Hazards of Winter: Another Ground Crew Death

De-icing isn't something we normally think about. Not for planes. Maybe those of us who have wintered in Chicago or New York have considered it. Those of us who have had to get up extra early to scrape the outer skin of ice and snow off of the car, even those of us who have had the forethought to stack a layer of cardboard over the windshield to limit the ice buildup, who turn on the heat inside so the commute will be tolerable. But frankly, scraping the windshield with the ice scraper, or knocking snow off headlights--with a car, it is usually not that hazardous--albeit sometimes slippery. Obviously de-icing a plane is significantly more dangerous. After all, the instructions on the back of an ice scraper fit on the ice scraper.

The aircraft ground anti-icing operations manual available from ICAO runs 37 pages and cost $25. So there are at least 37 pages worth of established procedures to follow.

News of a death makes me remember the ground crew who is working out there de-icing the plane while the passengers sit inside, all warm and cosy. It's cold out there; and dangerous. More dangerous than we think about, but maybe we should.

It's only by learning from our mistakes, in aviation, and in every other industry that we progress. It's too late for these two ground crewmen, one in Calgary, one in Thailand. But it's not too late for us to learn from our mistakes--if mistakes there were.

It has been just over a month since another de-Icing crew member in Calgary died on the job. In that case, it was a Servisair ground worker who fell out of a cherry picker.

In this latest instance, we haven't really heard much yet. We know that the death occurred in Thailand, and that it was snowing heavily. The investigation will reveal the details of what happened. Who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If the operator or crewman weren't following guidelines--or the flight crew. The investigation will reveal who acted carelessly, or if it was simply an accident, and the plane just following the path of least resistance.

I respect winter.

And I respect ground crews. They brave the elements, just to make plane travel just a little bit safer. When you think about it, it's a little bit heroic, and maybe a little bit sad how the ground crew works on plane after plane. It's a little bit like a pastry chef who makes delicacy after delicacy, but never gets to eat them himself. The ground crew stays behind when the plane soars away.

Originally Posted by George Hatcher Monday, January 25, 2010