Thursday, February 5, 2015

Did Deception Sentence Passengers to Death?

GE235: Did Deception Sentence Passengers to Death?
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
A Translation
February 6, 2015

Executive Summary: The GE235 crash was a tragedy. The responsible agencies must must conduct a thorough investigation. The black box has left a record. Did the captain report an engine abnormality? Was his warning ignored? A thorough investigation must be conducted. Did someone violate procedure and cover this up, sentencing those onboard to death? The public deserves to know the truth.

Full Text Below: 

According to some TransAsia Airways pilots, just before GE235 crashed, Captain Liao Chien-chung made a round trip between Taipei and Kinmen. His entry in the flight log read, "One of the engines is acting up".  But the ground crew feared CAA fines for delayed flights. So they asked him to "Just make this flight, then we'll see”. Who knew they were handing those onboard death sentences? If this rumor is true, then TransAsia Airways' flight safety procedures and attitudes must be totally revamped.

Yesterday TransAsia Airways flatly denied the rumors. The CAA also said it has received no reports of any abnormalities. The facts should be easy to confirm. The possibilities are limited. One. Ground crews deliberately covered up the truth. Two. Someone doctored the flight logs. Three. The captain's report was verbal, not in writing. Four. Whistleblowers deliberately fabricated or distorted the facts. Flight safety officials and prosecutors can uncover the truth by interviewing the relevant personnel. would like to believe that if the engine really had a problem, Liao Chien-chung would not have been willing to re-enter the cockpit, and treat his own life and the lives of the passengers lightly.

In any event, the plane crashed primarily because the engine failed and was unable to gain altitude. This is an indisputable fact. In other words, whether Liao Chen-chung reported an abnormal condition that day or not, TransAsia Airways cannot deny that its plane experienced a mechanical failure. In fact, when TransAsia Airways purchased this brand new plane last April, it experienced an engine failure en route and was forced to land in Macau. A new engine had to be installed before it could fly on to Taipei. Were such twists of fate the result of hidden defects in the system? Were they blind spots that TransAsia Airways must acknowledge?

Twin-engined airliners are designed so that if they lose power in one engine, they can still climb well enough to return to the airport. This is Flight Simulation 101 for civil aviation pilots. Yet GE235 crashed right after take off. It lost altitude and speed until if finally crashed into the river. Therefore the plane must have experienced something even more serious than a single engine failure. This was either the result of a design defect, improper TransAsia Airways maintenance, or pilot error. All possibilities must be investigated. A review of flight safety records reveals, that on May 2, 2002, the TransAsia Airways flight GE515 ATR experienced a left engine failure when taking off from Sungshan Airport. When attempting to return to the airport, the pilot lost his bearings and flew all the way to the Qi Xing Mountain region. Only then did he discover his mistake and turn around. During this process, the aircraft issued five "stall warnings" and three "ground proximity warnings". It was a miracle that it was finally able to land safely. Last year's Makong Airport GE222 crash shocked the public. An investigation revealed that the pilot failed to see the runway before he dropped to a lower altitude. As a result, it was too late to climb back. These problems show that the ATR fleet desperately needs a thorough review of its flight or aircraft maintenance procedures. 

TransAsia Airways has been expanding in recent years. It has introduced new aircraft, opened new routes, and improved its service. Increased tourism within and without the island has reaped dazzling results. But flight safety for passengers is a basic requirement. It is the lifeblood of an airline. If a pilot reports that an engine is behaving abnormally, yet ground crews allow the plane to fly, what does that say about their attitude toward flight safety? If they endanger the lives of passengers merely to avoid a CAA fine, what does that say about their sense of responsibility?

On closer examination, the Kinmen route has become so popular in recent years mainly due to frequent cross-Strait exchanges. Many passengers transit through Kinmen. Of the 53 passengers on the ill-fated flight, 31 were Mainland tourists, far more than the number of local passengers. After massive rescue efforts, only three Mainland tourists were rescued. The remaining 20 or more are either dead or missing. TransAsia Airways owes its Kinmen route success to large numbers of Mainland tourists. Yet it is unable to ensure these tourists' safety. That is truly regrettable.

Advances in information technology have given the public unprecedented access to information. The plane crash was recorded by the dashcam of a passing car. The flight path of the plane before the accident can also be found on the Internet. But mistaken or false information can also be found on the Internet. For example, claims that the ATR was "a model even Mainland China no longer uses" are misleading. The ATR series debuted 30 years ago. Over one thousand planes have been produced. It remains the global short-range airliner sales champion. It does not meet most of Mainland China's needs. But that does not mean it is an "outdated" model. TransAsia Airlines ATR aircraft have experienced a series of accidents. They are used for transportation to Taiwan's outlying islands. Are its systems properly maintained? Are the company's attitude towards flight safety sufficiently rigorous? Those are the real questions.

This crash was a tragedy. The responsible agencies must must conduct a thorough investigation. The black box has left a record. Did the captain report an engine abnormality? Was his warning ignored? A thorough investigation must be conducted. Did someone violate procedure and cover this up, sentencing those onboard to death? The public deserves to know the truth.

2015-02-06 02:30:55 聯合報 社論










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