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SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Thu Feb 22, 2001 9:38 pm

Communication error behind crash

By Patrick Kearns and Chuang Chi-ting

Poor communication in the cockpit of Singapore Airlines flight SQ-006 caused the accident in which the plane crashed and burst into a ball of flames last October, killing 83 of the 179 passengers aboard, aviation sources said yesterday.

The flight, which mistakenly headed down a runway closed for repairs, smashed into concrete barriers and heavy construction machinery during take-off, while Typhoon Xangsane lashed the airport with torrential rain and high winds.

According to two aviation industry insiders who requested anonymity, communications between the captain and his two-man crew broke down when the captain failed to heed a warning that the plane was not on the correct runway assigned for its takeoff.

Co-pilot interrupted

Lined up on what was believed to be the correct runway on Oct. 31, 2000, first officer Latif Cyrano ran the pre-flight checklist, pausing to tell Captain Foong Chee Kong that something was wrong on the navigation display, but was cut off in mid-sentence.

"The pilot cut off the first officer, assuming he was referring to the poor weather conditions, saying `Oh no problem, in this kind of weather we have everything we need ...'" said an air safety expert.

And with the captain apparently distracted by typhoon winds and rain outside, he discounted crucial information from the first officer.

"Investigation officials listening to the CVR [cockpit voice recorder] asked the first officer what he was trying to say before he was cut off," said the safety expert. "His reply was `I tried to tell him the situation was unstable.' Unstable means you are not on the center line."

The fact that the plane's triangular image appeared offset on the navigation display -- a cockpit screen showing the plane's runway alignment -- clearly shows that they were on the wrong runway.

Off center

If the plane were not on the right runway -- runway 05L -- "The crew would have seen the triangle indicator was off center," that's what the first officer was pointing out, said the expert.

"We were all shocked when we heard [that the cockpit conversation regarding the co-pilot's warning was misunderstood,]" said a senior 747-400 pilot close to the investigation. "The pilot thought he knew what the co-pilot was trying to tell him," when in fact he had misunderstood what was being said.

Still, questions remain as to why the crew's first officer -- or the other co-pilot, the cruising captain -- didn't insist that the captain listen to what he had to say.

"The communication problem resulted when the first officer failed to fulfil his responsibility and pursue the issue with the pilot," said the expert. "The pilot cut off the first officer, assuming he was referring to the poor weather conditions, saying, `Oh, no problem, in this kind of weather we have [checked] everything we need ..."

But flying a plane is a team effort, a basic rule that the crew of SQ-006 failed to follow.

"One should always mind suggestions from others [in the cockpit]. If the captain could have [followed the advice of the first officer,] taken a look at the navigation display and avoided rushing the take-off, the jet wouldn't have crashed," said the senior pilot.

Yet the crew, perhaps intimidated by the leader of their team, simply followed his lead.

"I believe the whole crew was affected by the pilot's arrogant attitude, otherwise they would have insisted proper take-off procedures be run step by step," the expert said.

"The pilot was trying to instill confidence in his crew and give the appearance that everything was all right, despite the storm raging outside."

Prior to the crash, Singapore Airlines had a virtually flawless safety record.

"If they followed standard airline take-off procedure for pilots, the [crash] would not have been possible -- it would have not been possible to take off from the wrong runway," said the expert.

The news came just two days prior to the scheduled release of the crash report tomorrow by the government body spearheading the investigation, the Cabinet-level Aviation Safety Council.

Kay Yong, managing director of the ASC, did not dismiss the information provided by the two sources saying, "Such speculation will be clarified at Friday's press conference when the factual report on the crash is disclosed," he said yesterday.

Singapore Airlines spokeswoman Sharon Wu declined to comment on the information and said the airline "has not been informed of it. ... We would prefer to comment on the case after the investigation is completed," Wu said.


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RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Thu Feb 22, 2001 10:18 pm

There has been a lot of discussion about the culpability of the Taiwanese airport authorities for not making the runway look more obviously closed, but something I haven't seen mentioned much is the fact that the runway they crashed on was a lot shorter and it is doubtful they would have made it anyway.
fly Saha Air 707s daily from Tehran's downtown Mehrabad to Mashhad, Kish Island and Ahwaz
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RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Thu Feb 22, 2001 10:27 pm

It is scary to think that cutting someone off in mid-sentence, something everyone has done at one stage or another without thinking twice or even being particularly arrogant, can cause a crash. This article is again showing only a small part of the picture. This crash, like most others, is an unfortunate combination of errors/problems. Alone from this article you can see that

-the weather was bad and the crew was nervous
-the captain tried to reassure the crew
-the captain cut off someone in mid-sentence, causing the vital information to be ignored
-the cut-off crew member did not take up the matter again
-the runway was not clearly enough marked as closed

There is no single identifiable cause for this - an unfortunate combination of circumstances.

Thanks for posting it. It was very interesting and informative nevertheless.
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RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Fri Feb 23, 2001 2:18 am

I'm ognna wait for the fficial statement

However, I've seen the link to the Taipei Times somwehere but I didn't look at it but now I have from you.

Sack the captain, sack the captain, sack the captain

Retrain all pilots, retrain all pilots, retrain all pilots

Cancel all flights and retrain all pilots. Cancel all flights!

That from a disappointed SIA lifelong fan and supporter.

However, I am sure that SIA has been putting things right or trying to anyway.

I feel that in a way, the crash has made SIA stronger. However, that remains to see if there will be another crash?
Anyone can fly, only the best Soar.
Red Panda
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RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Fri Feb 23, 2001 7:49 am

The first officer might not feel comfortable to suggest his opinion after he was cut off by the captain. The fellow crews also chose to follow the first officer even tho they knew that there was sth wrong. Asians have more respect to authorities, but also more fear to authorities as well.

just my two cents
R Panda
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Joined: Mon Nov 06, 2000 11:28 am

RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Fri Feb 23, 2001 8:20 am

If this report proves to be conclusive, then the importance of CRM, or Cockpit Resource Management can never be underestimated. Less senior crewmembers often defer to the Captain and sometimes with tragic results. All Crew should know when to assert themselves even if it risks offending those more senior. I am sure CRM training will receive more emphasis from SQ after this.

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RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Fri Feb 23, 2001 8:21 am

Things have changed now. As I said before, if the crew had done their job, nothing would have happened.

Heopfully, SIA would learn from their mistake and have better CRM training in place.

I can just imagine the # of lawsuits coming now.

Now, it looks like what I said was true, so IMHO the pilots should be charged with manslaughter as this is part of law, and pilots like any other people should be subjected to applicable laws.

RE: SQ6 - Pre Report Information

Fri Feb 23, 2001 8:29 am

Thanks for the report.
I eagerly await the official findings of the investigation. I would love to comment on the unofficial reports, but I'll wait until the official facts come out.

N.B. I'm not discrediting those who have already made comments, please do.

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