed from the fractured parts of the plane. Without the installation of quality interior and exterior plane features, aircraft crashes are bound to have serious consequences on the passengers; injuries and death tolls are inevitable when the safety systems of the aircraft are not functioning effectively (Fitzgerald, 2010). The post-crash testing analysis of the plane found out that the aileron surface position sensors were faulty and needed to be installed (National Transportation Safety Board, 2005).
Fitzgerald (2010) further observes that most plane crashes record serious injuries to passengers because of the failure to service important parts. Lack of protective systems design in an aircraft as well as the utilization of the same is a primary contributor of aircraft crashes and the consequent injuries (Shanahan, 2004). Therefore, based on the report on flight 5401’s crash, a feasible recommendation on improving its survivability would have been the fitting of quality protective systems to the plane. In the event of a crash, effective protective features go a long way in enhancing the levels of survivability to the passengers and the crew members. For example, inflatable restraint systems like airbags are significant in minimizing injury and supporting the body in the event of aircraft crashes (Shanahan, 2004).
On the same vein, effective training of the pilots and flight attendants is vital in improving survivability. According to the National Transportation Safety Board (2005), the pilots of flight 5401 did not have sufficient training on bounced landing. Failure to have enough capacity to handle the aircraft before and during the landing mishap contributed to the subsequent injuries. From a critical viewpoint, if the crew members had received the required training on bounced landing, it would have been easier for them to manage the situation. Comprehensive training of the crew on the dynamics of aircraft landing as well as handling emergency situations is extremely imperative in improving the chances of crash survivability (Fitzgerald, 2010). With sufficient training, pilots and flight attendants will have the much needed experience to respond accordingly to multiple situations in controlling a plane and evacuating passengers.
A critical evaluation of the NTSB accident report shows that the survivability level of the plane crash depended on the level of training to the crew members, the quality of the aircraft’s interior configuration and the swiftness of the emergency response team. Thus, improving the crash survivability deems it necessary to enhance capacity in the three areas. With such measures, it is certain that the alarming rates of crash casualties and deaths will drastically reduce.
Fitzgerald, A. (2010). Air crash investigations: Tenerife Airport disaster: The World’s deadliest plane crash ever. Lexington, KY: Mabuhay Publishing.
National Transport Safety Board. (2005). Aircraft Accident Report: Crash During Landing Executive Airlines Flight 5401. Retrieved from: http://www.ntsb.gov/doclib/reports/2005/AAR0502.pdfShanahan, D.F. (2004). Human Tolerance and Crash Survivability. Retrieved from: http://www.researchgate.net/publication/214501499_Human_tolerance_and_crash_survivability. [Accessed 15 June 2014]