Dec 15, 2006

A Series of Unfortunate Events

On Dec 16 1960, United flight 826 collided with TWA flight 266 over Staten Island, NY. Everyone on board the two planes (128 people) were killed, in addition to 6 people on the ground when flight 826 crashed into the neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn. Like most disasters, it was not caused by a single catastrophic event, but by a series of events that compounded the situation:

  1. Radar service was terminated at 10:21am over New York, forcing the planes to switch to instrument positioning.
  2. One of the VOR receivers on 826 malfunctioned, forcing pilots to rapidly use mental calculations for positioning and navigation.
  3. Traffic control provided an emergency diversion, revising its flight pattern, shortening its course and shortening its clearance.
  4. The crew miscalculated its clearance, bringing 826 into 266's path.

What can be learned? I won't address aviation-related issues, and will instead leave that to the experts. However, as with most catastrophic events, from Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, it was the result of a series of events that compounded to create and exponentially greater problem. A good lesson for those of us with less life-and-death occupations.

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