Sunday, July 07, 2013

N.T.S.B. To Media on San Francisco Crash: Just the Facts, Please

The speculation on the San Francisco crash from instant media experts continues in this infernal 24-hour all-news-till-you-wanna-holler-uncle culture.

All of a sudden, some media dilettantes are tossing around words like "stick shaker activation" and "glide slope" as they pose as expert investigators. Back in 1979, I was one of the reporters out of Philadelphia who covered the Three Mile Island nuclear plant partial meltdown, and I remember being amazed then at how some fellow reporters who couldn't do the math to make change from bus fare had become instant experts in nuclear physics.

Anyway, I think it's useful to have a look at a press conference today in San Francisco run by Deborah Hersman, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board, a federal agency that is universally respected. Here's the link from the N.T.S.B. web site.

"I would ask for to make sure you report the facts," Ms. Hersman said after she had carefully laid out what was factually known about the crash up to that minute, less than a day after N.T.S.B. investigators arrived on the scene. "We will not speculate. We are telling you what we know to be true," she added.

And in her 32-minute briefing, she did in fact discuss a good amount of factual information that is now on the record. Most importantly, data from the flight indicate that the plane was flying well under the designated speed for the landing, and that the pilots had an automated cockpit warning seven seconds before the crash to increase speed, followed by another warning that a stall was imminent, whereupon the pilots decided that they needed to do a "go-around" --- that is, abort the landing, step on the gas, and go around for another approach -- less than two seconds before impact, she said. Which was too late, of course. 

That's factual, based on observable evidence. But let's hope that the warning about speculation gets through to some of the more excitable media bloviators, the ones who are blathering on based on pure speculation, just to fill their infernal air time. Please, just the facts.

Below are some photos the N.T.S.B. released today of the cabin wreckage and the plane wreckage. Some clown on Twitter furiously objected to the N.T.S.B. releasing photos of a "crime scene," and had to be set straight by the N.T.S.B. that this is accident investigation, not a criminal one. Which reminds me of my personal experience in the Brazil mid-air collision in 2006, when the Brazilian authorities and Brazilian media kept insisting that the crash was a criminal matter. And we know how well that folly turned out, as air traffic controllers and others with important knowledge of the foul-up that had put two planes on a collision course over the Amazon went silent and refused to talk. Air traffic in Brazil was tied in knots for months, and not even 10 months after the Amazon mid-air crash, which killed 154, a worse crash occurred at the Sao Paulo airport, which killed 199.


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