Well yesterday was a sad day for many as we all heard news of the crash in SFO. The first wind that blew my way about the accident was over Japanese Airspace at about 3:30am Hong Kong time. I had departed Hong Kong just prior to midnight, and was lucky enough to have first rest on our freighter trip to Anchorage. After a few hours of slumber in the bunk I jumped in the left hand seat to take over for the Captain who was now headed for a snooze. The first officer briefed me as per the usual on the aircraft, and flight to bring me up to speed. The next thing I know, Singapore Cargo Flight 2 was getting a re-route via Tokyo ATC. I didn’t think much of that until later in the flight when we first looked at the ATIS for Anchorage. “Ground stop in effect for all San Francisco departures”. It’s 2013 so the first thing that crosses my mind is terrorism, followed quickly of course by, an accident. It must be something major for a ground stop. Although a brief check of the SFO weather confirms that fog/foul weather is not to blame. So we pull up the SFO ATIS via the onboard ACARS (Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System) and discover that there are runway closures, and taxiway closures, much more then usual. Having been to SFO just the day before, it seems obvious that something is wrong. Maybe a disabled aircraft?
Turns out the aircraft was much more then disabled. When we got out of the aircraft in Anchorage, we soon rallied around our customs officer’s computer to see the news. A crash. A bad one by the looks of it. Initial reports suggested an emergency prior to landing. But after a quick search online upon reaching the hotel, it appears the accident WAS the landing. A coworker had a link to the audio tapes and it appears nothing is wrong until the final seconds.
Opinion time. The weather, good. The airplane, also appears to be fully functional. What I do know 9again from having visited SFO the day before in our 747-400) is that Runway 28L had many closures to some of it’s normal navigation aids. The Glide Path for Runway 28L was off the air, and approach lighting was also unserviceable.
One way or the other, I believe that these two items, specifically the ILS glide path, will be found to have contributed to the accident. There are other methods for vertical guidance in this situation, like a LOC/VNAV approach. Where the aircraft uses the lateral guidance as received from a ground transmitter to direct it laterally to the runway centreline, but uses onboard navigation sources to determine the vertical path. On a good weather day such as yesterday at the time of the accident, the operational difference would be little to none. There are certain steps that must occur in the programming of this type of approach that would be different, and could ultimately lead to a mistake if it was something that the crew was not used to.
There are also reports of the aircraft being too slow prior to impact. What I do know of the 777 is that is is normally flown with the autothrottle engaged, whether or not the autopilot is flying. So if a pilot has disconnected the autopilot to “hand fly” the autothrottle computer stays engaged and controls the speed. Perhaps this was not functioning properly on Asiana flight 214, or perhaps as a result of improper programming of the approach, and being too high (also reports of being too high on the approach) the pilots elected to intervene and disengage the auto throttle (non standard).
Like we see in many accidents, there are usually a chain of events that occur to lead to something like this. If those things occur in a short period of time, they are also more likely to lead to an accident or incident.
So my quick analysis is as follows.
Routine services were not available for landing on 28L, which led to a “infrequently used” LOC/VNAV approach method for the crew. The potential unfamiliarity with such an approach could have led to the mismanagement of the approach. This mismanagement appears to have resulted in a speed issue – perhaps from being too high on the approach, which led to the crew disengaging the auto throttle. This removed any speed protection offered form the onboard computers and resulted in a slow airspeed/low altitude situation. Too high, disengage the A/T and cut he power and push the nose down. Perhaps too much so to overcorrect the high on the profile situation. There was not enough time to recover properly from this and the resulting impact just short of the runway occurred.
Again, this is just my two cents, and will very likely be proven wrong. Just hoping to open up some potential discussion amongst anyone who reads this (aviation experts or otherwise) as quite often an education can come from such discussions.
Here I am yet again sitting in an airplane crossing the Pacific. Sapporo Japan to our left, Russia to the right, and Hong Kong ahead. Unlike the last year and a half of these crossings, today I am riding as a passenger. Seat 50H (thanks for the emergency exit row to the Air Canada gate agent in Vancouver) on board a 777-300ER. Not Cathay Pacific, our flight was too full. But rather Air Canada. Appropriate I figure, as I am on the return leg of my first trip back to Canada in almost 20 months.
It’s a long time to be away from something you know so well. And it’s a long time to be away from so many people you love so much. That is what this trip was about for my wife and I. We got married before I left for initial training in Adelaide Australia, in a small ceremony in my parents living room. Just a few family was there. So this trip meant a lot to us both, to get to spend some time with those loved ones who weren’t there that day.
Before leaving on the trip I had many mixed emotions. The easiest one to explain would be sadness over leaving my two young dogs at home (well looked after I might add) as this would be the longest we would leave them to date. Of course the next emotion was excitement. Mostly to see my grandmother. With her age (95), this trip would mean a lot to my wife and I. So far her health hasn’t failed her, and the way she is going she will be around for a while yet. But she was still by far, top on my list. We had many other relatives to visit, and stay with. Some of which my wife hasn’t met in person yet. This led to creeping feelings of not wanting to go at all, too much to do in such a short time. Why not just stay home? We would never obviously, and as things would turn out, the zig zagging trip across Canada would prove among the most rewarding of my life.
So off we went to Canada. After a long night of flying from Paris to Hong Kong for me, I arrived at home to finish some laundry and packing. We took our dogs to our courtyard for a play (and a cold beer for my wife and I) before heading to the airport. The local shop near our house that sells the beer is run by a family that has a young boy (7 or 8 maybe). He is our unofficial Cantonese tutor, and has been friendly with us and our dogs for a while. This time we are in for a nice treat. He has convinced his mother to invite us in for dinner. With only a little English from the boy, we aren’t quite sure what we are getting into, but my wife and I enter their home with a smile on our face. The mother points to the chair and hands us a plate. First on the menu? Duck feet. Okay, what the hell. We start chewing and gnawing at this mix of skin and cartilage (literally nothing else). It doesn’t taste that bad, but there is not much to digest. The family smiles when I say “ho may do” (delicious in Cantonese), they clearly can tell I am being polite. Next up, some fresh clams from our Silvermine Bay. Garlic, spring onion, steamed to perfection. I can’t slide enough of these slippery little guys into my mouth. But as we finish our beer, and our meal, it’s time to get into the shower and head to the airport. As we collect our now exhausted puppies, and head for home, we decide that we will bring this family a gift from Canada on our return.
The usual ensues next, say goodbye to the dogs, taxi to the airport and check in for the full flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver. We get a seat but not together, less then ideal, but a seat nonetheless. A few hours into the flight my wife taps my head to wake me and invites me to the back of the plane to chat. We kill an hour and a half doing that, then back to the seats. Halfway across the Pacific now I can feel the excitement building. I am really looking forward to seeing everyone. As the flight comes to an end, we approach Vancouver and my first “forgotten gem” if you will, about Canada. It’s about 9pm local time, and the sun is still out in BC. In Hong Kong the sun is gone by around 7pm almost everyday of the year. I forgot what it was like to see the late twilight of the north. After collecting our bags and checking in for our connecting flight, we are off to Calgary. We order a few Molson Canadian beers for the short flight across the rockies. Starting to feel Canadian again. Landing there at about 130am, we are met by my uncle in law. We always have a good time in Calgary, and the next two days are no exception. Joining up with my wife’s great Aunt next, we tour Canmore and have dinner in Banff before a quick sleep and off to Winnipeg for my grandmother’s 95th birthday surprise party. It goes off without a hitch and the old gal was as shocked as ever. All but two cousins made the trip, so it was nice to have near the entire family with her that day. Next order of business the following morning is to help my in laws pack up the last of the boxes as the movers show up to complete the move from their Winnipeg home. They have officially moved to the lake where they own and operate a general store. After some dinner with my brother in law, the four of us head out to Clear Lake. I get another rush of Canadiana as I sip my Tim Horton’s coffee while cruising the Trans Canada Highway. The first thing I smell getting out of the car is something I haven’t experienced for a while, the smell of Canadian wilderness. Pine trees, a breeze off the lake carries the smell of the water, and of course, outboard motor exhaust. It’s a nice feeling breathing it all in again. In no time the next morning I am behind the deli counter slicing and pricing cold cuts at the store. Some baking, and butcher shop duties round out my experience there. I must say if I wasn’t a pilot, running a general store (despite the long hard hours) is very rewarding and would make a great career. After working at the shop everyday I take a swim in the lake to cool off before dinner. I am feeling more and more Canadian. We can’t stay at the lake for very long though as we have to drive back into Winnipeg for my cousins wedding after 3 days in cottage country. A great night the wedding was, and another great chance to catch up with some relatives. When the bar closes, we head back to my parents house for another short sleep before hitting the highway for Saskatoon in the morning. Three sets of grandparents to visit over the next few days. Twenty four hours in Saskatoon, then off to Jackfish lake where another set of grandparents await. We spend time visiting and catching up, and make some time to visit the local golf course where the owner keeps his Cessna 185 on floats in a hangar. A bush plane? That I used to fly? Now I am REALLY back in Canada. After another couple of nights back in Saskatoon with the final set of grandparents, we are headed for Regina, where my wife’s Aunt, Uncle, and cousins await. This will be my last stop of the trip before jumping on Air Canada to Vancouver, and then Hong Kong. As we did in all of our other stops, we spend the days visiting the family, doing a little shopping, and the nights grilling on the cue outside and drinking cold Canadian beer. I miss Canadian beer. The beer in Hong Kong is cheap, but it just isn’t the same.
Along the way we have made a few purchases for our home in Hong Kong that we think will remind us of Canada. Molson Canadian beach towels, a Saskatchewan Rough Riders flag, a Trans Canada Highway sign, and several others that will be a daily reminder of what this trip was. A great time with great family, in a great country. I must say looking back on the trip, every moment of it was special. Almost every day someone would ask us what we miss the most. The answer is simple. The people that made Canada our home for so many years. Moms, Dads, Sisters, Brothers, Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, and cousins. Canada is great, it always will be. The smells, the prairie skies, the northern lights. But those won’t be the things I remember when I’m sitting on my rooftop in Hong Kong. It will be the people that I experienced those things with. They are, and will always be what count the most. Otherwise the rest is meaningless. We spent 18 days, in 9 different homes, with 47 different relatives, a wedding, a 95th birthday, and a shit load of Canadian beer. And despite the short nights, and long days, it was worth every minute.
With that, I am excited to be home with my dogs in a few more hours. My wife will join me at home in Hong Kong after a few more days of time with her parents at the store. I have to work 2 trips back to back (San Francisco and Anchorage) the first of which will be my annual line check. So a few days of reviewing the study notes I prepared back in April and I should be up to speed for the check. Then with the next two weeks off after those trips, it’s off to Kata Beach in Phuket Thailand with my wife to refresh after a busy trip to Canada.
More posts/story telling to come. Stay tuned and fly safe.
A simple Friday morning. I am sitting in the dining room, having enjoyed breakfast with my wife. The dogs are slowly waking up and we are messaging our Canadian friends who have recently moved into our village on Lantau Island. It’s hot in Hong Kong. Barely 10am and its already well above 30 degrees, approaching 40 in fact with the humidity. I love it. The quiet morning with my wife, my dogs, the heat, I love all of it.
Brandon and Carrie to no surprise suggest we head to the water fall to help with the heat. We were there the day before in fact, dogs swimming, adults chatting, tanning, and enjoying a cold cocktail or two. We have had a lot of heavy thunderstorms this spring, so the waterfall is in full flow, and all the pools beneath it are full. Perfect for us, and the dogs.
Before we go, I decide to take a quick look at my online schedule. I was to start a reserve block of six days the next morning. When I opened my schedule, I see I have a notification. There must be a trip. Another Anchorage freighter I assume (it is where our 747’s are most used with a Second Officer like myself). But no. It’s a trip that for an SO is as rare as they get. I am to passenger to Mumbai (formerly Bombay, and still coded ad “BOM” on our schedule) on Saturday night. After a 30 hour stay, I will operate a 747-400ERF freighter to Paris. Once there, catch out 777-300ER flight back to Hong Kong in the comfort of business class.
I suppose most of my excitement, despite this being a change from the routine, was that I was going to India, a place I have long wanted to visit, but have yet had the chance. I love Indian food (most food in fact, as was evident at the weigh in during my last medical – fitness training has commenced). But I have a few friends who have visited and really enjoyed the experience. “Eye opening” was a common description of others trips to the sub continent.
So to the waterfall we go. Excited to tell my friends of my trip, and looking forward to cooling off. I soon realize that not only is the trip going to be exciting and new, it is also going to be quite easy. Four day pattern, and I only operate one 8 hour 30 minute flight, wile the rest of my globe trotting will be done in the comfort of business class.
We enjoy our afternoon at the waterfall, and meet some friends, mostly all Scottish, in Hong Kong for dinner that night. Again excited to tell them of my trip the next day, I soon meet a friend of a friend who highly recommends a seafood restaurant in Mumbai. So, “Trishna” is now on my list of to do’s on my short layover.
Saturday afternoon brings another few hours at the waterfall and a beachside lunch with the my wife and Canadian friends. I leave the group before they are done a few more glasses of Sangria to pack and leave for work. To those wondering, despite being just a passenger on the flight, we are under the same rules for drinking before flying, so it was water for me at lunch.
I get to work with about 30 minutes to kill before I check in. I google a few quick things about the area surrounding the hotel, and come up with a plan for the day. As we arrive around midnight Mumbai time, it will be straight to sleep. Wake up, breakfast (probably in the hotel) then spend some time at the pool before heading into downtown Mumbai mid afternoon for some sightseeing and dinner.
Once we get to the plane, I am PX’ing (riding as a passenger on our own flight) with three other pilots. No one booked in first class for this flight, so the cabin crew offer it to us, so we have our own private 9 seat (actually called suites in Cathay First Class) cabin in the nose of the 747. Full service from our lovely crew, soup, fresh bread, I choose the vegetable curry dish to keep with the theme of my Indian weekend. I fall asleep towards the end of a movie, and before I know it, the quick 5 hour flight is over.
The drive to the hotel was the first glimpse of India. In a word, extreme. There is some extreme wealth, and unfortunately, much more extreme poverty. People sleeping on the sidewalks, slums around almost every corner. Dimly lit fruit and snack stands offering what most need in India, a light snack and a cold drink to deal with the heat. Despite it being after midnight at this point it is still well above 30. When we arrive at the hotel, a truly palatial entrance complete with security checking under our crew bus, and all around, I soon realize this is one of our nicer crew hotels. The security of course is a welcome sight, as India is frequented by terrorism and violent crimes. Check in and to the room. More then adequate. Larger bathroom, queen size bed, and a great view of the Indian Ocean and pool.
I wake up around 6 am, and play around on my phone as I do for a while. Fall back asleep (kind of) but by 830 I decide the hotel buffet breakfast is in order (as it comes highly recommended by other crew). Breads, pastries, eggs to order, bacon, sausages, potatoes, enough fruit to start a farm, yoghurt, juices, coffee, espresso. There is literally nothing missing. The price, 350 rupees, about 6 dollars US. The service (despite it being a buffet) is remarkable, and I soon realize that India is known for service in these high end hotels. I meet up with a First Officer (also a Canadian, from Toronto – who actually used to work for my uncle at Sky Service) and he recommends the same seafood restaurant my friends did two nights before. He was there last week and really enjoyed it. He also gives me a tip that our hotel has a free car service to its sister hotel, just a short 15 minute walk to Trishna for dinner. So after breakfast I book my car for the afternoon. About an hour drive they tell me, but I am sure to see a lot of Mumbai and its surrounding suburbs.
To the pool, swim, tan, hydrate, repeat. With of course a peach iced tea (again no alcohol as I am starting duty around 2 am that night) and a foot massage from the “pool menu”. The foot massage was performed by a blind man. Another first on this trip for me. I also keep in touch with my wife and friends, as the wifi by the pool is strong. I also check my online schedule to see if I have any changes (common when operating freighters) and discover that once I land in Paris, I will no longer be headed for Hong Kong, but in fact taking British Airways to London where I will enjoy another day off, before flying back (as operating crew) to Hong Kong. I send a note to my childhood friend who lives near our hotel in London, and make plans for dinner.
Once i realize I am soon running our of sunscreen in the intense Indian sun, I head to the room to clean up and get ready for my evening in downtown Mumbai.
The driver picked me up at the front door to the hotel, white glove service with refreshments and a local paper to keep me busy on the one hour ride. I am too fascinated with the world outside to pick up the news paper though. We pass rich areas and poor areas, beaches, a mosque that is set in the middle of a bay and can only be reached during low tide. We also pass a building that is the world’s most expensive private real estate. Two billion US the driver tells me, 28 stories with a helipad on the roof. All for one man, his wife, two kids, and mother in law. The last few blocks to the hotel are some of the wildest traffic I have seen in quite some time. People and cars moving in every direction, and even a few horses.
Once let off at the hotel, I take a deep breathe and head into the crowd. The hotel is right next to one of Mumbai’s well known monuments, the Gateway to India. The crowd surrounding the monument is dense to say the least. I see a woman with her baby on the sidewalk, she points at her baby and gestures to put food in her mouth. I know what she is saying, she needs to feed her baby. But what I also know from doing a quick scan of the crowd, is that there are dozens more like her, and if I offer even a dollar to them all, I would soon be out of money. I move into the monument area, having walked by another woman with her baby. Accept she isn’t holding her baby, she is working the crowd in a small circle around her completely naked child sitting bare on the concrete behind her. I am at a loss for words. I reluctantly decide that I simply don’t have enough for everyone. I complete a lap around the monument, however I can’t get more then a few meters before being hustled by someone to by whatever they are pushing. One man, offers to take my picture in front of the 85 foot 100 year old monument. No thanks. How about a post card he insists. No thank you. Maps, you must need a map. No thanks, the hotel gave me one. Weed? You want some grass? I start to laugh (as I was not expecting that) and say “not day my friend.” Not today, of course, is a common expression in North America and elsewhere, but apparently not in India, as the man looked at me and said, “ok great, come back tomorrow.” I smiled and continued on my way.
Another man hustles me to by his drum, after he followed me for about 20 minutes, I turn and offer him 10 dollars (he was asking 50) and say take it or leave it. Of course he took it, so now not only am I the only western guy in the crowd, no I am the only western guy carrying a drum aka a huge target for everyone else. The next hour was more or less a war. I couldn’t escape the hustling. One man offered to show me where my restaurant was, but only if I visited his friends shop. I did of course and found a silk/cashmere pashmina for my wife, and was again on my way. I walk by another store, and feel the cold rush of the air conditioning burst from the doorway. I decide it looks as good as place as any to escape the heat, as I still had 30 minutes until my dinner reservation. I find a nice set of brass, Indian made cheese knives. As I wait in line at the cash, I see soaps, to which I think, how appropriate to bring home soap from one of the most polluted countries I have visited.
Dinner time. As warned the waiters know the restaurant is highly acclaimed, and thus think they must be as well. Despite there “lack of give a shit” I have some spring rolls, and garlic ginger prawns. Oh, of course I had naan bread as well. Overall, a very tasty meal, and I would go back if in downtown Mumbai again.
Back to the hotel by 9 pm for a quick 4 hour nap before heading back to the airport and off to Paris. I was particularly looking forward to the flight, as our routing brought us from one end of Iraq, through to the other. Transiting nearly the entire conflict stricken country. When lining up to takeoff on runway 27, it is obvious where the neighboring slums have been relocated to make room for a runway extension project. And when I say neighboring, I mean if the window opened in the 747, I could throw a baseball 5 shacks deep. Once airborne we almost immediately find ourselves over the Indian Ocean, our setting for the first two hours of the journey this morning. A few air mass thunderstorms to avid, but nothing too big to sweat over. Soon we are talking to Muscat control in Oman, and the Persian coast is glowing on the horizon. Muscat to the left, Karachi Pakistan off to the right. It’s important to keep aware of the closest airports, if an emergency takes place, the first thing we do once it has been handled as per the check list, is consider diverting. Thankfully no emergencies to deal with this morning. It’s 430am over Dubai, and the Burj Kahlifa is visible from 50 miles away as the tallest building in the world stands out, even from 33,000 feet. Once talking to UAE control, having been handed off from Muscat, I am greeted with an American voice working the skies. To busy to ask him where he is from, but like me, he is living a long way from home.
Dubai is of course home to Emirates airlines, and we see the fleet climbing up all around us like a squadron off on a bombing mission. Something this part of the world has seen plenty of, however today their mission is delivering 300 passengers at a time to all corners of the world. We soon meet up with a slower 777 and wonder if their on board wifi would reach us 2000 feet below him. We will ask for the password next time. Bahrain is the next airspace we transit, but it only lasts for a few minutes as the country is barely bigger then some large cities. Same goes for Kuwait, and then it’s into Iraq. Not that long ago, and pilot flying where we were that morning, probably had a letter to his loved ones in his pocket in case he/she was shot down. Today I just have my iPhone. Ready to take pictures. It’s over Iraq that the Captain and I begin an early morning discussion about how so much of this earth looks the same from the air. Iraqi desert? Could be Texas, could be Mongolia, could be Sahara. If it’s not that different from up here, how can it be so different a few miles below us?
Once exiting Iraq airspace, it’s into Turkey. It’s here I tell my Captain how my mother in law was given some “turkish towels” by her sister in law after a trip there. And how she now features them in her grocery store in their summer lake community back in Canada. Don’t ask me what a Turkish Towel is, but while I stare down at this muslim nation, those towels are on a cabinet for sale in Clear Lake Manitoba on the other side of the planet in my in laws store.
Time for my rest, 3 pilots break up the flight, so I have worked the first two thirds and can stretch my legs in the bunk for the last two and a half hours or so before landing in Paris. I wake up around 20,000 feet on our approach to Paris, enjoy a quick piece of birthday cake (the first officer was celebrating his birthday) and hop back into the seat. We touch down a little before 9am in the French capital and park at the far end of the airport on the cargo ramp. We set the brake next to an old Lockheed 10-11 Tristar, that I’m told has been sitting in Paris for a number of years with unpaid bills. It’s obvious it hasn’t moved in a while, it could use a bath.
I part ways with the crew, two gentlemen that made the morning fly by (literally). Off to terminal 2A where I catch British Airways flight 309 to Heathrow. It’s an Airbus 320, the smallest plane I have been on in almost two years. Times sure have changed for me. Land in London, clear customs, and hop on the tube conveniently at Heathrow’s terminal 5. The Picadily Line takes me from the airport to Hammersmith station, across the street from our hotel in under 30 minutes. It’s a nice day in the the UK, so I take the time to enjoy the passing scenery and listen to some Led Zeppelin. I was in this hotel just last week, so familiar with the area I am. I decide that as it is 2 pm, I will relax in my room until the evening until I meet my friend.
Ginny lived down the street from me in Winnipeg with her tow sisters. Her parents and mine have been friends for years, her dad and I sharing many golf carts over the years as well. We go to a nice Italian spot near her house and catch up on our mutual friends, her new niece, and whether or not we get home sick. It was nice to criss cross the globe and find a friend at the other end. We part ways until my next London trip and I head back to the hotel for some sleep.
Another buffet breakfast in the morning (nice, but not Mumbai nice). Shower, pack and back to the airport.
While waiting to take off I manage to snap a pic of an Air India 787, the wing flew on this machine is quite impressive. The flight from London to Hong Kong was as routine as can be, little to no thunderstorms to deal with, and a nice tailwind almost all the way home. The rising sun near Chengdu China does light up some thunderstorms in remarkable colours, thankfully a few miles off our track. Eleven hours later, we are at the gate in hot humid Hong Kong. My dogs and wife awaits, and perhaps another day at the waterfall.
It’s good to be back.
While flying last week with an American born captain, he made a point to show me an airport we were flying over in Western Alaska. Unalakleet is home to Era Alaska, and some great bush flying reality TV. I have winced started watching “Flying Wild Alaska” online and really enjoy the show. To anyone interested I suggest it’s worth your time if you are a plane geek like me. Also, “Ice Pilots NWT” starts it’s fourth season this week. As a matter of fact, we recently had an Ice Pilot from the show join us here at Cathay Pacific.