Why Are We Still Looking for a Black Box?!
Bureau of Analysis and Research of France (BEA)
One of the black boxes recovered from Air France Airbus A330, which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009.
Sept. 8, 2011 --
The history of every athletic league is peppered with tales of heroes and triumph. But as the recent case of a hockey team in a devastating plane crash illustrates, the pursuit of athletic glory can suddenly morph into tragedy. At least 43 people, including members of Russia's Lokomotiv ice hockey team, died after a plane from the western Russian city of Yaroslovl crashed. The incident has rattled hockey fans worldwide. The team, who were on their way to a season opening match, included several former NHL players. In this slideshow, we explore the fates of similarly devastated athletic programs, and how home team and fan support stayed in the game against all odds.
In what may be the most well known major disaster to involve a sports team, the 1970 crash of Southern Airways Flight 932 claimed the lives of all 75 passengers aboard, including the Marshall University football team and coaching staff. Efforts to rebuild the program following the tragic season were chronicled in the 2000 documentary "Marshall University: Ashes to Glory" as well as the 2006 film "We Are Marshall."
The crash of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 led to what is the most grisly story on this list. On Oct. 13, 1972, the plane crashed into the Andes mountains flying out of Montevideo, Uruguay, and bound for Santiago, Chile. Out of the 45 passengers, which included members of the Old Christians Club rugby team, only 12 died in the immediate aftermath of the crash. The rest endured cold and starvation, which forced survivors to eventually resort to cannibalism. An avalanche even claimed the lives of eight passengers. Eventually, after two months without rescue, three of the survivors embarked on a mission to try to find help on Dec. 12. Nearly 10 days later, they found rescue and later sent help back to the remaining survivors. Out of the 45 original passengers, only 16 remained. This photo shows a reunion of survivors and their family members.
On April 27, 1993, the Zambian national soccer team boarded a charter flight bound for Gabon for a World Cup qualifying match. The plane plunged into the Atlantic Ocean as a result of pilot and mechanical error, killing all passengers and crew members aboard. The team's captain, Kalusha Bwalya, seen here next to the graves of his teammates, was not aboard the flight, however, as he had been playing a club match in the Netherlands at the time.
On May 5, 1949, a plane flying out of Lisbon, Portugal, carrying the entire Torino FC team, a soccer club based out of Italy crashed during preparations for landing in Turin. The entire team, the club's manager, five reserves and two trainers were among the 31 casualties of the plane crash. The club was known throughout Italy for their high quality of play and were approaching what may have been a championship season. The crash devastated Italian soccer fans, who collectively mourned with memorials and a tribute game.
On Feb. 6, 1958, British European Airways Flight 609 made several attempts to take off from an icy runaway in Munich, Germany. On its final attempt, the plane crashed. Aboard the plane were 44 passengers, including members of the Manchester United soccer team. The team was en route to a European Cup match in what was then Yugoslavia. Half of the passengers aboard, including several of the players, died in the crash. Other players, such as the team's captain and its goalkeeper, assisted in rescue efforts to help survivors escape the wreckage.
The Bluffton University tragedy may be the most recent entry on this list. The baseball team, en route to a tournament in Sarasota, Fla., boarded their coach bus on March 2, 2007. After the driver mistakenly entered the exit ramp of a carpool lane in Atlanta, the driver lost control and the bus rolled over a concrete barrier, off a bridge and onto the street below. Seven of the people on the bus, including five players, the driver and the driver's wife, were killed in the accident. More than 20 people were taken to area hospitals to be treated for injuries.
The year 2014 marked a handful of tragic airline disasters. In March, Malaysian Airlines MH370 went missing over the South China Sea. On July 17, 2014, Malaysian Airlines MH17 was shot down over Ukraine. On July 24, Air Algerie 5017 crashed in Mali. And just two days ago, AirAsia QZ8501 disappeared over the Java Sea.
Debris from that flight was found today and the recovery of evidence and bodies has begun, including the search for the jet's flight data recorder or “black box.”
But technology already exists that would allow the missing flight’s condition, engine performance, cockpit conversations and other data to be streamed real-time back to the airline’s headquarters or manufacturer.
That kind of information would help pinpoint what went wrong more quickly than a months- or years-long search for the box. The data recorder for the 2009 Air France flight 447 that disappeared over the south Atlantic took two years to find. Some aviation experts say it’s time to put real-time tracking technology into place.
“Such a solution is long overdue, considering the state of technology today and the overriding importance of providing timely data to investigators,” Alan Diehl, a former accident investigator, told the Wall Street Journal.
Yet others note that modern aircraft produce terabytes of data that would overwhelm satellite transmission and digital storage devices back home.
“It is technically feasible, but the question is whether it is worth the cost,” said John Hansman, director of the International Center for Air Transportation at MIT. “I would rather have good air traffic control communications supporting better pilot decision making rather than using bandwith to dump data off airplanes.”
After the 2009 Air France crash, European aviation regulators supported the goal of planes being able to beam down safety data. And some aircraft already transmit their position through satellite links rather than relying on ground-based radar scans.
One of the black boxes recovered from Air France Airbus A330, which crashed into the Atlantic in 2009.Bureau of Analysis and Research of France (BEA)
In 2010, one computer expert proposed a kind of “glass box” of streaming airplane data instead of a hard-wired black box on Discovery News.
As passengers demand more in-flight Internet access, the possibility of using a satellite uplink to transmit additional aircraft data seems like a good one. But MIT’s Hansman warned that it would slow down data rates for those very same passengers.
He noted that the operation to recover the Air France data recorder cost $30 million. That’s still less than the cost of collecting satellite data from tens of thousands of aircraft circling the globe every day.
Sean Cassidy, safety coordinator for the Air Line Pilots’ Association, agreed that it’s not as easy as it sounds.
“There’s a difference between sending a maintenance report and sending a massive gob of real-time streaming data that could occupy an amazing amount of bandwith,” Cassidy said.
Cassidy, like many aviation experts, is still baffled as to what happened to Malaysian flight MH370. He said modern airplanes like the Boeing 777 that disappeared have satellite transponders that send location, speed and altitude data to the manufacturer and the airline company.
“The bigger question I have is why can’t they find the airplane,” Cassidy said.
“It could be that radar coverage wasn’t accurate or comprehensive. There are still places in the world where sometimes radar coverage is a little spotty. Those are questions that are being pored over right now.”