Monday, November 16, 2015

#Metrojet #9268 #7K9268/ #KGL9268: From Egypt to Paris - what went wrong?

Let me begin by making it very clear that I do not support terrorism in any form. I condemn all forms of violence and I do not believe that there can ever be any justification for taking anyone's life; be it in a Paris style attack, an aircraft bombing or even an execution by a court order. All forms of violence are inexcusable and unjustifiable.

That having been said, let us try to make some sense of the events that have transpired in the last fortnight.

#Metrojet #Flight9268, operating under code #7K9268/ #KGL9268, crashed on 31 Oct 2015. Within hours, we had a statement from the British Prime Minister’s office that "...there was a STRONG POSSIBILITY that the flight had been brought down by a bomb". Remember, that at this point in time, the investigators had not even reached the accident site and absolutely nothing was known about cause of the accident. "Intelligence Chatter" about a bomb and celebration upon the plane’s downing in ISIS communications were cited as the reasons for this belief.

The next day, even as an investigation team was being assembled, statements from the US White House were issued in support of the British PMs remark with none less than President Obama himself agreeing that this was a "Possibility". Carefully chosen words. Never stating or agreeing that the bomb was the cause; always using non-committal words like “possibility”, “probability”, “likely", etc. to keep the option of backtracking open. And yet, the US and the UK proceeded to order a stop on all flights to/from Sharm el Sheikh airport in Egypt. They then proceeded to send in scores of empty planes to evacuate all British nationals from the city. Tourism, however, is Sharm al Sheikh’s sole source of income! The economy of Sinai Peninsula, already hovering close to a breaking point, plummeted to a new low with job losses and unemployment impacting the poorest the worst. And not a single UK or US investigator had as yet joined the international investigation team!

It is a point to bear in mind that the south Sinai area, famous for its beaches and diving, has around a third of the country’s total hotel rooms. It is so tourism-focused that visitors who do not plan to travel to other parts of the country do not even need a visa to enter Egypt here. Tourists from Russia and UK make up the bulk of the tourists here. There were about 250,000 UK visitors to Egypt last year and this year, at the time of this accident, there were an estimated 20,000 UK tourists in the resort who were subsequently ordered by the UK government to pack-up and return home.

After initially denying that there was any bomb, suddenly a few days later, Russia also ordered the evacuation of its citizens. Around 70,000 Russian tourists were evacuated in next couple of days with their checked bags traveling in separate flights. The economy of the peninsula was dealt a crushing blow. And yet, there is absolutely no evidence of any nature of bomb on the crashed flight!

So, what is going on here? Well, it was merely a couple of months back that Egypt announced a huge gas discovery. The mouths of western powers were watering at the prospect of this gas! But they had a problem: the government in Egypt was not listening to them; it wasn’t towing their line! Worse, it was cooperating more with Russia than with the West. They needed a puppet in control of Egypt and this was an opportunity. Blame the attack on ISIS; after all, who cares? All is fair in love and war, is it not? They are a bunch of terrorists and have killed too many already. Who cares if another 224 are added to that long list? But doing so created a very interesting possibility. Much like Saddam Hussain's WMDs, they could now create terror paranoia and order the evacuation of their citizens. They could cripple Egypt's tourism industry.

The logic was, that the Egyptian government, under pressure, would succumb to their demands, and ensure that the final investigation report included bomb as a cause, or at least as one of the likely causes. Through this, in the name of fighting terrorism, they could now have an excuse for greater interference in Egypt. An interesting spin-off would be the ability to now use this incident to blame Russia on its policy in Syria and put the Russian government under pressure to change its strategy of supporting Assad! Brilliant plan. Game, set and match? Wait, not yet! Our Russian friends can also think and they thought this through a bit more than their Western counterparts. Using the tag-line of intelligence cooperation and sharing by the UK, Russia announced the evacuation of its own citizens. But unlike the western leaders, Putin did not stop at that. He went a step further and banned Egypt Air flights into Russian territory. Et tu Brute er...Putin? No. He was sending his own message to the Western and Egyptian governments. If the Egyptian government did succumb to western pressure and declare that Flight 9268 was brought down by a bomb, he would destroy Egypt's economy! After all, the single largest tourist group in Egypt comes from Russia! UK is a close second, but not as close as to be significant. What are 20,000 UK tourists when compared to over 70,000 Russians? Stalemate.

Brilliantly played my friends, but, I have a problem! The purpose of an accident investigation, any accident investigation, is to find out what happened, why it happened and how we can prevent another from happening. The last objective, of preventing another from happening, is the only objective that justifies the effort and the expense invested in an investigation. Unfortunately, in this case, by playing politics over an accident, the leaders of the UK and USA have destroyed all possibility of the real truth ever emerging! Accident investigations need to stay grounded in facts and science. And the facts as well as science of this accident just do not support any conjecture at this point in time. This is the time when investigators are going through a painfully laborious process of piecing together the evidence and trying to make sense of this terrible tragedy. This is the time when they need to be left alone, free from external pressures and stress, to arrive at the truth. Justice for the 224 souls lost will only come when the true reason is found and fixed. If it happens to be terrorism, by all means we will need to look at how to fix that. If it happens to be the failure of repairs that were conducted earlier, then that needs to be fixed so that proper procedures are developed to ensure that another aircraft does not go down for the same reason. Keep in mind that there have already been two aircraft that have gone down due to failure of repairs to the tail section following a tail strike. We can go around the world fixing security at airports and evacuating tourists but other aircraft will go down due to botched tail section repairs!

While the world was still struggling to come to terms with this tragedy, we had yet another that captured the media’s attention. The weekend attacks in Paris have shaken all to the core, but wait, there is another perspective here. I want to know: How come the "intelligence" that had such confident "intercepts and chatter" about ISIS celebrations and plans to bomb aircraft operating out of Sharm el Sheikh, knew nothing about the impending attacks in its own backyard? Forgive me for arriving at this conclusion, but this "intelligence" does not appear to me to be very "intelligent"! After all, this is also the same "intelligence" that whipped frenzy over Saddam Hussain's WMDs and instigated two gulf wars. And where are Saddam Hussain's WMDs? I believe we now call them ISIS!

Here is a very interesting and thought provoking article written by an international expert on racial studies, Mr. Pranav Kohli: The author makes a very interesting observation. I quote, "However, what many did not seem to notice was that on the same day as Paris, Baghdad and Beirut were also struck by ISIS terrorism. While the attack on Baghdad left 26 people dead and 60 injured, the bombing of Beirut left 43 dead and 200 injured. Yet Baghdad and Beirut received a mere fraction of the media attention and global solidarity extended to Paris. … The absence of a similarly scathing condemnation by President Obama, in this context, almost makes it seem as if “humanity” was attacked only in Paris. … This comment is part of a long and established discursive and structural tradition that considers the lives of Western, white people as more valuable than those of people of colour."

In the last few days, I have heard much about why youth, even those living in the western societies, are radicalized! Why such events do not stop! Why...!!!! Here is one interesting view that answers why...

Wake up world! It is time to stop playing politics over a tragedy. It is time to stop this racism. It is time to stop being bigots. It is time to start treating all humans equal. It is time to stop painting all humans of a particular religion, race, caste or nation with one broad brush. It is time to get real, to get scientific, remain grounded in facts and to do justice to the grieving families by arriving at the true cause of this tragedy!

Stay Safe,

The Erring Human.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

#Metrojet #9268 #7K9268/ #KGL9268: Why this rhetoric about a bomb?

#Metrojet #Flight9268 (#7K9268/ #KGL9268), an international chartered passenger flight operated by Russian airline Kogalymavia (branded as Metrojet), crashed in northern Sinai on 31 October 2015 at 06:13 EST (04:13 UTC) following departure from Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport, Egypt, en route to Pulkovo Airport, Saint Petersburg, Russia. ISIS was quick to claim that it brought the airliner down. After initially discarding this claim as Propaganda, we are now being told that the flight was brought down by a bomb.

But before you become alarmed, and accept these claims at their face value, please listen carefully. The statement from the office of British Prime Minister DOES NOT state that the flight was brought down by a bomb, but only that “…We CANNOT BE CERTAIN that the Russian airliner was brought down by a bomb, but because it’s a STRONG POSSIBILITY, its right to act…”  Statement from his office also uses the words "...MAY have been brought down by an explosive device..."

In a radio interview with Seattle-based KIRO Radio, Obama said, “I think there is a POSSIBILITY that there was a bomb on board and we’re taking that very seriously.”

The media has gone viral with the bomb theory, but my attempt in this blog has always been to separate the fact from fiction/ propaganda and to present to my readers an unbiased view so you can make your own decision on what might be the truth and what merely motivated reporting for political mileage or TRPs. So, what is the truth here?

The tail of the aircraft is, in my opinion, at the center of all controversy, and also all evidence, in this case.

Notice here the very clean break, along the bulkhead joint at the top, with no sign whatsoever of any jagged tear, heat stress or fire. The fin and aft fuselage were about 5 km south of the wing and rest of the fuselage and also about 2.5 Km south of the last radar position. Given that the aircraft was travelling on a generally Northerly track, this indicates that the tail came off first. The photo above shows a clean lateral break at a frame at the top indicating that is where the fracture started and the complicated rupture at the bottom being the final departure from rest of the aircraft as the back end bent off downwards. That would indicate the failure was due to an excessive download force on the horizontal stabilizer or a fatigue failure at the fuselage top adjacent the frame. Following this, pressurization would blow the back end off. Either way, rest of the aircraft would have been pushed forward with an impulsive thrust of a few thousand pounds as the pressurized air released out the back like a rocket exhaust. This would also account for the aircraft skin peeling off outwards seen in some pictures in the press.

The question that begs an answer is, “Why there is such a clean break with no sign of heat stress or fire if this break-up was the result of a bomb?” As can be seen from various images published in the press, fire was localized to the main fuselage body, the section that houses the wings (where most of the fuel is stored) and the central fuel tanks.

Inflight break-ups because of structural failure are extremely rare, but have happened in the past. Japan Airlines Flight 123 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Osaka International Airport, Japan. On Monday, August 12, 1985, a Boeing 747SR operating this route suffered explosive decompression 12 minutes into the flight and, 32 minutes later, crashed into two ridges of Mount Takamagahara in Ueno, Gunma Prefecture, 100 kilometres (62 miles) from Tokyo. The explosive decompression was caused by a faulty repair performed seven years earlier. About 12 minutes after takeoff, at near cruising altitude over Sagami Bay, the aircraft's aft pressure bulkhead burst open due to a pre-existing defect stemming from a panel that had been incorrectly repaired after a tailstrike accident years earlier. This caused an explosive decompression, causing pressurized air to rush out of the cabin, bringing down the ceiling around the rear lavatories. The compressed air then burst the unpressurized fuselage aft of the bulkhead unseating the vertical stabilizer and severing all four hydraulic lines. A photograph taken from the ground some time later confirmed that the vertical stabilizer was missing.

China Airlines Flight 611 (callsign Dynasty 611) was a scheduled passenger flight from Chiang Kai-shek International Airport (now Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport) in Taiwan to Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong. On 25 May 2002, the Boeing 747-209B operating the route disintegrated in mid-air and crashed into the Taiwan Strait 20 minutes after takeoff, killing all 225 people on board. The in-flight break-up was caused by improper repairs to the aircraft 22 years earlier. The final investigation report found that the accident was the result of metal fatigue caused by inadequate maintenance after an earlier tail strike incident. On 7 February 1980 while landing in Hong Kong, part of the plane's tail had scraped along the runway for several hundred feet. The aircraft was depressurized, ferried back to Taiwan on the same day, and a temporary repair done the day after. A more permanent repair was conducted by a team from China Airlines from 23 May through 26 May 1980. However, the permanent repair of the tail strike was not carried out in accordance with the Boeing Structural Repair Manual (SRM). The area of damaged skin in Section 46 was not removed and the repair doubler plate that was supposed to cover in excess of 30 percent of the damaged area did not extend beyond the entire damaged area enough to restore the overall structural strength. Consequently, after repeated cycles of depressurization and pressurization during flight, the weakened hull gradually started to crack and finally broke open in mid-flight on 25 May 2002, coincidentally 22 years to the day after the faulty repair was made upon the damaged tail. An explosive decompression of the aircraft occurred once the crack opened up, causing the complete disintegration of the aircraft in mid-air.

On April 28, 1988, an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737-200 lost part of the upper fuselage on a flight from Hilo to Honolulu. It diverted and landed in Maui. The accident investigation concluded that corrosion had not been detected and caused the failure of a lap joint.

The above events, specifically those of Japan Airlines Flight 123 and China Airlines Flight 611, bear a remarkable resemblance to #Flight9268 in all aspects of the accident, including the disposition of the wreckage, the broken tail section and rudder, explosive decompression, steep near vertical drop to the ground and lack of any warning or reaction time to the crew.

So far inquiries, with the aim to receive the final report of the tail strike in 2001 as well as clarify the extent of damage and who performed the repairs to Egypt's Civil Aviation Authority Accident Investigation, Airbus, Metrojet and Middle East Airlines have not been answered. However, in a press conference the chairman of Metrojet said that the repair in 2001/2002 was done by Airbus.

The investigators have stated that the cockpit voice recorder of Metrojet Flight 9268 shows an explosion and the flight data recorder confirms the explosion is not accidental – there is no sign of mechanical malfunction during the initial part of the flight, France 2 reported. But the fact remains that the only one evidence available in the black boxes is that they stopped recording suddenly, following an explosion, without any prior warning. So, is this enough to conclude that Flight 9268 was brought down by a bomb? 

In my opinion, NO.

A failure at the tail section, that tore the tail off, would immediately also severe all electrical connections between the plane and the Black boxes, resulting in an instant loss of power and data to the recorders. They would register the explosive sound of decompression and then stop all recording due to loss of power and data connection as a result of this break-up. This is not evidence that the break-up occurred due to a bomb, but only that a break-up occurred! The evidence of a bomb needs to come from explosive traces and heat stress/damage that would occur at the site of the explosion…and at this time that vital evidence is still missing. The post mortem reports have not yet yielded any evidence of explosive traces on the bodies and the investigators have also not yet located any such residue on the aircraft structure from the tail section. There are also no visible signs of any nature of heat or fire damage to the tail section.

It is interesting that while the investigation is being led by Egyptian authorities with Russian and French collaboration, the statements have come from French investigators and the UK and US governments who do not even have investigators on ground; France is the home state of the aircraft manufacturer, Airbus! One wonders if there is an attempt here to shield the manufacturer from any possible liability due to failed repairs it carried out on the tail section way back in 2001? One also wonders if the UK and USA and other western powers have a motivated interest here to raise this rhetoric in order to link this issue with Russian involvement in Syria and then use this as leverage against Russia? Or is it merely an excuse to increase security expenditure and restrictions? Either way, it is a very deplorable and manipulative manner of taking undue advantage of a tragedy!

To me, as an accident investigator who takes pride in Aviation industry’s ability to investigate accidents to the root cause impartially and in an unbiased manner, in order to bring about corrective measures to prevent another, the manner in which the press and western leaders are responding to this event, as well as earlier responded to #MH17 accident is a serious cause for concern. I wonder if, like #MH17, the real truth about #Metrojet #Flight9268 will ever be known!