Admit it, at least once while driving you’ve had your cell phone or water bottle fall into the driver’s side foot well. In fact, often the footwear we choose can come loose and get caught in the pedals. With luck, we are able to clear the obstruction quickly and safely and avoid accidents.
This issue is not limited to automobiles. Currently, a court martial proceeding in England is looking at a near crash of a Royal Air Force transport plane in 2014 while flying to Afghanistan.
The pilot had allegedly been taking photographs from the flight deck while the co-pilot was getting a cup of tea. Allegedly, the pilot placed the camera to the left of his seat when he was finished taking pictures. Prosecutors state that when the pilot moved his seat forward, the seat caught the camera and pushed it into the flight controls and placing the aircraft in an uncontrolled descent that was arrested after the plane had rapidly descended several thousand feet. Many of the passengers, as well as the co-pilot, were injured when the became pressed against the ceiling due to the rapid descent.
In this particular type of aircraft, the flight controls are placed to the side of the pilot rather than in front of the pilot which sets a potential deadly situation such as what happened. These types of accidents can occur in both aircraft and other types of vehicles when loose objects get wedged into control surfaces, whether it is a steering control or pedals.
Sometimes it is loose objects that we didn’t secure, but sometimes controls can be inhibited by things that we’ve placed and forgotten to remove. A USAF C-130 crashed in Jalalabad, Afghanistan in October 2015 due to the case from a pair of night vision goggles being used to hold a control yoke in place. The case had been set to hold the control yoke in a position that moved rear control surfaces out of the way of crew that had been unloading the plane while the plane was still running. This particular hack was not a sanctioned method, but one that was used because the task was physically tiresome. With the fact that the plane was still “hot”, it is possible that the flight crew missed a standard control surface check that would have found the case from the goggles before the plane took off.
The lessons from these two incidents is to make sure that there are not loose items that can move in a way that blocks control surfaces or if an object is placed in a position to hold a control surface for a task, it is removed before further usage. In this second scenario, full use of check lists can help prevent problems. Appropriate usage of checklists is a topic that we will be coming back to in the near future.
These lessons are not taken from military accidents to slight the military in any way. In fact, more lessons from the military will pop in the future in this column for one specific reason. Among the many things that the military does well, accident review is an area in which it excels. The main reason for this is so that lessons that have been learned at the costs of lives and equipment need to be taught so that the same accident does not occur a second time. The fact that they publicly report this information allows all of us to learn the lessons of these accidents.