Civil aviation hit by 3 disasters in 8 days

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This is certainly not the first lethal summer in the history of civil aviation, but three air accidents in just eight days have marred this summer season. Three, not two, because as well as the MH17 flight, probably shot down by a missile in the Ukrainian sky, and Air Algeria’s AH5017, which came down in the region of Gossi in Mali, another accident has had less impact. Flight GE222 crashed down on the island of Penghu in Taiwan as, caught in a typhoon, it was trying to reach Makung airport from Kaohsiung international airport. This disaster, which occurred on July 23, was rapidly overshadowed by the Air Algeria accident occurring on a flight between Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and Algiers.

And yet the GE222 flight, operated by Taiwanese airline TransAsia on a Franco-Italian ATR72-200, was carrying 54 passengers and 4 crew members and caused 48 fatalities, of which two were French medical students, whose bodies have since been transferred to France. Indeed the accident is being investigated, its black boxes analysed, and two specialists from the French Bureau of accident and incident investigation (BEA), four experts from the Franco-Italian manufacturer and another from engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Canada have arrived at Makung to assist the Taiwanese authorities in charge of the investigation. In the case of TransAsia’s ATR72, the fact that the accident was caused by the very poor weather conditions that night is hardly under question.

On the other hand, what leaps to mind as regards the two other accidents is the fact that both took place almost simultaneously over countries engaged in civil war.

It is important though not to leap to hasty conclusions while many uncertainties remain and investigations are still underway.

The first of these tragic accidents occurred in the Ukrainian sky above the city of Donetsk on 17 July. The MH17 flight, connecting Amsterdam (Netherlands) to Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) aboard a Boeing 777-200ER, was operated by Malaysia Airlines. The airline has thus experienced its second accident in a little more than 4 months following the loss of an identical aircraft after it disappeared from screens in the Pacific (flight MH370). So far no sign of wreckage has been found or located for this plane, which was carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members, including 4 French nationals. In the Ukraine accident, 283 people and 15 crew members were killed in a disaster that, as the investigation progresses, does not seem to have been caused by mechanical factors, weather or human error. Today, everything would go to suggest that a missile destroyed the aircraft in flight, as pro-Russian rebels from the East Donetsk region fight against Ukrainian authority.

In the case of the Air Algeria AH5017 flight, the aircraft was an older generation MD83, manufactured by McDonnell Douglas, which was bought by Boeing in 1996. The aircraft belonged to Air Algeria but had been leased to the Spanish Swiftair airline whose fleet of 40 aircraft included 4 (now 3) MD83s. Opinion is divided as to how good a condition this fleet is in, but the Director for French civil aviation is insisting that the AH5017 aircraft went through a revision two or three days before the accident on July 24. Since the incident took place over an area severely disturbed by fighting (France was engaged in the Serval operation, which came to an end on 15 July, only to be succeeded by operation Barkhane), and occurred just 8 days after the accident in Ukraine, the idea of a missile having destroyed the aircraft was immediately put forward. But the ground debris – both material and human – does not back up this explanation. In fact, like flight GE222, weather conditions in Mali might well have caused the accident. So was it a mechanical accident, an act of war, or weather conditions? There again, black boxes have been found and brought back to France to be examined. For France is particularly concerned by this accident in which 54 of the passengers were French.

But that is not all. Some of our colleagues have reported that a large number of soldiers – 33 to be precise – were on board the aircraft, as well as a Lebanese Hezbollah leader. All references to this presence stem from the same Internet site, Echorouk. But although this site speaks of 33 military personnel, the article is not at all connected to the MD83 accident. If we read one of the articles of this reference site, the title is clear: Wali (governor) of Ghardaïa: “44 wounded in Berriane, including 33 police officers”. And, after consulting various experts, it would indeed seem that the information was incorrect. So I think in all honesty that we must reserve our judgement and await the findings of the investigation even if it means a long wait for families.

Nicole Beauclair – AeroMorning (translated by Lindsay Jones)

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