Iran plane crash: A pilot's perspective

Article Image

Hassan Shadkhoo says he reassured his wife that everything would be fine before she took off on Flight PS752, which fatally crashed minutes after takeoff from Tehran to Kiev.

Posted: Jan 9, 2020 3:20 PM
Updated: Jan 9, 2020 3:20 PM

For the moment, the crash of a Ukrainian Airlines Boeing 737-800 shortly after takeoff from Tehran, Iran, is a mystery -- and a tragedy. All 176 people on board died.

It is also a huge story, not least because all eyes are already trained on the region at a fraught geopolitical moment.

The fact is there are all kinds of possible explanations for the crash, and only a thorough investigation will provide the real answer of what went terribly wrong.

So what, possibly, could that have been? Obviously we can't speculate till we know more, but I can offer some perspective from my years of flying.

Judging by the relatively small pieces seen dispersed widely over the well-defined debris field of the accident site, the airplane's impact with the earth was at high speed and with great force. In other words, the aircraft didn't skid across the ground striking immovable barriers, i.e. trees, rocks, etc., in an apparent effort at emergency landing. It plunged dramatically and crashed. This implies that the airplane was not in the direct control of the pilots.

If the video circulated by Iranian news agencies -- seen here in a video report from The Guardian -- is indeed of the crashing plane, it may have been on fire prior to impact.

An onboard electrical fire, an explosion from somewhere within the fuselage, or an engine fire could be potential causes. But with an engine fire, the crew is highly trained for such an event. Internal systems allow the pilots to discharge fire retardant material directly into the engine. And the airplane is designed to fly on only one engine.

However, if a catastrophic engine failure occurred -- say a turbine blade or compressor blade failure -- and pieces of the engine were not contained within the cowl (the equivalent of a hood on an automobile, which surrounds the guts of a jet engine), shrapnel could have been expelled. And if shrapnel flew and struck crucial flight controls, the airplane may have become uncontrollable.

Engine manufacturers design the cowl to prevent fan blades, turbine blades, and bearings from escaping and striking strategic areas of the airplane, but not all types of catastrophic engine failures can be reproduced on a test bed, and the cowl may not have done its job.

Could a heat-seeking missile also cause such a catastrophe? Short answer: Yes. But that is speculation. While a spokesman from Iran's military has said the crash did not a result from any military action, new reporting from CNN noted that Ukraine's National Security and Defense council chief, Oleksiy Danilov, wrote on Facebook that a meeting was taking place Thursday with Iranian authorities, where various causes behind the crash were "being studied."

These include the theory that the plane was hit by an anti-aircraft missile, Danilov wrote.

I caution everyone to wait for more information.

The tragedy needs to be treated like any other accident investigation without reaching conclusions until all the facts have been presented. An organized and systematic methodology for such investigations must be conducted according to ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) guidelines.

If Iran is interested in determining the cause of the crash, it should share with interested stakeholders, such as the plane's manufacturer, Boeing, the most valuable pieces of evidence: the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder. So far it has refused to do so, though it has said it will work with Ukrainian officials on the investigation.

Judging from the number of photos made available from personnel at the crash site, I have concerns that the evidence is not being protected as well as it might be if the United States' National Transportation Safety Board was involved.

What happened? For now, we have little choice but to allow the investigation to progress before drawing conclusions.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 318894

Reported Deaths: 5561
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion43391855
Lake27599462
Allen18363299
Elkhart17474226
St. Joseph17071234
Hamilton13376169
Vanderburgh9839121
Tippecanoe880629
Porter844886
Johnson6556169
Hendricks6267158
Vigo618187
Monroe542850
Clark522877
Madison5153122
Delaware5014103
LaPorte474695
Kosciusko468540
Howard357977
Warrick329872
Floyd324978
Bartholomew323563
Wayne318074
Marshall308146
Cass302631
Grant282050
Noble261546
Hancock260355
Henry252837
Boone248754
Dubois242931
Dearborn222631
Jackson222534
Morgan215543
Knox189720
Shelby189556
Gibson189426
Clinton182121
DeKalb181632
Lawrence179748
Adams171022
Wabash168121
Miami166614
Daviess160144
Steuben150713
Fayette150034
Jasper147413
Montgomery146627
Harrison145524
LaGrange145031
Whitley140814
Ripley138515
Huntington130910
Decatur128243
Wells127930
Putnam127828
White127522
Clay126523
Randolph126121
Posey124116
Jefferson122916
Scott112320
Greene104653
Jay100713
Sullivan99216
Starke94021
Jennings88714
Fulton86419
Spencer8588
Perry83721
Fountain8078
Washington7837
Franklin71327
Carroll69613
Orange69028
Vermillion6444
Owen6317
Tipton58927
Parke5886
Newton56912
Rush5658
Blackford54012
Pike51619
Pulaski41115
Martin3645
Benton3553
Brown3514
Crawford3031
Union2752
Switzerland2605
Warren2542
Ohio2337
Unassigned0266

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 382743

Reported Deaths: 6274
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin51161671
Cuyahoga37222743
Hamilton30493372
Montgomery20518236
Butler15199148
Lucas14566417
Summit13933327
Stark9193206
Warren841976
Mahoning7530300
Lake710067
Lorain6690106
Clermont593651
Delaware572537
Licking564577
Trumbull5584147
Fairfield554464
Greene538066
Clark5218101
Allen494989
Marion476759
Medina471657
Wood4598107
Miami437568
Pickaway404048
Portage358972
Columbiana357698
Tuscarawas342667
Richland328539
Wayne327394
Mercer296047
Muskingum252510
Hancock245940
Ross244559
Auglaize236435
Darke232560
Erie230268
Putnam229449
Ashtabula228354
Geauga211851
Scioto200616
Union19668
Shelby194017
Lawrence193039
Athens19134
Seneca182919
Belmont170229
Madison163119
Sandusky157729
Preble156521
Huron155519
Defiance144823
Holmes140439
Logan133517
Knox131718
Fulton128726
Jefferson128613
Crawford126817
Washington125227
Ottawa124530
Clinton109115
Williams10799
Ashland107825
Highland103718
Brown10135
Henry101323
Hardin99719
Champaign9825
Van Wert97318
Jackson96212
Fayette92717
Morrow9202
Guernsey89314
Coshocton85215
Perry82912
Adams80313
Pike7661
Gallia76513
Wyandot73217
Paulding66511
Hocking64516
Noble62224
Carroll48810
Meigs39612
Monroe32321
Morgan2685
Vinton2246
Harrison2193
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 40°
Angola
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 40°
Huntington
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 43°
Decatur
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 45°
Van Wert
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 47° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 45°
Mostly Cloudy Black Friday
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events