Skip to main content

tv   Why Planes Crash Fire in The Sky  MSNBC  October 6, 2014 12:00am-1:01am PDT

12:00 am
fire breaks out in the cabin of a dc-9 just minutes after take-off. the pilots lose control and the plane plunges nose first into the everglades. >> when that nose drop occurred, i realized it was going to crash. >> an md-11 crashes after smoke mysteriously fills the cockpit. >> the airplane was burning up around them. >> about two hours into a flight, a dc-9 fills with smoke and loses all of its electrical systems. >> mayday. we're going down. >> we thought everybody could get out because, like i say, there wasn't any screams. >> moments after take-off, flames erupt from the world's most iconic aircraft. >> it was a time bomb.
12:01 am
they were going to die. >> people watched in horror as it crashes into a nearby hotel. there are many ways for fires to start on a plane, and not many ways to put them out. >> in-flight fires can be one of the most catastrophic events a flight crew can face. the faa has found that up to the faa has found that up to three flights a day are diverted due to smoke or fire in-flight. while it may be common, it can be one of the most dangerous situations facing any flight crew. >> the faa has done extensive testing on in-flight fires and the research you may have as little as 20 minutes to get the fire under control or you may lose control of the airplane. >> over the years, aircraft had
12:02 am
become heavily protected against fire. materials are tested for flammability, smoke detectors installed throughout, but these precautions are the product of hard lessons. fires often start in areas of the plane that are not visible to the crew. in this hour, dramatic animations will show you where these hidden infernos can start, making you an eyewitness to the disaster unfolding. >> it can unfold very quickly, as in the case of an md-11 that crashed into the atlantic ocean, minutes after smoke entered the cockpit. september 2, 1998, passengers on board swiss air flight 111 are making their way from new york to geneva. the plane is over the canadian coast when the pilot smells smoke in the cockpit. bill pickerel is the air traffic
12:03 am
controller that day and the last person to have contact with flight 111. >> we were at the end of the shift. at approximately 10:15 p.m. local time, we were advised by one of the others sectors in the center, a swiss air flight had declared a pan because of smoke alert in the cockpit. >> a pan is an emergency that is not immediately life threatening. swiss air 111 is cleared for an emergency landing in nova scotia. >> it appeared to be a straight-forward operation. the radio transmission was very professional, very calm. there was no indication of a sense of urgency. >> as they prepare for their descent, the smoke in the cockpit becomes heavier. amid the growing danger, the pilots are faced with a difficult decision. >> the pilot advised that they needed to dump fuel. at that point they were approximately 16,000 feet. the fuel dump complicated the
12:04 am
situation greatly. >> it's a good decision to get the airplane as light as you can. it's easier on the airplane. >> but delaying the landing could put the flight in even more danger. the passengers have been told they are being diverted, but there is no smoke in the cabin, and they have no idea that inside the cockpit, something is going horribly wrong. following the smoke checklist, the pilot shut off power to the cabin. if there is an electrical fire, this could cut power to the source. but the smoke only gets thicker. then the autopilot fails. flying the plane by hand in the dark, the pilots put on their oxygen masks. >> by this point, they knew they had a very serious situation and they needed on the ground as rapidly as possible. >> as soon as they were over the water was when i suggested that they could commence their fuel dump. that was also the time, unknown
12:05 am
to me, that the aircraft began experiencing a series of critical systems failures. >> the plane begins to lose altitude. >> within a minute, they had lost several critical systems. they lost the radio contact. and very soon after that, we lost the transponder. >> inside the cockpit, a nightmare scenario was unfolding. fire has breached the ceiling, dripping molten aluminum on to the flight deck. they lose control of the plane and plunge into the ocean at 345 miles an hour. the impact is enormous. there are no survivors. the plane shatters and only small traces remain floating on the surface. the rest disappears into the atlantic. it is clearly now not a rescue mission, but a recovery mission. puzzled by the tragedy, investigators are eager to
12:06 am
retrieve the wreckage. >> we knew if we found the source of that in-flight fire and the fuel that was feeding that in-flight fire that we would get to the safety issues that we needed to identify. >> but the answers to questions about how it started and what burned are scattered on the ocean floor. >> the wreckage was some 185 or 190 feet below the surface of the ocean and spread out. we didn't know exactly where it was or exactly what we were faced with, trying to recover it. >> the first challenge is to find the black boxes. >> i managed to go in and recover the two black boxes. it was a setback, because the fire, in fact, has burned both of the flight data recorder and voice recorder about six minutes before the aircraft had hit the water. it was pretty disappointing. >> with no information about the final six minutes, investigators are forced to rely on the wreckage for answers. >> it's not necessarily standard
12:07 am
practice to rebuild an airplane to be able to solve the riddle of what happened. in our particular case that was really the only way we were going to be able to do it, is to take the pieces we were able to recover and then identify, and then place them back into a structure that resembled the original airplane, so we could basically look for fire patterns on the burn piece that is we had and then try and trace the fire to its origin. >> but how could fire breach the the cockpit, the most protected area of the aircraft? the answers shocked the aviation industry. >> we had indications that there was insulation cover material in the airplane that had burned. it didn't look like this stuff should burn at all. but we said very quickly after that that this material is what spread the fire, what made it so hot and, in fact, what made that airplane crash into the ocean. >> in 1998, thousands of planes were taking to the skies full of the same insulation. >> there was fire damage in the area over the flight deck.
12:08 am
this surprised them. because there's testing done to ensure that these thermal acoustic blankets do not burn easily, and yet there was fire damage. >> we took some of this material and touched a match to it and lo and behold, we discovered that it burned. not only did it burn, it burned completely and it burned hot and smoky. >> investigators race to find out what ignited the insulation before another aircraft is affected. coming up -- will millions of pieces of wreckage yield answers before it's too late? swiss air flight 111 on its
12:09 am
12:10 am
12:11 am
swiss air flight 111 on its way from new york to geneva falls into the ocean just minutes after the crew reports smoke in the cockpit. in a search to find out has went wrong, investigators discover
12:12 am
that a common aircraft insulation material is a fire hazard. thousands of planes are fitted with new insulation. and flammability testing is re-evaluated. but they still don't know how the fire started, and if other aircraft are at risk. >> when we started to look for potential ignition sources the very first thing that comes to mind is aircraft wiring. >> the investigators scour more than 150 miles of wiring for signs of an electrical malfunction called arcing. >> arcing events are when electricity jumps from a wire to another piece of metal. it can be another wire or a part of the airplane or something else. when it does that, it can create tremendous amount of heat. >> finding an arcing event is difficult and determining if one preceded another is nearly impossible. but six months into writing the final report, the impossible happens.
12:13 am
>> we managed to come up with a wire bundle that was, in fact, involved in the lead event. >> the investigators identify microscopic points on two wires and determine that they were the first to experience a fault. but it's still unclear why they malfunctioned and how they caused the crash. >> the md-11 was one of the earlier planes to have personal in-flight entertainment. and so in the first-class cabin area, this system drew a lot of >> the md-11 was one of the earlier planes to have personal in-flight entertainment. and so in the first-class cabin area, this system drew a lot of power. and on this type of airplane, it has individual power supplies for the cabin as well as the different parts of the flight deck. >> when the system was installed into the aircraft, there was not enough power to wire it into the cabin system, so it was wired into the cockpit, drawing power from the same source as the flight controls. >> under normal conditions, an in-flight entertainment system arcing event and fire would be controllable because they would be able to shut off electricity to it. unfortunately, in the case of
12:14 am
swiss air 111, they were unable to do that. >> wear and tear on the entertainment system wiring created an opening that allowed electricity to jump out. an arcing event. the arc occurred right next to the wires that powered the flight deck's most crucial equipment, setting off a fire that spread across the cockpit attic, burning through the ceiling. >> the situation in the final few minutes of flight was catastrophic. the airplane's full of smoke. there is evidence of molten aluminum that's being rained down from the fire overhead. the electrical systems are failing. one by one, everything that they need to keep the airplane in flight is failing. they finally lose control of the airplane, and it rolls towards the ocean and accelerates and impacts the ocean at a very high
12:15 am
speed. >> in the wake of the swiss air 111 crash, the airline industry is forced to re-evaluate the procedures for in-flight fires. flammability testing becomes more rigorous. insulation blankets are manufactured for more flame-resistant materials. and wiring becomes more stringent. >> swiss air 111 was a watershed event in how pilots deal with in-flight smoke conditions. after that, pilots recognized how quickly things could go wrong. >> what makes fire such a lethal threat to aircraft is its ability to start and grow, undetected. in some cases, the interiors of the plane are at risk. but a fire that starts outside can be just as catastrophic. charles de gaulle airport, paris, the world's only
12:16 am
supersonic passenger jet speeds down the runway at 175 miles per hour. just before the nose wheels lift, flames erupt from under the left wing. eyewitnesses see the low flying plane move unsteadily through the sky with an inferno trailing behind it. just two minutes after take-off, the most famous passenger aircraft in the world crashes into a hotel. >> they were doomed. they could do nothing. >> july 25th, 2000, air france flight 4590 is preparing for take-off from paris' charles de gaulle airport on its way to new york. people stop to watch as the concorde prepares for take-off. no one realizes they are about to witness a disaster. >> as they start their take-off roll, the airplane is going
12:17 am
right down the runway. the tower tells the pilots you have got fire behind the aircraft. there is a cockpit warning indication that there is believed to be a fire in the number two engine. >> but once the plane reaches a critical speed, it cannot stop. the pilot's best hope is to get airborne so they can deal with the problem. >> typically for a pilot, whenever you have a problem and you are committed to flight, which this crew was, they want to climb to what they call a safe altitude before they start taking corrective action. >> but the concord's ability to fly has been compromised by the fire. >> it started to lose directional control. he is heavy, low, and slow. that is a very critical point for a pilot. >> a minute after take-off, the number two engine fails. the pilots begin to go through the engine fire procedure. >> in the cockpit they have begun to get warnings. they have been told by control tower that they have fire.
12:18 am
so they go, i have a fire in the number two engine. >> but the situation is not what the pilots suspect. desperately trying to get enough speed to get airborne, they try to pull up the landing gear. >> it wouldn't come up because the left side was damaged by the fire. >> they are not in a position to continue level flight, and at that point they realized they needed on the ground at the closest airport. it wasn't a good choice, but it the best choice that they had. >> you have a fire and it's not just contained to the engine. it's now being encompassed >> it was a plane trying to survive. >> seconds later, engine number one fails. the concorde's chances of making the airfield rapidly diminish. >> you have two engines trying to do the work of four. an airplane wallowing in the air because it hasn't built up sufficient flying speed and now you have a controllability issue.
12:19 am
and you have an airplane that's on fire. >> the plane became totally unflyable. the crew tried to reduce the power on the two living engines but, again, it was no use. >> as bystanders watch in horror, the plane banks to the left and crashes into a small hotel. >> it was such a huge fire that i couldn't see anything. no plane, no wreckage, no hotel. >> 113 people die, including four on the ground. the tragedy sends a shock wave through the aviation world. coming up, how could the most capable aircraft in the fleet without a fatal accident in its history ignite during take-off? >> it was a time bomb. they were going to die.
12:20 am
12:21 am
12:22 am
an icon of the aviation world breaks out in flames during take-off and crashes. >> off the wire, an airbus concorde crashes shortly after take-off, slamming into a hotel. >> it was a scene from hell.
12:23 am
absolute pandemonium. people were all around me shaking. we were all absolutely in shock. all we could see was a huge bonfire. >> immediately after the crash of air france flight 4590 outside of paris, aviation experts and investigators arrived to unearth clues from the smoldering wreckage. >> it was really a nightmare. i knew that the bodies were not there any more but death was everywhere. >> when the flight data and voice recorders are located, investigators take them in for analysis. >> the two recorders were not in excellent shape. especially the data recorder. initially we learned not much. slowly we began to make a scenario. >> the crash site is not the only place where investigators look for clues. >> the runway where the aircraft departed also becomes a focus. the streets of soot and fuel on the runway indicate a fuel leakage that could have fed the
12:24 am
raging blaze. but how did the leak start? >> we found a part of the tank and small parts of the plane. we found also something which was not from the plane. it was a strip of metal. it was not a part of the concorde and it had nothing to do with the runway. >> how this piece of metal could have contributed to the crash is at first unclear, until another crucial clue is discovered. >> you can think of it as a jigsaw puzzle. what they found is that they reassembled the tire parts that were on the runway, that the pattern matched the piece of metal. so, it was consistent with the tire having rolled over this piece of metal. >> the shape of the damage to the tire clearly matches the shape of the piece of metal found on the runway. investigators examine dozens of aircraft, trying to find out where the piece of foreign debris could have come from. >> they found --
12:25 am
they found the place where it could be. >> investigators are confident they have identified a crucial part of the accident sequence, but the question remains, how could a damaged tire lead to a fatal crash? greg feith is a crash investigators and a former consultant to continental airlines on an unrelated case. >> at speeds up to 200 miles an hour, when that tire blew out after striking that metal, it turned to shrapnel, and the small and large fragments of the rubber started to strike the bottom of the aircraft. >> the rubber strikes the underside of the wing and behind the skin of that wing is a huge
12:26 am
fuel tank. >> these chunks of rubber hit the bottom of the fuel tank. even though it didn't breach the fuel tank, it sent chicago waves that overpressured the tank. the shock wave created an overpressure system. basically expanding in the tank, blows it from the inside out, creating a hole. >> captured on camera by and into the air where it vaporizes and ignites. once the fire gets going, there was no way to stop it. >> as the roll picked up in magnitude, their ability to maintain level flight was degraded and the nose started down. >> ten years after the crash, continental airlines and two of its employees go on trial in paris for involuntary manslaughter n french law, it is standard for a criminal investigation to be opened after a plane crash. but it's highly unusual for an airline to face criminal charges. during the trial, continental says air france knew of deficiencies in concorde's fuel
12:27 am
tanks and wheels. air france denies the allegations and maintains the accident would not have happened if the wear strip hadn't been on the runway. in the same trial, the former head of testing for concorde, former head engineer for concorde and a retired civil aviation chief are also tried for involuntary manslaughter. fuel load, baggage weight, scheduling pressure and a missing tire spacer. >> and accident is a series of events. all accidents are a series of events. this one has many events coming together very tragically. >> in late 2010, a french court finds continental airlines and one of its welders guilty of involuntary manslaughter. all other defendants are acquitted. continental is fined 200,000 euros, ordered to pay air france 1 million more.
12:28 am
john taylor is given a 15-month prison sentence for going against industry norms to forge the piece of metal that fell to the ground. >> i don't think that that piece of metal brought the airplane down. i think it played a factor in the cause of the accident. but i don't think it was the sole responsible cause of the accident. >> even before the verdict, the aviation industry agrees on drastic safety changes. debris on the runway is seen now as a greater threat to aircraft. manufacturers begin producing burst-resistant tires and fuel tanks are reinforced. but for the concorde, it was the beginning of the end. three years after the crash, the aircraft is retired. >> for many people, it was something. it was a symbol and they lost something with the end of the
12:29 am
concorde story. coming up, moments after take-off, fire erupts inside the cabin of a dc-9, sending it nose-first into the florida everglades.
12:30 am
12:31 am
12:32 am
a dc-9 takes off from miami international airport and begins its ascent. as it reaches 10,000 feet, fire breaks out in the cargo hold.
12:33 am
moments later, pilots lose control of the plane and plunges into the everglades. >> they discovered that it had already burnt up pretty much in the sky. >> may 11th, 1996, valujet flight 592 has just taken off from miami bound for atlanta, georgia. six minutes after take-off, the pilots hear a loud noise from inside the body of the plane. seconds later, the electrical systems fail. the first officer radios air traffic control. >> immediate return to miami. >> jesse fisher is on duty. >> his voice was very calm. very in control. he didn't sound urgent. >> while the pilots are assessing the electrical failure, smoke has started to come up through the floors of the cabin. >> what kind of problem are you having? >> smoke in the cabin.
12:34 am
smoke in the cabin. >> roger. >> the smoke moves into the flight deck. >> and the airplane finally levels off and begins a turn and the pilot is now a little bit more intense in his dialogue. >> with no electrical systems, the pilots struggle to maintain control of the situation. as they try to make their way back towards miami, fire begins to come up through the cabin floor. >> he is more intent. so now my heart rate is up. i said proceed direct to the airport. >> i need vectors. >> he said, i need vectors. in my mind, i think that's no good. he's got so much smoke that he can't see his instrumentation. so i start bringing him back around. the turn was real slow coming back to the airport, but still a lot of air speed. at about 9,500 feet is when he says, i need the nearest air strip.
12:35 am
i need the closest airport possible. >> he's maybe two or three miles closer to dade collier, but at his rate of speed and altitude, he can easily make miami, and miami has services. we have fire equipment. there's medical. collier is out in the everglades and there's nothing there. >> walton little is fishing in the everglades and can see that something is going very wrong for flight 592. >> when i hear the loud jet noise, i look to my left shoulder. i see a large aircraft, unusually low to the ground. >> we're like, okay. this is probably going to be a crash on the airport now. >> i realize that the bank angle is getting steeper and steeper, and actually approaches and exceeds 90 degrees such that it's rolling over on its back. >> when the plane banks at that angle, the wings can't provide enough lift, causing the plane to lose altitude. >> if the wings are level then
12:36 am
100% of the lift is counteracting gravity. when you have a 45-degree angle of bank, then only half of it can be counteracting the lift. so the greater the bank angle the less available lift there is to counteract gravity, which makes it harder to maintain altitude. >> something was changing too rapidly for the radar data to keep up with it. from 9,000 feet i saw one more hit at 1,000 feet. now that's bad. that's real bad. that's a rate of descent like a fighter jet. that's 8,000 feet a minute, which is screaming down. >> when that nose drop occurred, i realized it was going to crash. >> there is no further communication from the flight. >> i knew they were down, and
12:37 am
it's a helpless feeling. >> as the aircraft disappeared below the horizon, what appeared immediately afterward was a very large wave of water that rose up like a wave at a beach. >> all 110 people onboard were killed. >> we will show you a live picture of the crash scene. that area of scorched earth surrounded by water and green everglades around it, very very little left in terms of wreckage. >> investigators spend weeks combing through the swamp, looking for clues. >> as they found more and more of the wreckage and they were able to look this the cargo hold, they realized there was a lot of tire damage. and before the fuselage, there was a lot of fire damage, in a high intensity fire. >> the fire appeared to have started in the cargo hold but no one knew how it could have spread. >> these types of compartments are designed to contain a fire. so why didn't the liner contain
12:38 am
the fire? >> the investigators check records to see what was being transported in the hold. they find mail, three tires on their way to another valujet plane, and then something suspicious. >> there were oxygen generators in there. and they found evidence that some of the generators had been discharged. that suddenly would explain why the containment liner had not worked. >> inside the cargo hold, the charred remains of nine activated canisters are recovered. >> oxygen generators use a chemical process to produce oxygen in the event passengers need it during a decompression. >> according to the ntsb, they were improperly secured for shipping. >> it turned out it was apparently very shoddy workmanship. >> but what causes the fire? according to the ntsb, a disturbance, like a bump on the runway, makes the spring-loaded levers on the canisters hit the tiny charge on the caps. this impact creates a small explosion and starts a reaction
12:39 am
inside the canisters. oxygen is generated and released into the hold. the reaction also produces heat with temperatures of up to 500 degrees fahrenheit. the combination of heat and pure oxygen creates a voracious fire. inside the hold, the pure oxygen allows the fire to burn through the liner and up into the cabin, melting the floor beams under the passenger's feet. >> they discovered that it had already burnt up, pretty much, in the sky. >> there was a breakdown there. there was a series of communications breakdown. a lot of safety changes came about as a result. there's an absolute prohibition of shipping oxygen generators by air. class d compartments now have the ability to detect a fire. >> state and federal charges are brought against valujet's maintenance contractor
12:40 am
sabretech. sabretech ultimately pleads no contest to one state charge of mishandling hazardous waste. the company also faces 24 federal charge, but it convicted of only one. failing to train employees in hazardous materials handling. before the cases are finished, sabretech goes out of business. valujet is temporarily grounded by the faa but goes on to merge with airtran airways, and is later acquired by southwest. >> when you fly, there are so many people that affect your airplane, your safety. >> coming up, a passenger smells smoke coming from a lavatory. within minutes the pilot has to fight to control the airplane on its way to the ground.
12:41 am
12:42 am
12:43 am
12:44 am
a dc-9 is heading from dallas to toronto when the cabin and cockpit are suddenly filled with toxic smoke. the electrical systems shut down, making it nearly impossible to control the plane. >> the captain was faced with a unbelievably difficult task. >> barely able to see through the thick smoke, the pilot tries to get the plane back on the ground, but passengers are already succumbing to smoke inhalation. june 2, 1983. air canada flight 797 has a normal take-off and climbed to cruising altitude, but about 2 1/2 hours into the journey, the plane experiences an electrical malfunction. >> i looked at the breaker and it was out. you are allowed one reset so i
12:45 am
pushed it, but it didn't move. so, i didn't consider that a reset. >> the captain was at the controls that day. >> like the old days. >> for the first time in decades, he is back in the cockpit of a dc-9 at the space museum in ottawa. the breakers are connected to the lavatory in the back of the plane. once they pop out, they cut the flow of electricity to the lavatory motor. >> the crew responded to that appropriately. there was a problem there, and they left the circuit breakers then extended or popped so that it would deprive power to that component, eliminating any potential future problem. >> unfortunately, flight 797's problems are just beginning. >> i think it was about an hour and a half into the flight that there was some commotion in the back of the plane. i remember seeing one of the flight attendants take a fire extinguisher to the back. rumors began going around in the
12:46 am
plane that there might be a fire in the trash can, that somebody might have put a cigarette out in the trash. >> the captain sends his first officer to assess the situation. >> so i look back and you couldn't see the back of the airplane for the sort of light blue, hazy smoke. and claude came back and he said, i don't like what's going on back there. i think we better go down. >> the pilots put on their oxygen masks and prepare for an emergency landing into the closest airport, cincinnati. the crew moves passengers forward in the cabin to get away from the smoke, but there is little else they can do. >> dropping oxygen masks to the passengers in a situation like this would do absolutely no good. the masks are designed so that they will take ambient air in
12:47 am
and supplement it with oxygen. so even if the oxygen mask had been deployed, when you took a breath in, you're going to get ambient air in. >> a flight attendant empties a fire extinguisher, trying to control the smoke, but they can't find the source of the fire. >> when they open the lavatory door, they see smoke but no open flame. that was behind the walls in an inaccessible areas. >> a fire behind the wall is the worst-case scenario. it's almost impossible to put out or contain. a disaster is in progress. >> the smoke was clearing and then all of a sudden i lost all my electric power. >> that's when the crew realized
12:48 am
they had a life-threatening event on their hands. they needed a crew on the ground as soon as they could get there. >> mayday. we're going down. >> moments later, dense smoke begins to come through the cabin walls. >> roger. do you have time to give me the nature of the emergency? >> we have a fire in the wash -- back wash room and filling up with smoke right now. >> filled the cabin very quickly. i would say 10 to 15 minutes. it was horrible. it was so thick that you couldn't see your hand in front of you. >> you could feel your lungs and your throat burning from the sensation of breathing in. i suggested that we put our heads lower. in firefighting school, we learned that the lower you got, the more that you could be below the smoke. >> with low visibility and few remaining control or navigation systems, captain cameron is flying almost blind. >> we have no instruments. all we have is the lights right now. >> i would have been right up close like this with my eyeball maybe three, four inches from the window on the left side. at this point you know you got something serious when you got a thing like a christmas tree. i didn't think about what was burning or what had happened. i just knew that something serious had happened. >> people on the ground there, we're going to need fire trucks. >> the trucks are standing by for you.
12:49 am
can you give me a number of people and amount of fuel? >> we don't have time. it's getting worse, sir. >> you could definitely feel when we started to descend because it was a real dramatic, quick decline. i definitely questioned whether or not we would make it safely to the ground. that's when my fear was probably peaked. >> the crew is completely relying on air traffic control to guide him down to the airport. >> roger, you are 14 miles southeast of the airport. continue your left turn. >> taking you to the field. >> he would tell me to turn right until he told me to stop. >> he was faced with not being able to see his air speed, to not be able to see what few instruments he had. it was a very difficult situation to fly. >> 12:00 at eight miles. >> as we came in, the airplane wanted to go faster. so it was pitching over, and i
12:50 am
had to stop it with a pull force. >> 797, you are cleared to land. >> we're cleared to land and don't see the runway. >> after a strenuous descent, the captain finally gets the airport into view. >> okay, we have the airport. >> four miles, i think i saw the airport in front of me. the runway was almost lined up pretty good. >> the landing is rough. the plane slams into the ground, all four tires explode from the pressure. >> although it was a very hard landing, it wasn't rocky. we came to a firm stop. >> but the passengers and crew are not out of the danger. coming up, as passengers try to escape the smoke, the plane bursts into flames. >> it looked like an inferno.
12:51 am
12:52 am
12:53 am
air canada flight 797 fills with smoke and loses electrical power before making an emergency landing at cincinnati airport. passengers are desperate to escape the deadly fumes.
12:54 am
>> as soon as it came to a stop, that's when i removed the door and lisa and i both went out on to the wing. >> but moments after the exit doors are opened, the plane explodes into flames. >> when this additional oxygen entered the cabin with the fire burning, it ignited that smoke. >> there were flames leaping out of the door and into the air, probably six to ten feet in the air. >> it looked like an inferno. there were flames leaping out the doors. there was smoke all around it. >> and that's when we knew that we needed to get off the wing because i knew that fuel was in those wing tanks. so, i knew that we needed to get off. >> as the passengers evacuate, captain cameron stays in the
12:55 am
cockpit, relying on the tank of compressed air that supplies his oxygen mask, he begins shutting down the aircraft. but before he can finish, the air runs out. >> i couldn't breathe. so, i threw the mask off, opened a window and saw somebody on the wing. i thought, good, the evacuation is going well. then i tried to get out myself and i couldn't move. >> captain cameron loses consciousness. firefighters have to spray him with foam to revive him. >> it was ice cold and it tasted like soap. next thing i remembered, i was hanging from the window sill with my right hand and let myself go and i fell down. >> but for some passengers it was too late. >> 46 people on the plane. half of them were killed. of those who survived, only five were not injured. >> we came out on that side of the plane. >> we started talking to each other about the people -- let us know that people sitting next to them had not gotten off the plane. >> saw the evidence the next day in the hangar, but as far as the
12:56 am
enormity of the deaths of that shall that's filled with me. i feel badly about that still, that we couldn't get them all off. but we couldn't. >> we thought everybody was off. we thought everybody could get off. like we said, there wasn't any screams or noise coming from the plane. so, you felt that everybody was under control and -- >> getting off. >> was getting off. >> it was a real mixed bag of emotions. of course, we were thrilled to have survived such an incredible ordeal and to realize that some people had not survived was still upsetting. >> immediately after the accident, investigators focus on finding the source of the fire. >> the investigators knew early on that they had had a fire of likely electrical origin because of the amount of damage done in the lavatory area. >> investigators immediately suspect an arcing event. >> the electricity that is flowing through a wire as, over time, insulation can chaff, crack.
12:57 am
and these cracks allow the electricity to not flow down the wire path as it's supposed to, but to jump to a part of the frame of the airplane or to another wire that might be exposed. >> the lavatory motor is small but carries a lot of power. >> weight on an airplane is something you try to keep to an absolute minimum. one of the ways that we do that in aircraft is to utilize very small, but very powerful electric motors so that a very small motor can get three boosts of electricity, as it winds around. >> the motor inside the lavatory is much stronger than a household current. electricity jumping from one of these wires would release an enormous amount of energy and could ignite a fire. investigators do, in fact, find evidence of arcing on the left
12:58 am
and right lavatory feeder wires, that come out through holes in the floorboards. the arc starts a fire that ignites the lavatory walls, consuming vital electric systems, making it almost impossible for captain cameron to control the aircraft. >> became suddenly very hard to fly. it was nose heavy because the stabilizer trim had failed. >> his arms would have been very, very, very tired by the time he got on the ground. he had expended a lot of physical energy just to keep control of the airplane. he did a really good job. he's a seriously good aviator. >> air canada says the plane met all safety standards. the question now is whether those standards should be made tougher. >> with detailed accounts from the flight crew and passengers,
12:59 am
aviation industry learned some hard lessons. >> we changed dramatically the composition of aircraft interiors and seats to be more tolerant of an on-board fire condition. one additional lesson learned was how important floor lighting is to aid passengers in locating ways out of the airplane, where exits are and the path to get there. >> when i get back on an airplane, yes i would. especially if i had that crew, i would be no problem whatsoever. >> all the fire needs to start is oxygen, fuel and ignition. and all three are in plentiful supply on board aircraft. the airline industry has learned hard lessons about in-flight fires. the technology and protocols developed in the wake of these tragedies have made it harder for fires to get out of control. and while smoke and fire may continue to ground flights daily, they are less likely to result in the catastrophic failures of the past.
1:00 am
this sunday on ""meet the press"" america is on edge. ebola has been diagnosed on u.s. soil for the first time. >> the country is absolutely not ready for a large-scale epidemic. >> the head of the secret service had to resign after blunders that compromised the security of a president. >> the secret service needs someone to come in with a fresh set of eyes. >> has our government got a grip on all of these challenges facing the country? can preobama keep his promise about combat troops. >> i won't commit our troops to fighting another ground war. >> an iraq war veteran who thinks he has broken. >> they are actively engaged in


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on