in the Sky"
SWISSAIR EXT TAXIING
There are a lot of lessons in the short tragic flight of Swissair 111. The
loss of the MD-11 aircraft and the 229 people on board has become a turning
point in the history of aviation. Long simmering questions about unsafe aircraft wiring and safety procedures have come to a head.
Swissair 111 took off from New York's Kennedy Airport at 8:18 PM on the night of September 2, 1998.
At the controls was 50 year old Captain Urs Zimmerman, one of the airline's
most experienced pilots. He was featured in this Swissair training video.
At 10: 14 p.m., Atlantic Time, when the aircraft was exactly 100 kilometres
Swissair 111 contacted air traffic control to announce an on-board crisis.
SWISSAIR 111: Swissair one eleven heavy is declaring Pan Pan Pan. We have
smoke in the cockpit.
The code words Pan Pan Pan indicate something less than a serious emergency.
38 seconds later, the flight crew apparently donned their oxygen masks, an
often-rehearsed procedure shown in this training video.
Here the controversy begins. Instead of immediately heading for the nearest
airport and landing, the pilot decided to go though his long checklist for
smoke in the cabin. Precious minutes were lost. Nearly four and a half minutes after declaring smoke in the cockpit,
Swissair 111 was asked by Halifax Air traffic control to descend from twenty
five thousand feet to three thousand.
HALIFAX ATC: Swissair 111 good evening. Descend to three thousand.
.but the pilots want to take things more slowly.to allow the meal service
to be cleaned up in the cabin.
SWISSAIR 111: Ah we would prefer at the time around eight thousand feet.until the cabin is ready for landing.
Over six minutes after declaring smoke in the cockpit, the pilots can be
heard discussing the checklist for air conditioning smoke, just one of over
208 steps on the Swissair smoke checklist. By comparison, the Delta smoke
checklist for the same MD-11 aircraft has only 43 steps.
PILOTS AT WORK/
The Swissair smoke checklist is controversial not just for the precious minutes it consumes. It calls for the pilot to rotate a selector switch,
which turns off and on one third of the electrical circuits of the aircraft
at a time. Many aircraft-wiring experts believe that is the worst possible
procedure when dealing with the sort of wiring on this plane, wiring called
Kapton. The pilot may have unknowingly made the fire worse.
While Captain Zimmerman was methodically working through his checklist, his
co-pilot was flying the plane in circles, preparing to dump fuel so that
the plane would be lighter on landing.
It was only at 10:24 p.m., over ten minutes after announcing smoke in the
cockpit, that the Swissair pilots finally signalled a more serious crisis.
SWISSAIR 111: Eleven heaviy we are starting to dump now we have to land immediate.
HALIFAX ATC: Swissair 111 just a couple of miles I'll be right with you.
SWISSAIR 111: Roger. And we are declaring an emergency now Swissair one eleven.
Those were the last words from the pilots.
They flew the plane for another six minutes until it plunged into the dark
ocean off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia.
The search for the crash site began within minutes.
DEBRIS IN WATER
At first there was only a small amount of debris floating on the surface.
DEBRIS ON BOTTOM
In the following days, divers located the larger pieces of plane wreckage
150 feet down on the ocean bottom.
DEBRIS ON LAND
One year later, just off the tarmac of the Shearwater air base in Nova Scotia, experts from the Canadian transportation safety board are still
methodically reassembling the wreckage,
MCKENNA ON CAMERA WITH DEBRIS
The investigation of Swissair Flight 111 does not have all the answers about
what caused the plane to crash.but it has raised some very troubling questions about the contributing factors. It turns out that the airlines
and aircraft manufacturers have had warnings for over 20 years about unsafe
aircraft wiring and unsafe procedures for dealing with onboard fires, and
they have done precious little about heeding those warnings. Now the relatives of the people who died on this aircraft are banding together to
Sixteen-year-old Tara Fetherolf of Philadelphia was a very bright girl who
finished her high school credits a year early. She boarded Swissair 111 to
go off for a few semesters at a special advanced school in Switzerland.
Her parents Barbara and Mark have now become obsessed with airline safety.
They found out Tara was dead the morning after they put her on the plane.
CLIPS (INTERCUT COMPUTER SCREEN PRESS RELEASE)
I came downstairs and just got on the got on my computer got on the internet
just to search for Swiss Air and of course when you hit Swissair that morning they had they had the announcement that the plane had crashed
PICKUP BARBARA (15: 43: 20)
I came down to find him passed out in front of his computer. I thought he
was asleep, I thought he was just tired and didn't get up to tell me, I said
what happened and he said the plane crashed and I just looked at him and
said she's dead isn't she?
As Swissair relatives gathered in Halifax in the days following the crash,
there were immediate questions about why the plane was not able to land sooner.
CLOSE UP PRESS RELEASE
On September 6th, just three and a half days after the crash, Swissair issued this Press Release which claimed that a direct approach to Halifax
could not have been flown by Swissair 111. The airline insisted that its
. was "borne out by reconstructions performed in their MD-11 simulator the
Many relatives were immediately sceptical and still are.
CLIP BARBARA (15:46:30)
I don't believe anything they say and in fact I don't buy for one second
that that plane couldn't have been landed and. I believe I am not an expert
that they could have landed that plane heavy you know, I don't understand
why they turned over the ocean when they had a fire that was escalating on
Aviation Lawyer Mitch Baumeister, himself a pilot, is representing relatives
of Swissair 111 victims in lawsuits against the airline.
He too doubts the Swissair claims.
CLIP BAUMEISTER (15:37:33)
Hogwash. My experts who are MD11 captains have said there was absolutely
no problem with doing an emergency decent in that MD11 going directly for
that runway and landing on the Halifax runway at the point in time when they
had made a direct approach. Ken Adams is an Md-11 Captain for Delta airlines. He says Swissair was
wrong about the aircraft's ability to land immediately.
CLIP ADAMS (17:44:00)
Physically it is possible to get the airplane on the ground in less time,
physically, I mean you could do that with a lot of different techniques,
you can get the airplane down and on the ground probably fairly quickly but
that's with hindsight, in that I only have ten minutes or 12 minutes to put
the plane on the ground.
Swissair corporate executives refused to be interviewed for this documentary, but one year after the crash they issued this statement
announcing a change in their procedures based on deliberations with the manufacturer.
These deliberations revealed that an emergency descent is the best possible
procedure for bringing an aircraft quickly into a position to make an emergency landing." In other words land immediately.
Is that an admission of liability from Swissair?
TWO SHOT HOLLAND
According to New York lawyer Michael Holland, who is representing the airline . it is not.
CLIP HOLLAND (18: 39: 52
No not at all.
because you know there has been no formal process that I am aware of that's
made any determination that what they did in the past was wrong and until
that happens then you can take measures to correct the problem. But they're
simply looking at what happened and doing their best than taking all those
steps they can to make sure there is no recurrence.
FED-EX IN FLIGHT?/ OR GRAPHIC
Many aviation experts are comparing the Swissair 111 crash to another fire
on a similar aircraft three years earlier. When fire broke out on FED-EX
flight 1406 near Newburgh New York, the Pilot did not radio the lower level
"Pan Pan Pan" alert, he immediately declared a full emergency. The co-pilot
wanted to slow down gradually and perform the smoke checklist routine,
but the pilot over-ruled him and insisted on a fast steep descent. He ignored
the checklist and told air traffic control "We need to get it on the ground."
It was a good thing he did. The FED-EX cargo plane burned up shortly after
landing, but all three crew members survived. Many are comparing what they
call the American "Cowboy" approach .
.to the methodical, by the book, full checklist Swissair approach of Captain Zimmerman.
INTVU ADAMS T-9 (17:45:20)
part of it is a cultural thing I think, it has to deal with everything from
how you are brought up from a kid in your country's, background you got to
remember we got kind of like that cowboy attitude in our country and I think
sometimes it does affect us the way we act to them sometimes. Where other
cultures you just attack problems differently. If if works out okay if
I disregard all the checklists and get the airplane on the ground safely
then I will probably be a hero, but if I disregard all the checklists and I
don't get the plane on the ground then I am the goat.
As the Canadian Transportation Safety Board experts methodically re-assemble
the pieces of the Swissair 111 aircraft, their attention focuses more and
more on one key component..wiring.
Lead investigator Vic Gerden has announced that the onboard fire started
just behind the pilots in the ceiling at the front of the aircraft.
CU PICKS UP WIRE
They have found arced and burned wires of this type, called Kapton.
INTVU GERDEN (13:37:37)
Well arcing of power, occurs when the wire is grounded in other words,
for example if the insulation material on the outside of the wire is breached
and then that wire is touched to some other surface that provides a grounding and that leads to some significant amount of heat and that
leaves a telltale sign on the wire itself. So we have at the moment fourteen of
those wires that have some arcing damage on it and we are attempting to assess whether that arching was the cause of the wire or whether it
resulted from the existing fire that then damaged the insulation on the wire that
created conditions in which arcing could occur.
When the first concerns were raised about the Kapton wiring on Swissair 111,
the airline issued this statement. "Kapton wire has been rigorously tested
and its use approved by aviation authorities. It has never given cause for
KAPTON WIRING EXPLODES (SOT)
In fact, Kapton wiring has developed a notorious reputation, especially since these US Navy tests from the early 1980s,
which demonstrate how the wire can explode and burn under certain conditions.
SOT EXPLOSION 2
SINGLE WIRE TEST
If the wire insulation material is cracked or chafed, electrical sparks can
escape and set off a chain reaction, burning along the wire almost like a
SWEARING IN MCSWEENEY
Those experiments don't seem to alarm the US Federal Aviation Administration, the FAA, which oversees the aviation industry. Recently
FAA Assistant Administrator Tom McSweeney testified at a congressional hearing
on Aircraft wiring that there was no real problem.
INTVU MCSWEENEY (17: 10: 52)
DOES THE FAA HAVE SERIOUS CONCERNS ABOUT KAPTON WIRING
The FAA does not have serious concerns about Kapton wiring. we've looked
at all the research we know what the conditions are that you can develop in
the laboratory, we go by, we make our decisions based on in-service data and we
have not seen a real safety problem with Kapton wiring as used in present
TEASER CLIP BLOCK 1 (22:11:00)
Either he is in a state of denial or he's just oblivious to the problem.
Edward Block is a former U.S. Defence Department wiring expert who worked
with a White House Commission investigating airline safety.
CLIP BLOCK 2 (22:33:10)
there is a complete lack of awareness on the part of the oversight agencies
and even the industry, they have kind of like a Titanic mentality that you
don't need to worry about how many life boats you need because it's never
going to sink, you know. And the statistics that they constantly use work
in regards to that same mind set .You know it's kind of proving themselves
right without actually doing the analytical objective analysis to determine
where the problems lie.
STOX MANILA PLANE
In May 1990, a Philippine Airlines Boeing 737 burned on the ramp at the
Manila Airport when chafed wiring caused the explosion of the main fuel tank. Eight people were killed. The FAA refused demands to force aircraft
manufacturers to inspect wiring.
After their laboratory tests and numerous wiring fires, the U.S. Navy grounded many of its jet fighters until the Kapton wire was removed.
Many critics ask why the FAA has not forced the commercial aviation industry
to follow the military example in removing Kapton wiring .
CLIP MCSWEENEY (17:13:08)
They have taken wiring out of places where history has shown they have problems. The navy has a very unique environment and everybody here has
testified that how wire behaves is a function of environment, humidity is
really important, they park these planes on salt decks, where salt spray
is constantly attacking the wiring.
BRUNING SWORN IN
The wiring experts who testified at this congressional hearing don't agree
with the FAA assessment. Armin Bruning has spent years testing wiring for
the American and Canadian military.
BRUNING INTERVIEW 16;16: 54
YOU KNOW A LOT OF PEOPLE SAY THAT THE PROBLEMS THAT WE HAVE SEEN IN THE
MILITARY AIRCRAFT THAT THE NAVY HAS SEEN IN THE MILITARY AIRCRAFT ARE JUST
NOT APPLICABLE TO COMMERCIAL AIRCRAFT IT IS NOT THE SAME EXPERIENCE NOBODY
IS LANDING ON AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AND YOU KNOW SALT WATER CONDITIONS.
I understand what they say, I think they don't understand how people design
airplanes, Every calculation that we do and the very small amount that we.
on commercial airlines tells us that it is the same kind of problem In this
country the FAA is now starting to implement actual inspection of commercial
airlines. Recognize this: to my knowledge there has been no, what I consider
sound, instrumented inspection of commercial airlines to this date. That
effort is just starting.
When we come back ....did Captain Zimmerman carry out a procedure that was
shown to be unsafe 20 years ago?
C O M M E R C I A L
In the U.S. Navy tests from the 1980s, it was clearly established that the
worst thing you can do with damaged Kapton wire is to reset a blown circuit
breaker attached to it.
Re-setting a circuit breaker causes the wire to explode.
STOX AIR CANADA BURNING
In 1983, there was a devastating example of the danger of re-setting circuit
breakers with Kapton wire aboard an Air Canada DC-9 that made an emergency
landing in flames in Cincinnati Ohio.
A panel of experts from the US National Transportation Safety Board investigated that accident,
.including Vernon Grose.
CLIP GROSE 11:29:15
I did a lot of work investigating that one and we started with a flushing
motor in the latrine in the tail of that aircraft. It bound up or froze and
blew the breaker so the crew at the front of the airplane reset the breaker.
In fact they held it in with their fingers and in so doing, there is wiring
running to that motor, and that wiring undoubtedly overheated and caught
fire and then that fire progressed from the latrine in the tail of the airplane forward .And once it begins to ignite, the poly vinyl chloride in
the airplane gives off cyanide and other toxic fumes. That's how a lot of
There were 23 Fatalities on this Air Canada plane 18 years ago. but the lessons learned about circuit breakers and Kapton wiring in the crash were
never strongly acted on by the FAA or the aviation industry.
When Swissair Captain Urs Zimmerman went through his smoke checklist after
the fire started on Flight 111, his procedures had the same effect as re-setting circuit breakers on the Kapton wiring.
The smoke check list is a tri fold switch that actually energizes and de-energizes one third of the air craft electrical capacity at a time and
in a sense it's like a switch or a circuit breaker going on and off,. So he
was doing what he was told, what he was trained to do, he was only following
orders. He was sealing his own fate though by energizing an arc tracked Kapton wire, and that probably led to the demise of those people on board.
CLIP BAUMEISTER 1
I place in this Swiss Air 111; I place more of the blame on Swiss Air management for failing to adequately train and inform the flight crews
about these problems. Number one, ,in the circuit breakers procedure, Swiss Air
didn't tell that flight crew on Swiss Air 111 that if you cycle that circuit
breakers you are liable to add fuel to the fire with arc tracking on Kapton.
In the Swissair Corporate statement one year after the crash of Flight 111,
the company stated that it ". decided to restrict the "circuit breaker
re-set" procedure throughout its aircraft fleet.: circuit breakers that are
tripped during flight will no longer be re-set and the circuit will be regarded as unavailable for the rest of the flight."
BLOCK TWO SHOT
Wiring expert Edward Block believes that the FAA bears even more responsibility than the airline for the crash of Swissair 111.
CLIP BLOCK 22:55:30
it was a ticking time bomb. Unbeknownst to the pilot, unbeknownst to the
passengers, they got on board with a false sense of security thinking that
the FAA was totally in charge, totally overseeing the regulation of the industry when in fact the lights were on and nobody was home.It's like a
Hollywood movie front where you take a look behind the wall and there is
nothing there. So that combination is what led to the crash of Swiss Air
111 in my estimation.
STOX AIR CANADA/ CANADIAN
In Canada, almost all aircraft operated by both Air Canada and Canadian airlines have Kapton wiring. but the airlines say they are not worried
The Canadian Armed Forces, however, has removed Kapton wiring from Aurora
Long range patrol planes and ordered wiring inspections on many other aircraft.
In the United States, the Space Shuttle has recently been grounded.
. because chafing and cracks were found in the Kapton Wiring on board.
Tomorrow night, in Part Two of our documentary, stunning new evidence of
unsafe wiring that has been recently discovered in inspections of many older
aircraft. and even some brand new ones.
RELATIVES IN WASH
...Also, the relatives of Swissair 111 victims travel to Washington to confront the bureaucrats at the FAA. For the Magazine, I'm Terence