Month: February 2015

The Wolk Law Firm has received a demand letter from NTSB General Counsel that it clarify comments made about the NTSB’s role in investigating the fiery crash of a Gulfstream IV at Bedford, Massachusetts.

Earlier commentaries focused on the elevator controls as the likely cause of that tragedy. In fact another GIV suffered a similar yet not fatal incident in 2006 at Palm Beach International and yet another just occurred at Eagle, Colorado. At Eagle the flight crew pulled back on the elevator control and got nothing. They aborted the takeoff and stopped within feet of the end of the runway which was longer than the runway at Bedford.

Since those commentaries were published on this site others have also contacted the Wolk Law Firm.

The NTSB has refused to allow representatives of the families to bring competent experts to examine the wreckage of the Bedford aircraft and in particular the elevator control servo and associated hardware. The NTSB has declined to allow the families’ representatives to listen to the Cockpit Voice Recorder or see a transcript and has also declined to publish the results of the Flight Data Recorder tracings. This is true even though the NTSB had had this information within hours of the accident. Rumor has it that the Eagle, Colorado aircraft was taken to a Gulfstream facility for examination and testing.

In its preliminary report of the Bedford accident, issued after the NTSB listened to the Cockpit Voice Recorder, and looked at the Flight Data Recorder which revealed the flight deck crew in Bedford is said to have referred to “aircraft control” before they attempted to abort the take-off. In the Eagle, Colorado incident, the flight deck crew uttered similar words as well. Such excited utterances are common when the cause of the emergency is related to the controllability of an aircraft.

Since those words were apparently uttered at a time when back pressure on the yoke and hence the elevators was being applied, the aircraft control referred to is the elevators.

If they do not work, the aircraft will not rotate for takeoff just as in Palm Beach, just as in Eagle, and just as in Bedford.

The Gulfstream has a dual elevator control servo which combines two hydraulic systems into one unit to provide system redundancy in the event of a single hydraulic system failure.

It consist of two pistons that oppose each other and they are connected to a common linkage. There is also a manual back-up that is supposed to allow elevator movement even in the event of a dual hydraulic system failure. For reasons that are not now apparent, the cable back-up has proved inadequate. That control system was designed in the 1960’s by the same company responsible for the B-737 rudder control servo. The Wolk Law Firm’s nine year effort at proving the defect in the B-737 servo in the face of industry denials is well known.

It has been our firm’s experience that design philosophies that result in unaccounted for failure modes usually pervade the product line. We are investigating whether the dual redundant design in the GIV is in fact truly dual redundant, or whether it is just redundant enough to satisfy certification authorities. There is only a single elevator servo in the GIV just like there was only a single servo in the B-737 rudder.

After the Eagle incident The Wolk Law Firm published another commentary referring to a document production made by the NTSB as well as making comment on the flight deck crew’s reported utterances in the Bedford incident. The NTSB hasn’t yet published the docket and no documents were produced further to two separate FOIA requests. The Wolk law Firm assembled documents on its own and the NTSB has been stonewalling document production even though The Wolk law firm is entitled to them under The Freedom of Information Act. The families that The Wolk Law firm represent are also entitled to the documents up to now assembled by the NTSB under the Family Assistance Act, but the NTSB has ignored the mandates of that Act as well. The NTSB is concerned that it would appear that we were permitted to hear the CVR or read a transcript, but that was neither said nor implied by the commentary. The NTSB also is miffed at the suggestion that based on some forty years of investigating aircraft accidents that were unduly influenced by manufacturers’ participation, this Bedford investigation would likewise be compromised. The fact that manufacturers’ investigators report to their legal departments and hence their insurers doesn’t seem to bother the NTSB. The fact that

a study called The Rand Report issued years ago brought into question the cozy relationship between the NTSB and the manufacturers it invites to participate in investigations to the exclusion of representatives of the victims still doesn’t trouble the NTSB. Nothing has changed.

So to address the concerns of the NTSB directly, nothing was intended to imply that the NTSB released its docket on this accident to The Wolk Law Firm. Nothing was intended to imply that the NTSB released a transcript or allowed The Wolk law Firm to hear the CVR or see tracings from the FDR. Only the manufacturer of the aircraft and its safety/accident/legal/defense investigators were allowed to do that. In fact the NTSB continues to stonewall production of any documents concerning the Bedford accident.

The NTSB is also concerned that The Wolk Law Firm referred to the NTSB reluctantly releasing  documents. These documents which took a lawsuit to get released related to five other accidents and not the Bedford accident where the NTSB continues to refuse to release documents.

The Wolk Law Firm sued the NTSB for collaborating with aircraft manufacturers to keep documents and suspect parts from it until after the statute of limitations has run on lawsuits for the deaths of aircraft occupants. This has happened a number of times, not to mention the number of suspect parts that have been lost or damaged by the NTSB or destroyed to the point that no useful information can be further gleaned from them.

The FOIA request for the docket and the filing of that lawsuit were close in time and the amicable settlement of that lawsuit also occurred round the time the documents on Bedford were requested. The Wolk law Firm declines to speculate on the motivations of the NTSB but its experience is that the NTSB does not timely honor Freedom of Information Act requests and even asks manufacturers whether they can release certain documents before doing so. Allowing manufacturers to write

narratives of accidents, reviewing accident reports before they are released to the public, examining their own parts in their own facilities to determine whether they are defective is also routine for the NTSB.

Comments made by The Wolk Law Firm were based on their knowledge, experience, reports by others and reports by the NTSB following the Bedford accident, study of the aircraft systems and thousands of hours spent studying and uncovering flaws in aircraft control systems that baffled NTSB investigators. For example, the elevator control servo and its mechanisms was not thoroughly examined at the scene before the aircraft was moved from Bedford to its storage facility in spite of the flight crew referring to aircraft control prior to the crash. The failure to carefully examine it, remove it, laboratory test it and metallurgically  analyze it before the aircraft was moved is inexplicable and indefensible.

In our opinion the cause of the Bedford crash is and always will be a failure of the elevator control system, just like it was at Palm Beach, just like it was at Eagle and just like it was elsewhere. Getting demand letters from the NTSB won’t change anything, won’t solve anything, and don’t mean anything. I trust this clarifies concerns the NTSB had that it had reluctantly produced documents that might help The Wolk law firm assist the grieving families of those killed in this tragedy. No chance of that.

Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq.

 

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MADRID MD-82 CRASH, DÉJÀ VU
The flight path of both the Northwest and Spanair aircraft are eerily similar…

Two decades ago in Detroit Michigan, Northwest Airlines Flight 255, an MD-82, crashed on takeoff, killing all aboard except for a toddler. The crew had failed to extend the wing flaps and the takeoff configuration warning was disabled due to lack of electrical power to the device, so no warning was sounded.

Now it appears that first witness reports about an engine explosion on Spanair MD-82 upon its takeoff in Madrid, Spain on August 20 were in error. Instead, investigators have found that the plane did not have its wing flaps deployed when it stalled and crashed to the runway killing 153 of its 175 passengers and crew. Once again, it appears that the crew failed to extend the wing flaps, thus ignoring that item on the pre-takeoff check list. The cockpit voice recorder should confirm or deny whether the crew announced the need to set flaps for takeoff.

Typically, takeoff configuration warnings do not sound because they have been disabled due to frequent false warnings. A warning system is useless if it frequently malfunctions because flight crews will just ignore the warnings as unreliable. On the other hand, pre-takeoff check lists, which include challenge and response by the flight crew working together, should have resulted in proper flap extension. It has not yet been determined why the takeoff warning on the Spanair aircraft didn’t work and it was never determined why it didn’t work on the Northwest aircraft more than 20 years ago.

The flight path of both the Northwest and Spanair aircraft are eerily similar, with the nose seen coming up to takeoff altitude, followed by an aerodynamic stall resulting in a rapid descent to the ground with a large loss of life.

The fact that Spanish investigators heard no takeoff configuration warning on the cockpit voice recorder is just a “same-old, same-old” repeat of the well-known adage that aircraft always telegraph their intention to fail long before an accident. This problem has been around for at least 20 years and obviously a fix has not been ordered by the FAA, the agency responsible for ensuring aircraft safety.

It is hideous that the manufacturer hasn’t fixed this known fatal flaw that has now taken hundreds of lives.

– Arthur Alan Wolk

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The National Transportation Safety Board has asked the FAA to help in coming up with mandatory technology to be installed in aircraft so their location can be pinpointed within 6 miles of the crash.

These two technology challenged agencies of Government will no doubt, meet for years, establish a task force, contract with industry to come up with suggestions and after spending 100 million dollars or so will come up with the simple answer. It’s called GPS. Instead of wasting taxpayer money, someone at the NTSB should pick up the telephone and call UPS and Fedex. Those two companies know where everything they own is at all times. They can even track your packages so you know where what you entrusted to them is at all times. In other words, this is not rocket science, or even science, it is applied technology that already exists.

Another simple and inexpensive method is to modify the maintenance tracking software that already exists on many commercial aircraft such that it discloses position as well as the health of the aircraft.

That data is already transmitted by satellite to airline maintenance departments and some manufacturers. Adding a line of data would be almost costless.

What will now happen is these two sleepy agencies will convene a seminar at great cost. A paper will no doubt be written and awards given for unique achievements in the field of aviation. A dinner will be held to acknowledge this achievement and ten years from now simple changes that could have been installed yesterday will finally be mandated but only for new airplanes not for the ones that are already flying.

This of course is after a Notice of Proposed Rule Making is issued. A lengthy comment period will follow. Industry will complain that changes aren’t necessary because so few airplanes crash and most don’t crash into the sea never to be found. Complaints will be made about the cost and each comment will be investigated. The rule will become final anyway unless politicians get involved and weigh in on behalf of the airlines and manufacturers. If that happens, then the entire matter will be reopened and studied some more. This is the reason nothing gets timely done to improve aviation safety.

Arthur Alan Wolk

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