Half a Runway is Better Than None

One thing I feel is that someone out there in aviation (and I don't know who it is)-the pilot in general, ATC, or the airline-does not respect Mother Nature. Weather happens. Sometimes very BIG weather happens. And people will just not be dissuaded by a little common sense. No matter what, if we want to go, we're going to jump on our magical Boeing-Airbus-Embraer-McDonnell Douglas Sleigh like Santa Clause, the Postal Service or Fed Ex, and we will go. People want it, so the airlines are going to provide it, like the inscription on the James Farley post office in New York "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds." Or to more-or-less paraphrase David Farragut, "Damn the lightning, full speed ahead!"

So my first point is that we should respect nature a little more. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

We commonly make assumptions here in all of our posts, because we're using a who/what/where/when format. The "What" usually ends up as a synopsis of events, with just a little bit of why thrown in. But "why" is not a question we can take lightly. "Why" an incident happens is just too big for us to cover, especially since we try to get our posts up within hours of the event. Between you and me, if it takes a year for the whole NTSB research team made up of a federal building full of highly educated and experienced experts, thousands of pages of recorded documentation, video and concrete evidence, and the nation's keenest analytical minds juggling all the permutations to figure out "why" a crash happened, then we don't really think we can come up with the perfect "why" off the top of our heads fifteen minutes after the crash.

That said, there's an expert in Jamaica--Lt. Col. Oscar Derby, director general of the Jamaica Civil Aviation -- who says that the aircraft touched down at 4,100 feet (assuming this is fact, since one can assume the director general of Jamaican aviation has access to all the facts) and that number isn't referring to altitude, it's referring to the plane's wheels contacting mother tarmac halfway down the runway. I'm not going to talk about his decisions, or his inquiry because it is simply too soon.

But if the plane landed halfway down the runway (if it is not internet gossip, but a fact that the plane did land halfway down the runway)...that is significant. It probably wouldn't matter if the plane hadn't bounced. Or if it hadn't been raining. Or if the plane hadn't hydroplaned. But ALL of those things happened too.

I don't know why the pilot landed halfway down the runway; but I do know there is always some point of no return where the pilot must commit to either fly by or land. I don't know the factors that came into play with this pilot, on this day, on this runway, during this storm that affected the decision. Experts will be spending years looking at this pilot's split second decision.

The fact remains that in a harrowing rainstorm, after a turbulent flight, a bounce on landing, and hydroplaning, the American AIrlines crew still managed to come out of it with everyone aboard alive, and that is a job well done.

Originally Posted by George Hatcher