A December 23rd Spin on the American Airlines Crash in Jamaica

While last night's American Airlines Boeing crash landing in the Jamaican rain with limited visibility, with significant tailwinds on ungrooved pavement, with patches of residual tire rubber no less, was catastrophic for the plane, it is rather amazing that even though the Boeing was subjected to forces powerful enough to split the plane into at least three pieces, it neither caught fire, hydroplaned 10 more yards to end up in the bay, nor lost even a single one of the passengers.

An achievement in survival. A testament to piloting skill. Or maybe it is just an improvement in plane design.

I hope that someone out there is appreciating how different this crash is from the Tam (Airbus) crash in Brazil, where a bad landing in rainy conditions on an ungrooved surface was exacerbated by a malfunctioning thrust reverser, and the plane ended up crashing a perimeter fence, crossing a thoroughfare and causing a blazing fire that annihilated a warehouse across the street from the runway.

Someone more versed in plane design could explain the difference in dynamics between plane crashes; someone expert in runway physics could explain how the runway surfaces did or did not play a part, but that analysis will come later during the NTSB investigation.

For now, I predict that you'll be seeing the powers that be blaming the pilots for breaking the airplane, rather than applauding the fact that no one died. There has already been at least one article blaming the crash on the fact that the pilots were in the 12th hour of their (up to )14 hour shift.

This is just a taste of the spin-doctoring to come. I'm sure we'll see the crash "arm-chair" analyzed a dozen different ways, depending on the writer's agenda. We will watch the groups lobbying for in-country maintenance flipping this story to blame it on out-of-the-country maintenance; the pilot fatigue people will be using this as a morality tale about long pilot hours; the Norman Manley International Airport improvement people will be talking about fixing runway surfaces or maybe doing other needed airport alterations.

For now, I think we should all spend a few moments taking a good hard look at the mess that used to be a Boeing 737-800. How did anyone live through that? In fact, everyone survived.

Some families in Jamaica will be hugging their loved ones just a little bit harder this season. Anyway you look at it, we had a little bit of a Christmas miracle this time.

Originally Posted by George Hatcher Thursday, December 24th, 2009