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Posts: 1291
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The DC-8 That Got Away

Fri Mar 08, 2002 2:15 pm

OK, so here it is, "The DC-8 That Got Away". I must admit that I am a little reluctant to post this story after the "warm" reception my last one received, but here goes. I will, however, preface this story by saying that this experience came from my first job in aviation when I was quite wet behind the ears and in no way should be a reflection on my present employer. I will also try to be a little more detailed in my account to prevent any confusion.

I was working for a small cargo operation out of Smyrna, TN (who shall remain nameless) that flew 707's and DC-8's. They leased an old C-130 hangar at the Tennessee National Guard base there in which to perform their maintenance. Anyway, they had three or four DC-8's (I believe they were ex-Air Canada birds) parked out on the tarmac far away from the hangar that were awaiting cargo door mods. The powers that be decided that they were parked too far apart and needed to be moved closer to one another in order to conserve ramp space. So one of the leads, instructed a bunch of us mechanics to grab a pushback and towbar and help him move the planes.

When we got out to the aircraft, we hooked up to one of the planes and got ready to move it. I expected that the lead would have one of us ride the brakes, but he didn't. His reasoning was that the brake pressure had long since bled away and we didn't have a GPU handy (or APU onboard) to restore hydraulic pressure with the aux pump. Knowing what I know now, this was a huge mistake. Even if there wasn't any brake pressure (which should have been restored before the aircraft was ever moved), the brake accumulators might have had enough pressure in them to apply brakes if needed and, failing that, there was always the emergency air brake bottle --- but I didn't know that at the time. I wanted to question his judgment, but decided against it because he seemed like he knew what he was doing and here I was this new guy starting his very first A&P job and afraid to "rock the boat". No one else questioned him either.

So we hooked up to the plane with the pushback facing away from the plane, pulled the chocks and towed it forward (probably a plane length or more). I was walking the right wing. We stopped and the lead wanted the pushback driver to push the plane backwards and squeeze it in tighter next to the other aircraft. The two of them decided it would be easier to unhook the pushback and turn it around (so it would be facing the plane), so a couple of us chocked the tires and another guy disconnected the towbar from the pushback.

Now in order for this to make sense, I have to describe the chocks. They were the same size and triangular shape as your average hard rubber chock, but they were made out of square steel stock (probably an inch in diameter) welded together. I have never seen any other chocks like this since and probably for good reason, because as soon as the plane was disconnected from the pushback, it started to roll away with no one in it. Those chocks just slid ineffectively behind the tires. Eventually, the chocks were pushed completely aside as the plane started to pick up momentum. I ran and picked up a chock (as did the guy on the left side) and threw it behind the main landing gear wheels, but the plane just shot it aside at about shin level. We kept trying to throw the chocks behind the wheels, but the plane kept spitting them out like a hockey player spitting teeth. The poor guy holding the towbar managed to steer the aircraft away from the other planes as the rest of us ran alongside trying to figure out a way to stop this runaway plane. But we didn't stop it; it stopped itself.

You see, when we moved the aircraft, we must have parked it on the edge of a slight depression not discernible to the naked eye. Once it reached the other side of the depression, it slowed, stopped and then started to come back at us. Before it could gain any speed, I quickly threw a chock in front of one of the mains, which the plane promptly crushed, sending one of the metal bars into the tread but not far enough to puncture the tire. But at least the plane was stopped. If it had gone much farther, it would have gone off the edge of the tarmac.

Before we headed back to the hangar, the lead told us that we didn't need to tell anyone about what had happened. No one did.
Patrick Bateman is my hero.
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RE: The DC-8 That Got Away

Fri Mar 08, 2002 3:11 pm

That must have been a humbling expierence for all those that were involved.
At worst, you screw up and die.
Posts: 1877
Joined: Sun Jan 13, 2002 6:53 am

A Valuable Lesson Here

Fri Mar 08, 2002 10:25 pm

Sometimes we believe because someone is in a position of authority they must know what they are doing. Often Lead is a tough position, he is basically a mechanic thrown into a supervision position and doesn't want to lose face by admitting he doesn't know something. However many factors here almost resulted in damage to aircraft of people. If an accident would have taken place and FAA involved he would have lost his license.

I am no angel and have done some equally stupid things as your story. We learn from these mistakes and move on. However, sometimes we pay the ultimate price. Often if the little voice in your head is telling you no, question authority!!

Let me tell you a little story about rushing and people getting hurt. This story doesn't have a happy ending.

While at Dee Howard for only, what must have been two weeks, there was a story of an accident that shook the Company. In fact, after this incident the company was never the same, never!

The America West B757 was in for a C Check and positioned in the main hangar and was nearing the end of the check. Standard practice was lots of overtime and very quick pace. Many safety practices were often overlooked and people stacked on people to complete work cards. Rush, Rush was the mantra, get it done we do not want the aircraft to be late to the customer do we?

Many times during C Check, the Blocker Door bushings on the CFM Thrust Reversers are found with Radial play. They have to be changed and this individual who we will call "X" did it many times. X was no fool; he put all the safety precautions in place, tagged breakers/handles/switches and locked out the T/Rs.

However these safety practices take time, something that no one had, after all we had to deliver on time to the customer, that’s the most important thing right? X was being pressured to hurry up, get the job done we have to close the Thrust Reverser cowls to drop slats and do Flight Control checks. Hurry up X or we will lose our inspector, I am sure was said. Maybe, are you going to get that done tonight X, you’re holding up other checks and we have test flight tomorrow.

From what I gather X was a real go-getter, this was X's last week and he was getting married that weekend. X was getting married and starting a new job with a Major Airline. He was excited about his future and the great things to come. X finished his task and had the inspector buy it off, rushing around to get the paperwork done other mechanic's were yelling "are you done"?

Rushing still, I am sure X thought I must finish up, I am holding the whole C Check up. Removing all the safties and everything put back to operable condition. Now while X was getting his paperwork signed off the T/R cowls were closed by other mechanics at the direction of supervision from inside the office but X still had some tools inside the T/R, which went unnoticed.

X was of Asian descent and didn't speak good English. Often X didn't want to lose face by indicating he didn't know something like simple English so he went with the flow.

Ok, now the story gets complicated and there are many sides too the story. Apparently there were many outstanding hydraulic checks to be completed, thrust reversers included. The T/R's had since been closed but now X was panicking his tools were in the T/R. He motioned (not verbal), to the person running the MULE unit, he was going in to get his tools, he crawled inside and the T/R’s at that exact moment were opened, effectively chopping X into two pieces.

What went wrong, no call over loud speaker hydraulics were being applied, no indication to personnel about what hydraulic users were going to be actuated, Supervision was not on the aircraft regulating man power, simple safety procedures overlooked and the most important factor RUSHING!!!

X died that day and the spirit of the company died with him. After that it was NEVER the same and the company is now Chapter 11.

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Joined: Tue Jan 01, 2002 1:21 am

RE: A Valuable Lesson Here

Fri Mar 08, 2002 11:03 pm

Gee, gruesome here today. All I know is that, when I was a ramp rat at an FBO, we never moved a large A/C without someone qualified in the cockpit on the brakes. To save discussion, we defined "large" the FAA way; i.e., any A/C over 12,500 pounds max. GTOW. Further assumption was: if in doubt, its over. The theory was that, even if brake pressure was minimal, there is usually some residual and, even if there wasn't, there is a steerable nosewheel that allowed a "runaway" to be steered harmlessly away from obstacles and into the grass for a safe stop. Tailwheel A/C like DC-3s were moved only when ample chocks were available. We NEVER moved any A/C with the tug driver facing away from the airplane; just too easy to hang a wing on something that way.
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RE: The DC-8 That Got Away

Fri Mar 08, 2002 11:05 pm

Everything that I have learned is that you don't want to tow something unless the equiptment you are using weights at least half of what the aircraft you are towing weighs. You don't want the airplane to push you around.

If you can't get at least that minimum ratio then somebody riding brakes really starts becoming much much more of a nesscessity.
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Joined: Sun Dec 31, 2000 11:34 pm

RE: The DC-8 That Got Away

Sat Mar 09, 2002 2:17 am

I was in San Antonio the day the gentleman was killed. It was a eyeopening experiance to actually see what can happen when procedures are not followed, or communication break down. The facility where the accident took place has a long history of taking shortcuts. I was one of the lucky ones to have a good supervisor who would not take the short cuts to finishing the stupid card. I worked in that facility for about 6 months, and I am sorry I ever heard of the place. x-rest in piece, it wasnt your fault..JT
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Joined: Mon Jan 08, 2001 10:58 am

RE: The DC-8 That Got Away

Sat Mar 09, 2002 12:42 pm

Quite sad. I didn't know this individual, but it's a textbook case of why NOT to rush and cut corners. People that don't understand this aren't welcome in aviation and are equally unworth working for. We'll miss you, Mr. T.

Anyone hear anything about the outcome of this at Dee?

Posts: 1877
Joined: Sun Jan 13, 2002 6:53 am

Dee Howard

Mon Mar 11, 2002 5:14 am

Dee Howard is Chapter 11 and currently only has about 150 people working there down from 1100 people when I was there.

The West hangar was sold and the large new hangar is for sale for $11 million. From what I understand Singapore Aviation will be the new owners.


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