Video: Cargo plane crashes near Birmingham airport

posted at 8:41 am on August 14, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

A UPS cargo plane crashed “on the outskirts” of Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport in Alabama early this morning, “exploding” on contact with the ground.  The status of the crew has not been announced:

NBC notes that this is the third UPS plane to crash in the last three years, but this is the first in the US in recent years:

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The crash caused at least two explosions and strewed debris across a long path, according to NBC News affiliate WVTM. The plane crashed in an open field owned by the airport, WVTM reported. Police said no homes were affected by the crash.

The pilot and co-pilot were aboard when the plane went down, said Birmingham Mayor William Bell told the TODAY Show, but declined to comment on the condition of the crew. There was no unusual weather before the crash, and it was unknown if there were any mechanical issues, Bell said.

There was no immediate information on whether or not there were any people killed or injured in the crash.

The mayor of Birmingham, William Bell, told NBC News that he was “not at liberty” to discuss the status of the crew, but that his police chief would have more later. Later, though, he told other news agencies that both the pilot and co-pilot had been killed. Fortunately, the plane didn’t hit any structures on the ground, so the odds of any other potential casualties from the crash should be low.

We will update this as more information comes in.


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The status of the crew has not been announced:

I think it’s safe to assume the worst.

NotCoach on August 14, 2013 at 8:46 AM

Here’s betting local TV anchors will phonetically sound-check the names of the pilots before broadcasting…

hillsoftx on August 14, 2013 at 8:48 AM

Wow

Prayers to crew and family

cmsinaz on August 14, 2013 at 8:56 AM

I’m thinking the condition of the crew is not optimum. RIP.

Bishop on August 14, 2013 at 8:56 AM

This is just awful.

workingclass artist on August 14, 2013 at 8:59 AM

Why the recent trend?

Parts issues?

Laxity in training/standards?

Avionics getting way too complex? Too much machine not enough man?

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM

but this is the first in the US in recent years:

You mean in the last two years?

CW on August 14, 2013 at 9:08 AM

My Prayers go out to the familes of the crew members.

ToddPA on August 14, 2013 at 9:15 AM

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Maybe shifting center of gravity from an improperly secured load?

Hill60 on August 14, 2013 at 9:19 AM

but this is the first in the US in recent years:

So, San Francisco [Asiana Airlines crash in July] is not part of the United States?

Or, were they just talking about UPS crashes?

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:19 AM

Hill60 on August 14, 2013 at 9:19 AM

Would have to be one heck of a big load suddenly shifting…coming out of a steep dive or other gyration.

Thought the newest fly-by-wire systems did simultaneous compensation.

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:24 AM

NBC wrong as usual. The last UPS crash was 2010 in Dubai when they lost a 747F and crew due to a cargo fire. Link below to an excellent aviation safety site:

http://aviation-safety.net/database

dmann on August 14, 2013 at 9:26 AM

Say goodby to next day air freight after TSA gets involved.

meci on August 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Why the recent trend?

Parts issues?

Laxity in training/standards?

Avionics getting way too complex? Too much machine not enough man?

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Republican opposition to the administration and/or BOOOOOOSH!

Happy Nomad on August 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Why the recent trend?

Parts issues?

Laxity in training/standards?

Avionics getting way too complex? Too much machine not enough man?

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Well I can’t speak to the UPS pilots, but I came across this email that was forwarded to me by one of my pilot friends. Makes you think twice about flying on an Asian-based airline.

The report below is from a retired United Captain who then went to Korea to instruct their pilots. Sorry for the length, but as he points out, they don’t really do “no-autopilot” stuff much at all. Oh, and BTW, I made it into both LAX and ATL, hand flown, no autopilot, and managed to bring the plane all the way to the gate, unscratched, and no CNN crew met me.

From the UAL pilot: “After I retired from UAL as a Standards Captain on the –400, I got a job as a simulator instructor working for Alteon (a Boeing subsidiary) at Asiana. When I first got there, I was shocked and surprised by the lack of basic piloting skills shown by most of the pilots. It is not a normal situation with normal progression from new hire, right seat, left seat taking a decade or two. One big difference is that ex-Military pilots are given super-seniority and progress to the left seat much faster. Compared to the US, they also upgrade fairly rapidly because of the phenomenal growth by all Asian air carriers. By the way, after about six months at Asiana, I was moved over to KAL and found them to be identical. The only difference was the color of the uniforms and airplanes. I worked in Korea for 5 long years and although I found most of the people to be very pleasant, it’s a minefield of a work environment … for them and for us expats.

One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. I don’t think this was officially sanctioned by the company, but after one or two simulator periods, a database was building on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to expect on checks, and what to look out for. For example; I used to open an aft cargo door at 100 knots to get them to initiate an RTO and I would brief them on it during the briefing. This was on the B-737 NG and many of the captains were coming off the 777 or B744 and they were used to the Master Caution System being inhibited at 80 kts. Well, for the first few days after I started that, EVERYONE rejected the takeoff. Then, all of a sudden they all “got it” and continued the takeoff (in accordance with their manuals). The word had gotten out. I figured it was an overall PLUS for the training program.

We expat instructors were forced upon them after the amount of fatal accidents (most of the them totally avoidable) over a decade began to be noticed by the outside world. They were basically given an ultimatum by the FAA, Transport Canada, and the EU to totally rebuild and rethink their training program or face being banned from the skies all over the world. They hired Boeing and Airbus to staff the training centers. KAL has one center and Asiana has another. When I was there (2003-2008) we had about 60 expats conducting training KAL and about 40 at Asiana. Most instructors were from the USA, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand with a few stuffed in from Europe and Asia. Boeing also operated training centers in Singapore and China so they did hire some instructors from there.

This solution has only been partially successful but still faces ingrained resistance from the Koreans. I lost track of the number of highly qualified instructors I worked with who were fired because they tried to enforce “normal” standards of performance. By normal standards, I would include being able to master basic tasks like successfully shoot a visual approach with 10 kt crosswind and the weather CAVOK. I am not kidding when I tell you that requiring them to shoot a visual approach struck fear in their hearts … with good reason. Like this Asiana crew, it didnt’ compute that you needed to be a 1000’ AGL at 3 miles and your sink rate should be 600-800 Ft/Min. But, after 5 years, they finally nailed me. I still had to sign my name to their training and sometimes if I just couldn’t pass someone on a check, I had no choice but to fail them. I usually busted about 3-5 crews a year and the resistance against me built. I finally failed an extremely incompetent crew and it turned out he was the a high-ranking captain who was the Chief Line Check pilot on the fleet I was teaching on. I found out on my next monthly trip home that KAL was not going to renew my Visa. The crew I failed was given another check and continued a fly while talking about how unfair Captain Brown was.

Any of you Boeing glass-cockpit guys will know what I mean when I describe these events. I gave them a VOR approach with an 15 mile arc from the IAF. By the way, KAL dictated the profiles for all sessions and we just administered them. He requested two turns in holding at the IAF to get set up for the approach. When he finally got his nerve up, he requested “Radar Vectors” to final. He could have just said he was ready for the approach and I would have cleared him to the IAF and then “Cleared for the approach” and he could have selected “Exit Hold” and been on his way. He was already in LNAV/VNAV PATH. So, I gave him vectors to final with a 30 degree intercept. Of course, he failed to “Extend the FAF” and he couldn’t understand why it would not intercept the LNAV magenta line when he punched LNAV and VNAV. He made three approaches and missed approaches before he figured out that his active waypoint was “Hold at XYZ.” Every time he punched LNAV, it would try to go back to the IAF … just like it was supposed to do. Since it was a check, I was not allowed (by their own rules) to offer him any help. That was just one of about half dozen major errors I documented in his UNSAT paperwork. He also failed to put in ANY aileron on takeoff with a 30-knot direct crosswind (again, the weather was dictated by KAL).

This Asiana SFO accident makes me sick and while I am surprised there are not more, I expect that there will be many more of the same type accidents in the future unless some drastic steps are taken. They are already required to hire a certain percentage of expats to try to ingrain more flying expertise in them, but more likely, they will eventually be fired too. One of the best trainees I ever had was a Korean/American (he grew up and went to school in the USA) who flew C-141’s in the USAF. When he got out, he moved back to Korea and got hired by KAL. I met him when I gave him some training and a check on the B-737 and of course, he breezed through the training. I give him annual PCs for a few years and he was always a good pilot. Then, he got involved with trying to start a pilots union and when they tired to enforce some sort of duty rigs on international flights, he was fired after being arrested and JAILED!

The Koreans are very very bright and smart so I was puzzled by their inability to fly an airplane well. They would show up on Day 1 of training (an hour before the scheduled briefing time, in a 3-piece suit, and shined shoes) with the entire contents of the FCOM and Flight Manual totally memorized. But, putting that information to actual use was many times impossible. Crosswind landings are also an unsolvable puzzle for most of them. I never did figure it out completely, but I think I did uncover a few clues. Here is my best guess. First off, their educational system emphasizes ROTE memorization from the first day of school as little kids. As you know, that is the lowest form of learning and they act like robots. They are also taught to NEVER challenge authority and in spite of the flight training heavily emphasizing CRM/CLR, it still exists either on the surface or very subtly. You just can’t change 3000 years of culture.

The other thing that I think plays an important role is the fact that there is virtually NO civil aircraft flying in Korea. It’s actually illegal to own a Cessna-152 and just go learn to fly. Ultra-lights and Powered Hang Gliders are Ok. I guess they don’t trust the people to not start WW III by flying 35 miles north of Inchon into North Korea. But, they don’t get the kids who grew up flying (and thinking for themselves) and hanging around airports. They do recruit some kids from college and send then to the US or Australia and get them their tickets. Generally, I had better experience with them than with the ex-Military pilots. This was a surprise to me as I spent years as a Naval Aviator flying fighters after getting my private in light airplanes. I would get experienced F-4, F-5, F-15, and F-16 pilots who were actually terrible pilots if they had to hand fly the airplane. What a shock!

Finally, I’ll get off my box and talk about the total flight hours they claim. I do accept that there are a few talented and free-thinking pilots that I met and trained in Korea. Some are still in contact and I consider them friends. They were a joy! But, they were few and far between and certainly not the norm.

Actually, this is a worldwide problem involving automation and the auto-flight concept. Take one of these new first officers that got his ratings in the US or Australia and came to KAL or Asiana with 225 flight hours. After takeoff, in accordance with their SOP, he calls for the autopilot to be engaged at 250’ after takeoff. How much actual flight time is that? Hardly one minute. Then he might fly for hours on the autopilot and finally disengage it (MAYBE?) below 800’ after the gear was down, flaps extended and on airspeed (autothrottle) . Then he might bring it in to land. Again, how much real “flight time” or real experience did he get. Minutes! Of course, on the 777 or 747, it’s the same only they get more inflated logbooks.

So, when I hear that a 10,000 hour Korean captain was vectored in for a 17-mile final and cleared for a visual approach in CAVOK weather, it raises the hair on the back of my neck.”

Defenestratus on August 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Republican opposition to the administration and/or BOOOOOOSH!

Happy Nomad on August 14, 2013 at 9:33 AM

William of Ockham.

Shulda thought of that first….yep…Boooosh….and those verdammt obstructionist Rethuglicans.

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:40 AM

Why the recent trend?

Parts issues?

Laxity in training/standards?

Avionics getting way too complex? Too much machine not enough man?

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM

South of the border maintenance, less expensive, they can’t read the manuals and do many tasks from memory. I read this about four or five years ago. That is how many of the larger fleets handle a good portion of their maintenance. If I remember correctly, it was an article about cost cutting/unions.

herm2416 on August 14, 2013 at 9:48 AM

Although the drive-by media is already speculating on the cause of the crash, nobody knows at this point. I won’t even hazard a guess as to what happened. Ill I know is the plane was on short final to BHM when it went down. Lets not speculate until the NTSB has had at least a chance at least come up with a preliminary statement. All I can say is it is a tragedy for UPS, the pilots families, and those of us in the aviation community.

In the meantime, MSM, report details as known and then STFU. This is not the time to bring in “experts” making snap judgements.

simkeith on August 14, 2013 at 9:52 AM

Defenestratus on August 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Thank you for posting that.

Mirrors a bit of what I experienced in South Korea and with the ROK’s elsewhere in another realm. Wonderfully pleasant people…a lot of fun most times…love of family, a sense of personal ranking, respect for traditions, humbleness, harmony, hospitality, and working hard is not a bad thing, for most but…shiny shoes, playing the role…a lot different when it matters most.

Not many folks know about private planes being illegal in Korea so flying is generally a mere textbook exercise…until somebody closes the book.

Then there is that Gangnam style thing…

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:53 AM

Lybian SAMS have made it into the US across our porous borders?

Deano1952 on August 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Deano1952 on August 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Nah, some local stoked on Keystone…and a hit of meth…probably thought it was a gubmint drone.

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 10:19 AM

Defenestratus on August 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Yikes!

And I thought that Aeroflot was bad! Okay, they ARE bad, but I didn’t think there were other countries’s airlines which matched them.

NavyMustang on August 14, 2013 at 10:25 AM

UPS 747-400 Dubai Sept 2010: Lithium ion batteries cause fire in cargo compartment.

dont taze me bro on August 14, 2013 at 10:42 AM

One of the first things I learned was that the pilots kept a web-site and reported on every training session. I don’t think this was officially sanctioned by the company, but after one or two simulator periods, a database was building on me (and everyone else) that told them exactly how I ran the sessions, what to expect on checks, and what to look out for.

Defenestratus on August 14, 2013 at 9:36 AM

Interesting. I was in grad school 15 years ago (Material Science and Engineering, U of Utah)and as is the case in science in the U.S. there was a large contingent of Asians in the program. Exams were invariably all numerical problem solving based with no essay type questions due to concerns/issues regarding english language skills. Numerical problems “leveled” the field between native english speakers and english as a second language. No big deal overall, but I adhere to the concept that you really don’t fully know and understand things until you can put it into your own words

Anyway, my Chinese friends showed me something once that relates to the above quote. It was a large binder wihich contained every test and problem assigned for a specific course for the the last ten years. It was passed down from year to year, with new material added. Binders existed for the other key courses as well. The purpose was to ace the tests, but I’m pretty sure if you went through all that material one would have learned the important stuff anyway. But, combine that with the lack of critical thinking and it is very easy to see the situation described by Defenestratus developing.

parke on August 14, 2013 at 10:43 AM

parke on August 14, 2013 at 10:43 AM

When I was in grad school the vast majority of the Asians grad students in my department were from China and a similar thing was done. PI’s liked them because they did what they were told without arguing. When I joined my research group my PI put me in a lab with a very nice guy from China so I could “help with his English”. I told him, with a smile that I would teach him every swear word I know. The look on his face was priceless. Actually, they taught us how to swear in Chinese as they already could in English.

Whenever I go to a conference I avoid talks by Asian speaker if I can due to the speaker’s lack of English skills.

What is interesting is on the Left Coast many Asians with MD’s from schools in Asia work as low level research techs as their MD’s are really glorified BS degrees and they cannot pass the board exams here.
I understand from colleagues that on the East Coast it is the same, but with MD’s from Africa.

Bubba Redneck on August 14, 2013 at 11:50 AM

Why the recent trend?

Parts issues?

Laxity in training/standards?

Avionics getting way too complex? Too much machine not enough man?

coldwarrior on August 14, 2013 at 9:07 AM

Irreverent rodeo clowns.

And Booosh.

Solaratov on August 14, 2013 at 12:26 PM

NBC notes that this is the third UPS plane to crash in the last three years, but this is the first in the US in recent years

Huh?

Ronnie on August 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Huh?

Ronnie on August 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM

Translation for you isolationists:

UPS flies around the world, not just domestically. And they had crashes in other countries.

Difficultas_Est_Imperium on August 14, 2013 at 4:44 PM