Author: Captain Terrance W. MacDonald
Title: THE BLACK BOX “Dead Pilots Don’t Talk”
Book Publisher: Xlibris LLC
Format: Perfect Bound Softcover
This is an account by a long-time pilot who, after spending seven years learning and honing his skills in general aviation, first flew as an airline copilot at age 23. On August 1st, 1999, he survived a jet crash that drastically changed how he thought about commercial aviation. THE BLACK BOX focuses on aviation safety and how Captain MacDonald believes the industry repeatedly falls short of being as safe as it could be and should be. A lot of excellent pilots — and many innocent passengers — are no longer alive because of one bad day in a very unforgiving profession. Living pilots don’t talk because they fear reprisal, dead pilots can’t talk. This book speaks for them. If they could speak, this is what they might tell you about aviation safety that you have the right to know.
About The Author
Terrance MacDonald is a commercial airline pilot from Sydney, Nova Scotia. His love for aviation started at the age of four. He has worked as a fl ight instructor, a copilot and a captain with a variety of airlines. Due to the shutdowns of several airline companies, a career of back and forth between the left and right seats has given him the opportunity to see life from a captain’s and a copilot’s viewpoint many times over; his 14,000 hours of flight experience has exposed him to most everything aviation presents in terms of safety problems and in-flight emergencies. His flying experiences range from a 380-pound ultra light aircraft to a Boeing 737 and many types of planes in between. His four decades in aviation and his fi rsthand experience qualify MacDonald as an industry expert.
Most passengers don’t realize that “broken” airliners can fly legally. On check-in for duty on flight 2210, dispatch advised the pilots that they were taking a plane with a “deferred snag.” The lift dumpers had been snagged unserviceable. The airplane was broke, and apparently the flight was going anyway, or else it would have been cancelled. Right‘? The copilot wondered how this snag would affect the flight, as lift dumpers aid in slowing the aircraft down on landing.
Dispatch also notified the crew of another problem they would be dealing with on this flight. A serious NOTAM (notice to airmen) had been issued for the destination airport. The NOTAM facing the crew was this airport was down to just one serviceable runway because the other runway was being resurfaced. The serviceable runway also had a handicap since one end of this runway intersected the one being resurfaced. The runway was not available for full-length use: Only 5,500 feet was available for a full-stop landing.
All aircraft snags are categorized according to how critical they are to the safety of a flight. For example, unless one is flying at night, replacing a burned-out
lightbulb is nowhere near as critical as fixing the lift dumpers. Lift dumpers are the large panels on top of the wings, which pop upward as soon as the plane touches down, creating a wall on the wing. This “all breaks the smooth airflow over the wing and creates drag, which decreases or eliminates the wings lift.
This causes the wing to stop flying and allows the plane to settle firmly on the surface of the runway, which in turn provides more traction for the tires and thus better braking performance. Each airliner has a MEL. (minimum equipment list) book onboard. A captain checks the MEL book to ascertain the minimum functioning equipment required to operate a flight legally at the beginning of every shift or aircraft change.
In Canada for example, an A snagged MEL item means the aircraft is grounded and cannot fly until the item is repaired. The general public is often under the impression that the whole aircraft has to be working perfectly to go flying, but it doesn’t. The captain’s welcome aboard speech doesn’t include the fact that some things aren’t working. The B snagged MEL item means it must be fixed within three days, giving the aircraft the leeway to return to home base or at least to a maintenance base for repair. Then the C snagged MEL. item means the airline has ten days to fix the problem. Last the D item means the airline
has 120 days to fix the problem.
The copilot was nervous about taking off with a major snag such as no lift dumpers, but not knowing enough about the affects of this snag, he had to trust his captain’s judgement. It was the copilot’s first jet job. Prior to this, he had only flown propeller-driven aircraft. Certainly, dispatch acted as if it
was still a go. As soon as the two pilots got in to the flight deck, they started checking the performance manuals to see whether a plane this large could land on a 5,500-foot runway. Being very careful as they checked the charts, both pilots individually confirmed the aircraft performance manual did indicate they would be able to land within 5 ,500 feet. They now felt confident that they were legal to do this flight, something dispatch already knew_ At the time, the new copilot thought the captain did a good job in checking the finer paperwork details in the aircraft manual. They departed and after an uneventful flight were cleared for an instrument approach to their destination airport.
As the airplane lined up with the runway centerline, the captain was at the controls, and the copilot was the nonflying pilot. As the captain asked for the landing wheels to be lower, the copilot reached over and lowered the big lever with the little wheel at the end of it. Three very bright green lights appeared, confirming the wheels were down and locked. The lights were so bright they interfered with the captain’s vision. The copilot tried the dimmer switch, but it didn’t work, and the landing gear lights remained too bright. The copilot knew that the captain was having difficulty seeing the rest of the instrument panel due to the excessively bright lights. Once the two pilots confirmed all the wheels were down, the copilot instinctively moved his left hand over the three green lights to block the glare. The captain immediately said, “That’s much better, keep your hand there.” And that was all he said, no other details.
The F-28 jet touched down on the usable section of the runway, right where the captain was aiming for. The usual chirp of tires scuffing the pavement could
be heard. The copilot was startled when the Captain yelled, “TVE GOT NO BRAKES! TRY YOUR BRAKES!” In a split second, the copilot had his feet on the toe brake pedals, and he pushed them into the floor three times out of sheer fear. Nothing happened. The Captain grabbed the emergency brake T handle on the pedestal between the two pilots and started to pump it repeatedly as if
he were rowing a boat very rapidly. Nothing happened. The F-28 jet continued to chew up valuable runway’ rapidly while it seemed to float lightly down the runway. It felt as if the shocks didn’t compress so as to put the full weight on the wheels, and by this time, there wasn’t enough runway’ remaining to attempt to do a takeoff (touch the runway’ and go).
The copilot heard a loud scream. He looked to his left and saw it was the captain. He screamed a high-pitched shriek as if someone was falling to his death. He had already shut down the two engines and did everything he could. Now he assumed the brace position with his arms crossed and hands against the dash and his face down from the passenger cabin came the sound of seat
belts being buckled. Even the passengers who took off their seat belts early knew something was wrong. Now it was just a waiting game. The crew could only sit there and wait it out. They were waiting to see if they were going to be able to walk away’ from this or perhaps die. No wonder the captain was screaming.
The crew never did get good braking, and they went off the end of the runway at eighty knots (close to one hundred mph). It was a very rough ride as the front of the aircraft banged over several large rocks that are common in Newfoundland.
The nosewheel snapped off like a toothpick, and the nose of the aircraft slammed against the ground. The pilots felt like they were kicked in their rear. It really hurt! After 420 feet. the aircraft came to a full and complete stop nose down in the mud and in the dark of night. It was late-ll:00 p.m. Newfoundland time.
“Evacuate! Evacuate! Evacuate!” These were the next words the flight attendants were yelling at the top of their lungs. The copilot tried to open the main door right behind the captain. but it wouldn’t completely open due to the ground sloping upward. Then quickly he tried to open the door on the opposite side. behind where the copilot is seated as seen in the photo above. Through this door. the crew got everyone out safely. then came the head count to make sure everyone was present and accounted for. It took over an hour for the city. which was very near the airport. to send a local bus to come and pick up the passengers. This was before 9/11 ever happened; things might take longer to…