Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Horrifying Video Of 747 Crash At Bagram AB, Afghanistan, All Seven Crewmembers Perish: Load Shift And Steep Climb Eyed As Causative Factors

A 747-428 cargo aircraft, tail no. N949CA, operated by National Airlines, a subsidiary of National Air Cargo, crashed shortly after takeoff from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan at 11:20 A.M. local time on Monday April 29th, 2013. All seven American crewmembers aboard perished in the fiery crash; since next-of-kin have been notified, they are now identified as pilots Brad Hasler of Trenton, Michigan, and Jeremy Lipka of Brooklyn, Michigan; First Officers First Officers Jamie Brokaw, of Monroe, Michigan, and Rinku Summan of Canton, Michigan; loadmaster Michael Sheets of Ypsilanti, Michigan; and maintenance crew Gary Stockdale of Romulus, Michigan and Timothy Garrett of Louisville, Kentucky. More information on these individuals has been subsequently published by the Daily Mail.

The aircraft, which was headed for Dubai, had reportedly been in service for 20 years and was carrying five military vehicles amongst its cargo. The most informative story comes from the Washington Post, which references three other pertinent media sources.

What's unusual is that there is a video showing the takeoff and the subsequent crash. The 747 takes off, banks to the left then to the right, reaches a reported altitude of 1,312 feet, and then begins to stall. It begins to drop like a stone; although the pilot managed to straighten the attitude out, it was dropping too fast to land safely. It burst into flames upon impact:

http://youtu.be/vo51Be2jL8c



The Taliban initially tried to take credit for the crash, but NATO debunked their claims. Initial speculation holds that any one or combination of three factors may have contributed:

-- Steep Departure: The aircraft is said to have climbed out steeply. This is a common maneuver in an area subject to combat. But retired United Airlines captain Ross Aimer suggests the aircraft may have climbed too steeply, triggering the stall.

-- Load Shift: Five military vehicles were reportedly on board. Some speculate that one of the vehicles may not have been secured properly, permitting it to break loose and move to the left or rear of the aircraft, making it tail-heavy during the already-steep departure. One person on the F2 Anonboard thinks the vehicles may have been MRAPs, the big armored cars we saw deployed in Boston. Aviation Herald has since reported that according to a listener on [tower] frequency, the crew reported the aircraft stalled due to a possible load shift.

-- Weather: Weather reports show that a thunderstorm with cumulonimbus clouds was approaching the air base at the time of the accident. A weather report shows winds began shifting from 100 degrees [from the east] at 09:55 UTC to 350 degrees [from the north] at 10:55 UTC. Accident time was about 15:00 Local Time/10:30 UTC. Aviation Herald has published weather observations from the area covering the period before and after the crash.

Until the National Transportation Safety Board recovers the black boxes and begins their investigation, nothing can be ruled out. But looking at the video, it doesn't appear that weather would be the primary factor. Most likely it was the steep climbout, which might have been successful under normal conditions, being undermined by a load shift which moved the center of gravity to the tail and caused the fatal stall. One commenter to the Post wrote "This reminds me of the DC-8 crash here in Sacramento/Rancho Cordova, CA several years back. It was definately cargo shift that led to that crash and the crew did all it could to return to Mather Field (MHR) where it had just left, but couldn't make it. They were able to set it down in a large auto salvage yard near the field instead of crashing into nearby housing areas". The link I provided actually indicates a parts malfunction.

3 comments:

  1. Load shift would not have allowed the pilot to recover and the AC would have hit tail low. The video shows it was stall upon takeoff due to exessive Angle of Attack. Wings stopped producing lift. Correction for this is nose down attitude to break stall and recover with power. The lack of altitude would not let this crew recover. I pray that they knew Christ as Lord and Savior and are in Heaven now.

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  2. Thanks for your input. However, a newer story from Aviation Herald states that "According to a listener on frequency the crew reported the aircraft stalled due to a possible load shift".

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  3. As a former Air Force mishap investigator, I can assure you that this video displays the classic signs of a stall caused by load shift. I suspect one or more of the vehicles broke loose and shifted aft towards the rear of the cargo compartment which would certainly alter the aircraft's center of gravity. As the aircraft rotates to an extreme nose-up angle of attack, the pilot and copilot had mere seconds to try to compensate. The video clearly shows the aircraft responding to their attempts to bring the nose down while also recovering from the 90 degree right bank. Just before impact the horizontal stabilizers at the tail are in full nose-up position indicating the pilot/copilot were pulling aft on their yokes (steering columns) in a last-ditch effort to recover.

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