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March 23rd, 2009

Sachi and I came in from China to Narita Airport this morning. We woke up early, at 5:00 am, and got ready to go. At 6:00 am, we went to the lobby and checked out. We caught a taxi to the airport, and arrived earlier than most passengers, securing nice opposing aisle seats in row 18. We left Shanghai Pudong Airport at about 9:00 am, and arrived at Narita just past noon. The pilot warned of turbulence coming in for landing–in fact, I recalled pretty clearly that there were more warnings than usual about that, but simply accepted it as a special circumstance. As we landed, we watched the approach on the cameras below and at the front of the plane, giving us a runway view of the landing. Coming in, as advertised, the plane was buffeted by winds and felt less stable than most planes on landing, but once on the runway, the landing was smooth and clean. De-boarding was uneventful, nothing seemed untoward, and we just went home, happy to be back.

Just now Sachi and I watched the news and saw something they (naturally) did not mention to us: there was a plane crash that morning at Narita, a plane that had left China just like ours had, buffeted by winds just like ours had. The pilots died, but since it was a FedEx flight, they were the only casualties.

But Sachi and I felt kind of spooked when we heard that, remembering the turbulence on landing, and that the flight was, like ours, a large jet from China to Narita. It must have crashed just before we checked out of the hotel. There but for…

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  1. March 25th, 2009 at 09:17 | #1

    The FedEx plane that crashed was an MD-11, which has a fairly bad reputation for “ease of landing”. Fortunately, they aren’t used for commercial passenger service by very many airlines anymore; most of the MD-11s out there are used for cargo.

    Gusty winds on landing is what makes that phase of flight the most dangerous… well, that and taking off. Enroute cruise? You’re pretty doggone safe there. Takeoff/landing, though… still have a lot of room to improve there.

    The pilot of the FedEx plane used to be an air traffic controller at my facility, in my work area in fact. Several of the more senior controllers worked with him. He washed out of training and went to work for FedEx. Sad deal, he was said to be a pretty nice guy.

    When you see the video of the crashing plane, and watch it with aviation-experienced eyes, you can see how gusty winds probably did that plane in. The bouncing is a really bad sign, and the way the wing picks up and the plane rolls over is highly unusual- and almost certainly the effect of a sudden side gust of wind.

    Sad, sad deal. And you’re right, it is spooky when it was the same kind of deal as what you’re flying.

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