August 20, 2009

"We got plenty of gas in the grill, Fire up the cat."

Ill-timed joke.

21 comments:

rhhardin said...

The pilots are responsible for looking around, not the controller.

Avoiding traffic is easy, but you do have to be looking like you're supposed to be.

Laura(southernxyl) said...

Well, now we know what happened.

The call was to a WOMAN. See, that's what happens when you get a WOMAN in somewhere.

Did this article read weird to anybody besides me?

Michael Hasenstab said...

..."but the bottom line for us is that this call had nothing to do with this tragic accident that occurred," said the spokesman, Doug Church.

I call bullshit.

ironrailsironweights said...

The transcripts show the controller was bantering with the woman about a dead cat that she apparently had to remove from airport property in an earlier phone call. That call ended 12 minutes before the Piper's pilot told the tower he was ready for takeoff. The controller directed the Piper toward the Hudson, handed off responsibility for the plane to nearby Newark Liberty International Airport and gave the pilot the radio frequency to contact Newark.

The controller then called the woman back.
"We got plenty of gas in the grill?" the controller asked. "Fire up the cat."
"Ooh, disgusting, augh, that thing was disgusting," the woman responded.


It sounds to me as if the controller was not having the feline BBQ conversation at any time when he was responsible for the aircraft in question. He talked to the woman before the aircraft took off and after he turned over the matter to the Newark people. Perhaps holding a non-work-related telephone conversation while on duty violates some rule, but I don't see how it contributed to the crash in any way.

Peter

Bissage said...

The defense will have to file a motion in limine to disallow evidence of the cat joke as unduly clich├ęd.

Tibore said...

You know, honestly, it's the news media reporting stupid minituae like this that distracts from the significant issues in the story. The real issue is whether Teterboro Center should've warned the fixed wing pilot of traffic over the Hudson, and why neither Teterboro or Newark Center noticed the radar collision alarm ("Also, 20 seconds before the crash, a radar data processing system set off audible alarms and a "conflict alert" warning of the impending crash appeared on radar displays in Teterboro and Newark, but controllers at both airports told NTSB they don't recall hearing or seeing the warnings." Link). As the story itself noted, the joking happened during non-critical moments. Furthermore, I hate to say something negative about dead people, but the pilots share blame in this too: When under "VFR" (Visual Flight Rules) it is the primary responsibility of the pilots to pay attention to what's around them, what's nearby, and what can turn into a potential obstacle up ahead. I really don't want to make a big deal about this because both pilots already paid for their mistakes with their lives, but reality is harsh like that.

So what does the cat joke have to do with anything? Well, that's my point: What does it have to do with the crash? It's an internal disciplinary action, not something that's relevant to the crash itself.

Florida said...

"When under "VFR" (Visual Flight Rules) it is the primary responsibility of the pilots to pay attention to what's around them, what's nearby, and what can turn into a potential obstacle up ahead."

While true, this statement suggests that the controllers are without responsibility and that is not the case.

It is incredibly difficult for the pilot of a Cessna aircraft to see a helicopter that is gaining altitude immediately below him, especially when he's in a takeoff climb.

Although the NTSB is still investigating, it is becoming evident that the helicopter rose up under the Cessna in his blind spot. Maybe two or three seconds before the impact, the Cessna took evasive action, but it was not enough as the helicopter pilot was gaining altitude too fast.

The controllers have a duty to provide warning. Their equipment is specifically designed to detect possible collisions and to prompt the controller to warn the pilots and to provide proper evasion vectors.

If the controller is fking around on the phone talking to some chick about barbecuing cats instead of monitoring his scope for collision warnings, then he should be removed from the tower and barbecued himself.

His union's protestations that the phone call had nothing to do with the accident are a bunch of typical union CYA. There's a reason why you aren't allowed to conduct trim hunts during tower time.

Florida said...

Incidently,

The controller's union, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, has been removed from the investigation for leaking information to the press in violation of its agreement with the NTSB.

This is an almost unprecedented action. I cannot think of another time when the NTSB has had to remove an active member of its investigative team.

"On Friday, August 14, NATCA convened a press conference to
discuss information released earlier that day by the NTSB.

The organization was subsequently reminded of its responsibilities as a party to the investigation. This morning, NATCA issued a press release again discussing the information released, and conducted another press conference this afternoon.

"Patrick Forrey, NATCA President, was informed today (Monday) that his organization has been removed as a party to the investigation."

So much for the responsibility of the controllers and their union.

Kylos said...

Florida, by my understanding, the controller had been off the phone for a while and was trying to regain contact with the non-responsive Piper pilot, for which the pilot appears to be at fault. When a controller tells you to transfer towers, you're supposed to check in with the new tower. It appears the pilot simply never contacted Newark. It took a bit of time for the towers to realize that no one was in contact with the Piper. The pilot was given the frequency info; he should have contacted Newark, who could have given him better guidance.

Now, why did no one alert the pilot to the collision? That's a good question, but it has nothing to do with the cat conversation; the conversation had long been over at that point. That seems to be a red herring to skew people's opinion of the controller.

rhhardin said...

I managed to run up a large number of air hours without running into anybody, with no help at all from controllers.

Florida said...

"I managed to run up a large number of air hours without running into anybody, with no help at all from controllers."

That is possible when, for example, you aren't flying in controlled airspace.

However, this accident took place in highly controlled airspace. It is probably the most dense airspace you could ever fly in.

Florida said...

@Kylos

"... by my understanding, the controller had been off the phone for a while and was trying to regain contact with the non-responsive Piper pilot, for which the pilot appears to be at fault."

No. That is incorrect.

The NTSB, while continuing its investigation, has released some factual information. Some of that information has resulted in the removal of the controller and his supervisor, who have been placed on administrative leave for violating rules of conduct for controllers.

You're probably confused because there were two separate telephone calls that this controller made: An earlier telephone call to the same girl; and then a later telephone call that was made at almost the same time that the controllers audible collision warning was occurring.

The controller was warned by his equipment at 11:52:54, a full 20 seconds prior to the crash, that there was a potential conflict between the Cessna and the helicopter. He received both an aural (sound) warning and a visual "conflict alert" warning on his radar display. But, he was on the telephone chatting up a friend at that time. We have no way of knowing whether he was even looking at his radar display, but we do know that he did not end his telephone conversation with the woman until 11:53:13 ... one second before the crash occurred.

And, we also know that the controller's union has been removed from the investigation by the NTSB for not long-standing following investigation protocol (which is also unprofessional behavior.)

The investigation continues. But to suggest that the telephone call has nothing to do with the crash is just flat out BS.

The Drill SGT said...

However, this accident took place in highly controlled airspace. It is probably the most dense airspace you could ever fly in.

one little quibble.

Very dense airspace yes.

Highly controlled in general

However, my understanding is that there is an uncontrolled VFR corridor running down the Hudson under 1100 AGL.

bill said...

Drill Sgt. is right, there is a VFR corridor there.

Another quibble, "controlled airspace" does not necessarily mean you have to be talking to ATC or that ATC is going to separate you from anyone. "Controlled airspace" is a regulatory term that means instrument flight rules (IFR) traffic will be separated from other IFR traffic.

In this case, the airplane was talking to a tower (or between talking to two towers), but towers issue advisories, they do not positively separate aircraft...and even that is not mandatory. If you are operating under VFR, the book says ATC may provide traffic advisories on a workload-permitting basis. The pilot is 100% responsible to see-and-avoid.

Methadras said...

Someone needs to explain this to me because I'm not a pilot and therefore I don't know the rules that govern flying outside of a simulator, but how in the name of God with all of that clear airspace out there in front of you can you not see either a helicopter? If it came in from your blind side, then how is it that the helicopter didn't see the plane. I don't get it. Can someone explain it to me?

WV = unscesse = reverse engineering a Martin Scorcesse film

rhhardin said...

Spotting traffic is a learned skill. If you're not actively doing it when you should be, you probably won't see the traffic. Fortunately there's lots of empty space in case you don't, mostly.

The traffic isn't silhouetted against the sky but against crud on the ground.

One trick, staring at a fixed point and noticing with peripheral vision everything that moves, is often recommended, and great for spotting traffic, but only traffic that's not on a collision course with you.

Constant bearing means collision.

Florida said...

"... with all of that clear airspace out there in front of you can you not see either a helicopter?"

You've obviously never been in a Cessna aircraft.

It would be very easy for a helicopter to rise up into you from below your aircraft and you'd never see or hear it until it was too late, especially in a takeoff attitude (which diminishes your forward view anyway). That looks to be what happened here.

Rest assured, the NTSB will place some of the blame the pilots of both aircraft, and some of the blame on the controllers and some of the blame on the fact that the corridor itself is unsafe.

Controllers while not REQUIRED to provide traffic advisories, are required to not be too busy on the phone chatting up some bimbo instead of paying attention to their audible collision alarms.

Bruce Hayden said...

What will be interesting to me is to see what happens to the cat on the grill controller. Obviously, the agency is off scott free. But, that is to be expected - they are part of the U.S. government, and you have almost no legal recourse against the government when they kill you through negligence, or even gross negligence.

We shall see how powerful the union is by whether the controller gets booted, or just reprimanded. Ditto for the supervisor on duty. My guess is that both will survive, just fine. And this will just be one more example of why trusting the government for life and death issues is most typically a bad idea.

rhhardin said...

Florida, it's a Piper, not a Cessna. What I would have called a Cherokee, but I don't know all the modern models.

His forward speed is so much faster than the helicopter's rise that he could see it. He wasn't in takeoff attitude but cruising along under the legal ceiling for VFR, and not looking around much apparently.

The trouble is that you actually have to look. Traffic doesn't just pop into view for you without effort on your part.

Dudley Do-right said...

If the chopper was rising into the Piper's flight path from below, then the pilot would've been looking for it against a background of buildings, highways and structures. With little lateral motion, very difficult.

The Piper looked like either a Cherokee Six, a Lance or a Saratoga. All are just different versions of the same basic airframe. All have a long, broad nose stretching out ahead of the windshield and a fairly wide fuselage. If the helicopter was rising under the aircraft's nose or toward the passenger's side, it couldn't have been spotted by the pilot. I seem to recall pictures of the aircraft minus its right wing immediately after the collision. That would suggest that the chopper rose up under the passenger side.

Normally you scan for traffic within a few degrees of the horizon as that picks up traffic that's at your altitude. Traffic at different altitudes is looked for but with less urgency as that's an atypical threat Something rising quickly from below would be very tough indeed.

Yeah the rules are see and be seen, but in this case, the Piper pilot was almost totally dependent on the controller for traffic avoidance. Choppers can be very tough to see even when you know they're there.

wv = mermis - unmarried mermaid

Methadras said...

Florida said...

"... with all of that clear airspace out there in front of you can you not see either a helicopter?"

You've obviously never been in a Cessna aircraft.

It would be very easy for a helicopter to rise up into you from below your aircraft and you'd never see or hear it until it was too late, especially in a takeoff attitude (which diminishes your forward view anyway). That looks to be what happened here.

Rest assured, the NTSB will place some of the blame the pilots of both aircraft, and some of the blame on the controllers and some of the blame on the fact that the corridor itself is unsafe.

Controllers while not REQUIRED to provide traffic advisories, are required to not be too busy on the phone chatting up some bimbo instead of paying attention to their audible collision alarms.


You are right, I've never been in a Cessna or any other small craft like it and I never will, but what you said makes sense when I visualize it because I personally do not understand how this could have happened, but I can see from the way you explained it how it could happen. Thanks.