NOVA (PBS) on Swissair 111

Read from the bottom up

Author Topic: Coming Soon- NOVA-Swissair 111 Crash
Mark Fetherolf
Member # 1

posted February 09, 2004 12:33 PM      Profile for Mark Fetherolf     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
The article that CD posted (thanks, CD) states:


The Board concluded that the arc on this electrical cable was likely associated with the fire initiation event. The Board also concluded that it is likely that one or more additional wires were involved in the lead arcing event, and that the additional wire or wires could have been either IFEN or aircraft wires. Therefore, it could not be concluded that the known arcing event on the IFEN cable located in the area where the fire most likely originated was by itself the lead event."
The language here is tricky. The TSB's term "lead event" apparently refers to the actual source of ignition. However ... The existence of the arced IFEN wire implies that there must have been a second wire involved, since there has to be an electrical potential to create an arc. And the insulation on both wires had to be breached. So whether or not the second wire was an IFEN wire, and regardless of which wire was involved in the "lead event", it is clear that the IFEN wire's insulation failed. In the absence of this failure, the second wire would have been irrelevant, since there would have been no arc.

At the press conference for the release of the TSB's final report, lead investigator Vic Gerden was asked, "Had the IFEN not been present, would Swissair 111 have crashed?" He refused to answer the question directly, emphasizing the role of the metalized mylar insulation in the spread of the fire. However, I believe the evidence reported by the TSB shows clearly that the answer should have been no. Without the IFEN, there would have been no crash.

I understand that the TSB's position is that the greater good is served by those actions which most effectively reduce future risk ... and since IFT's IFEN posed no future risk, it received lesser emphasis.

This is the ugly politics of air safety at its worst. If the IFEN is to blame, and the IFEN is gone, there is no need for further corrective action. If Gerden had answered the question directly and (IMHO) truthfully, he would have seriously undermined the TSB's ability to influence the safety improvements they recommended.

IP: Logged
Member # 8

posted February 09, 2004 05:49 AM      Profile for CD   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
NOVA: The Deadly Legacy Of Swiss Air 111

PBS Program Focuses On In-Flight Fire Danger

A new program to air on PBS later this month reports the majority of America's civil aviation fleet is prone to undetectable and unfightable in-flight fires. "NOVA Presents: Crash Of Flight 111" further alleges the FAA and the airline industry have been aware of this problem since 1993 and have, in the case of most recommendations from the Canadian Transportation Safety Board, failed to act.

NOVA, renowned for its scientific approach to technically complex stories, takes an inside look at the Canadian investigation into the watery crash of Swiss Air Flight 111. On September 2, 1998, the crew aboard that New York to Geneva flight reported smelling smoke in the cockpit approximately 53 minutes into the flight. The MD-11 was diverted to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a non-emergency landing. Upon reaching the vicinity of the airport, the crew decided the aircraft was too high and too heavy for a safe landing -- especially given the possibility of a fire. So they turned back out to sea to dump fuel and lose altitude.

That's when things started going horribly wrong for Flight 111. The CTSB, in a report last year, wrote, "About 13 minutes after the abnormal odor was first detected, the aircraft's flight data recorder began to record a rapid succession of aircraft systems-related failures. The flight crew declared an emergency and indicated a need to land immediately. About one minute later, radio communications and secondary radar contact with the aircraft were lost, and the flight recorders stopped functioning. About five and one-half minutes later, at 10:31 p.m. Atlantic daylight saving time (ADT), the aircraft crashed into the ocean about five nautical miles southwest of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, Canada. The aircraft was destroyed and there were no survivors."

That was the beginning of a four-and-a-half year long, $39 million investigation into why Flight 111, with all 221 people on board, disintegrated upon impact with the Atlantic Ocean, just six smiles from Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia.

Investigators knew there had been a fire on board Flight 111. But they were unable to figure out where or how it started.

WGBH-TV in Boston (MA), which produces NOVA, reports the investigation was all but finished without conclusion when a Canadian investigator, wrapping up his inconclusive report on the accident, came across evidence that an electrical arc within the aircraft's in-flight entertainment network (IFEN) may have sparked the fire. Eventually, the CTSB concluded, "Reconstruction of the wreckage indicated that a segment of arced electrical cable associated with the in-flight entertainment network (IFEN) had been located in the area where the fire most likely originated. The Board concluded that the arc on this electrical cable was likely associated with the fire initiation event. The Board also concluded that it is likely that one or more additional wires were involved in the lead arcing event, and that the additional wire or wires could have been either IFEN or aircraft wires. Therefore, it could not be concluded that the known arcing event on the IFEN cable located in the area where the fire most likely originated was by itself the lead event."

NOVA reports the electrical arc, generating up to 12,000 degrees (F), ignited the supposedly fireproof mylar insulation surrounding the interior of the aircraft. The program quotes experts who say, in aircraft where there's as much as 150 miles of wire on board, there can be up to 1500 cracks in wiring insulation. Couple that with the type of condensation typical in the upper compartments of an aircraft in flight and NOVA's experts suggest the possibility for a disastrous in-flight fire event are extraordinary.

Isn't that metalized mylar insulation, variants of which are used in most commercial aircraft, supposed to be fireproof? It is. But it isn't, reports NOVA. The program quotes one NTSB official who acknowledged the flammability of metalized mylar, saying, "I think quite clearly that there was an oversight, that the testing procedures were not adequate to reveal the danger from this metalized mylar. And it took a tragedy such as Swiss Air 111 to highlight that more needed to be done in this area."

Further, the PBS program reports silicone end caps used in air circulation ducts -- also certified by the FAA as fireproof -- burned after just four seconds' exposure to an ignition source. The end caps were flame-tested at the FAA's testing center near Atlantic City (NJ).

"I think it was a surprise to a number of people," said a CTSB official, "and not just our team. It certainly was a surprise to me. I didn't think it would burn like that. I never even thought about it. I think that most of the other pilots in the world would be in the same boat."

With the end caps burned away, fresh air was allowed into the area where the metalized mylar was already burning, lending fresh fuel to the fire and forcing the flames toward the overhead wiring compartments above the cockpit.

NOVA reports the flight crew, which originally believed they had time to dump fuel and descend at a reasonable rate, actually ran out of time. The fire burned through the cockpit ceiling, filling the cockpit with fire, smoke and toxic fumes. Before their power and sensor leads were burned out by the fire, the flight data recorder indicated a loss of primary instrumentation, forcing the flight crew to rely on hard-to-read backup instruments and, finally, trying to fly over water at night, peering through a smoke-filled windscreen.

"The pilots seat was retracted," said Ken Adams, the ALPA representative to the Swiss Air 111 investigation. "So we have a pretty good indication he was not in his seat, which means to me he was actually up fighting the fire. He was probably using a fire extinguisher. But if he didn't have any protection from the toxic gasses, then he was probably disabled."

The Legacy Of Swiss Air 111

The most stinging allegation uncovered in the NOVA story on Swiss Air 111 is that the FAA and airlines knew about the flammability of metalized mylar as far back as 1993, after an MD-11 burned on the taxiway at an airport in Denmark. The program reports an MD-87 also burned on the tarmac in China. In fact, NOVA sources allege there were several aircraft fires in China during the 1990s -- so many, in fact, that Chinese officials contacted the FAA and suggested "you guys might have a flammability problem." But NOVA reports there was no action taken by the FAA until after the Swiss Air tragedy.

The FAA eventually did order airlines to remove the metalized mylar used by McDonnell-Douglass in its passenger aircraft by this year. The airlines quickly appealed and were given until next year to remove and replace the insulation.

The CTSB issued 23 recommendations on improving the fire detection and protection philosophies among aircraft manufacturers and air carriers. Replacing the metalized mylar was chief among them. But they also included adding detection capabilities in inaccessible parts of aircraft -- the wiring compartments in particular.

"The TSB believes that the risk to the flying public can be reduced by re-examining fire-zone designations in order to identify additional areas of the aircraft that should be equipped with enhanced smoke/fire detection and suppression systems. Therefore, the TSB made the following recommendation:

"Appropriate regulatory authorities, together with the aviation community, review the methodology for establishing designated fire zones within the pressurized portion of the aircraft, with a view to providing improved detection and suppression capability. A00-17 (issued 4 December 2000)

"Along with initiating the other elements of a comprehensive firefighting plan, it is essential that flight crews give attention, without delay, to preparing the aircraft for a possible landing at the nearest suitable airport. Therefore, the TSB made the following recommendation:

"Appropriate regulatory authorities take action to ensure that industry standards reflect a philosophy that when odor/smoke from an unknown source appears in an aircraft, the most appropriate course of action is to prepare to land the aircraft expeditiously. A00-18 (issued 4 December 2000)

"Aircraft accident data indicate that a self-propagating fire can develop quickly. Therefore, odor/smoke checklists must be designed to ensure that the appropriate troubleshooting procedures are completed quickly and effectively. The TSB is concerned that this is not the case, and made the following recommendation:

"Appropriate regulatory authorities ensure that emergency checklist procedures for the condition of odor/smoke of unknown origin be designed so as to be completed in a time frame that will minimize the possibility of an in-flight fire being ignited or sustained. A00-19 (issued 4 December 2000)"

Advice Ignored?

The problem, according to NOVA, is that these safety recommendations are not being implemented by the FAA, considered the world's leader in implementing aviation safety protocols.

"We're presently having new airplanes designed -- they're on the drawing board," said ALPA's Ken Adams. "Boeing has one. Airbus has what's called the Airbus 380, a 550 passenger airplane. The regulations haven't changed. They don't have to provide any more fire detection or fire protection than we had on Swiss Air 111."

"NOVA Presents: Crash Of Flight 111" airs on PBS stations February 17th at 8:00 p.m. EST.

FMI: Canadian TSB Report On Flight 111,

IP: Logged
Member # 73

posted February 04, 2004 10:35 PM      Profile for BarbF     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
This documentary appears to be a repeat of several others that were done before the final report came out last year. Instead of mentioning that the investigators actually found the arcing on an entertainment system wire, it is referred to as cable- leaving the viewer confused as to where the fire originated. An accurate book needs to be written about this tragedy before the real story fades into oblivion. I have no problem with the points they bring up but as far as I can see it leaves a huge part of this story out.

IP: Logged
Mark Fetherolf
Member # 1

posted February 02, 2004 08:52 AM      Profile for Mark Fetherolf     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
From AvWeb:

The FAA is dragging its feet on safety recommendations resulting from the crash of Swissair Flight 111 according to the producers of a documentary television special on the crash. The Canadian Transportation Safety Board issued 23 recommendations from its investigation of the crash, which occurred off the coast of Nova Scotia while the flight was en route from New York to Switzerland. The documentary, to air Feb. 17 on NOVA, says few of the recommendations have been adopted...

IP: Logged
Mark Fetherolf
Member # 1

posted January 29, 2004 11:02 PM      Profile for Mark Fetherolf     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
January 29, 2004 03:27 PM US Eastern Timezone

Exclusive Investigation: NOVA/PBS Investigate the Swissair Crash of Flight 111 and the Safety Recommendations That Have Yet to Be Implemented by the FAA

for Tuesday (Feb. 17)

--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Editor's Note - A copy of this program and expert interviews are available by contacting Jonathan Renes at 617-300-4427, Press Release and photography are available at
WHO: NOVA, PBS' award-winning science series that airs nationally
Tuesdays at 8pm ET.

WHAT: NOVA's cameras exclusively document the findings from the
investigation of the accident involving Swissair Flight 111.
Swissair Flight 111 took off from New York City bound for
Geneva, Switzerland with 229 people aboard on September 2,
1998. The flight crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast
of Nova Scotia, leaving no survivors.

WHEN: Crash of Flight 111 airs on NOVA Tuesday, February 17, at
8PM ET/PT on PBS (check local listings).

NOVA was given unprecedented access to one of the most intricate aviation investigations ever mounted. This investigation cost $40 million, took four years, and involved a search for evidence among two million pieces of debris. Investigators eventually confirmed that the cause of the accident was a fire set off by conditions that still exist on many planes today.

In March of 2003, the Canadian Transportation Safety Board made twenty-three recommendations to the FAA to improve flight safety, including the installation of smoke detectors and video cameras to reveal hidden fires, providing black boxes with a back-up power supply, increasing the size and visibility of standby instruments, stricter standards on aircraft wiring, new flammability standards and the removal, from all airplanes, of the insulation material that burned in the Flight 111 accident, Metalized Mylar. To this date the FAA has not approved most of the recommendations that were made - including the installation of additional fire detection and suppression devices.

"If the cabin of a modern jetliner was a restaurant or a nursing home, it would fail safety standards and would not get an occupancy permit," says David Evans, editor-in-chief, Air Safety Week.

In the end the culprit for the fire on Flight 111 was faulty wiring located in the attic of the plane above the cockpit. A spark ignited materials - previously thought to be nonflammable - spreading smoke and fire in to the cockpit, blinding the pilots. Had there been fire detection and suppression devices in the airplane's attic, the disaster could have been avoided.

Let's just hope this is not still another 'kapton wiring' documentary. The spark was found on the ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM WIRING- let's hope Nova mentioned that. There are those that would blame every crash on kapton wiring- rest assured swissair wasn't one of them. The Kapton agenda was around prior to sr111. I think the Canadian final report is pretty clear on this point. Let's not let the bad guys off the hook. Mark and I sent them plenty of compelling information and I hope it wasn't ignored. I just want the truth told about what happened to my daughter.

IP: Logged
Member # 73

posted January 17, 2004 10:18 PM      Profile for BarbF     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Crash of Flight 111

Web site launch date: February 3, 2004
Program broadcast date: February 17, 2004

On September 2, 1998, Swissair Flight 111 plummeted into the sea off Nova Scotia while en route from New York to Geneva. All 229 people on board were killed. In May 2003, Canada's Transportation Safety Board published its final conclusions from an investigation that took more than four years and cost $30 million. NOVA's cameras were there from the beginning, revealing the inside story of one of the most baffling and intricate aviation investigations ever mounted. On the companion Web site, hear one air-safety expert's views on what's effective and what's not in crash investigations and their aftermath. Also, learn of policy and design changes that have followed crash investigations, see beneath the skin of a typical passenger jetliner to the myriad systems that make it run, and more.

A Wireless Black Box?
Black-box data from several recent major crashes, including SwissAir 111 and all four 9/11 planes, was either lost or irretrievable. This has left some aviation experts thinking the time has come to develop technology to transmit such data to ground stations in real time.

On Crash Investigations
David Evans, the editor of Air Safety Week, discusses the Swissair 111 investigation with an air-safety expert's deep knowledge and a seasoned journalist's objectivity.

Making Air Travel Safer
Learn what steps were taken following major commercial aviation disasters to correct the design of airplanes or the policies that govern their operation.

Anatomy of a Jetliner
In this interactive, get to know a passenger jet from the inside out, from its miles of electrical wires, to its complex ventilation ducts and awesome fuel supplies.

IP: Logged

Original Nova Article here


to Hot off the Press Menu