Two Flights in Danger, Only One Survived.
Jet Blue flight 191 and Air Blue flight 202, two flights that occurred a world away from each other. The Captains of both flights put their aircraft and passengers into a perilously dangerous situation yet only one crashed. What was the reason the other aircraft landed safely with not one injured passenger? The answer : The actions of the Co Pilot.
While the actual situations were completely different, potentially the outcome could have been the same for both aircraft. Let’s take a look at these two flights and determine why one crashed and one didn’t.
Jet Blue Flight 191
On Jet Blue flight 191 the Captain became mentally incapacitated and he potentially put his passengers, crew and aircraft in grave danger. His mental impairment appeared to be severe and his actions and words were not that of a sane person. Realizing the Captain was not himself and that he posed a dangerous threat to the flight, the First Officer (Co Pilot) convinced the Captain to leave the cockpit and then locked the door to prevent him from re entering. The Captain was restrained and the aircraft successfully diverted to an en route airport.
The actions taken by the co pilot possibly saved many lives. What is important to note here is that there is a certain hierarchy of command in every cockpit. While all crew members are encouraged to speak up about any situation it is ultimately the Captains decision. This must be understood and respected by all who fly in a multi crew environment.
The Jet Blue Co Pilot showed extreme courage in taking over the aircraft. This would not have been an easy decision to make and would have been more difficult to follow through with the actions that he did.
Air Blue Flight 202
Air Blue flight 202 was however not so fortunate. The aircraft was put into a precariously dangerous position by the Captain. The Co Pilot well understood the dangerous position they were in and was well within his rights to demand the Captain do something about it or take over the controls and do it himself. Yet he didn’t. Right up to the point where the Captain flew the aircraft into the side of a hill killing every body on board, the Co Pilot did nothing.
Why didn’t he?
The subsequent air accident investigation report gives one clear indication of why the First Officer failed to be assertive and take some form of action. Yet I believe there is a second reason which added to this and the reason has it’s origins deep in the countries culture.
The investigation transcript described that during the early phases of the flight, the Captain repeatedly badgered the First Officer with questions and lectures in such a manner that completely humiliated him. This unprofessional and non company standard procedure belittled the first officer into an under confident and submissive frame of mind.
Already you can see that the Captains actions have forfeited any assistance or help from the first Officer for the simple reason that he is now too scared to say anything at all. Crew Resource Management or CRM is a method used whereby a Captain utilizes all resources and information available to him in order to make the best decision. As I wrote in a previous paragraph all crew members should be encouraged to speak up and give suggestions to the Captain. In the periods of flight prior to the accident the Captain has taken CRM and thrown it out the window.
In the 70 seconds immediately prior to the crash the aircrafts warning system broadcast loud commands demanding that the crew pull-up (to go around in an urgent manner) to avoid terrain an astounding 21 times. Not only did the Captain fail to implement the required procedure all 21 times but the Co Pilot failed to take some sort of action.
Obviously he had been verbally beaten into submission earlier in the flight but wouldn’t you say or do something to save your own life. The co pilot new that a collision with terrain was imminent yet he didn’t demand that the Captain go around or even take over and do it himself.
What reason would someone have where they would rather fly into a hill and die then risk upsetting the Captain?
Based on many reports, there are certain cultures which place enormous attention on the actions in any situation between a superior and a subordinate. Many cultures demand certain behavior and it would not be possible for a junior to to tell his superior that he is doing something wrong under any situation.
A perfect example of this can be found in the investigation report of Korean Air Flight 801 which crashed in Guam in 1997.
In summary we can see that when the aircraft was deliberately put into an unsafe situation by the Captain, the First Officer failed to speak up or take action for the previously given reasons. This is why assertion is such an important requirement for Co Pilots. Even in situations that are not dire and can happen in any line flight. If he or she sees or feels something is not being done correctly they should speak up without delay.
For the full investigation report on Air Blue 202 click here.