Flying Under The Influence (Of Passengers)
- Advanced Aircrew Academy
On December 15, 2021, a Gulfstream GIV with six passengers and three crewmembers took off from Santo Domingo's Isabela airport headed for Orlando. In a matter of 15 minutes, all aboard the aircraft would perish as the jet attempted to make an emergency landing at the nearby Las Americas International Airport.
The aircraft arrived at the airport earlier that day and underwent three hours of maintenance to replace ground spoiler actuators on the right-hand wing. As the aircraft's planned departure time grew closer, there was a spare aircraft available, but the operator testified that the passengers wanted to fly on the jet being serviced, so it was towed to a parking position on the main apron and was reported "still being worked" on with more than five maintenance personnel under the right wing when it was moved.
Video footage indicates the asymmetrical behavior of the spoiler during the preflight control movements and shows the aircraft lifting off with a right-wing low attitude as the spoilers on the wing were still extended. By the time the crew identifies the issue and requests an emergency landing, they strike trees during a left turn, travel through a wooded area for 340m, break up, and come to rest 200m off the runway's right side, beyond the fence with nine fatalities.
Though hindsight is always the benefit of every crash investigation, it brings up an important issue of how much control or pressure passengers can, or should, exert on the conduct of a flight. In this case, the desires of the passengers to fly in a particular airplane appears to have taken priority over a safer and more logical solution, which would obviously have been utilizing the spare aircraft rather than rushing a maintenance procedure currently in progress on another.
There are often many contributing factors to accidents and, unfortunately, sometimes it is either the pilot or company's desire to meet passengers demands, or occasionally even unsafe behavior from a well-intentioned person in the cabin. In 2010 in British Columbia, three passengers and a pilot of a chartered float plane were killed when one of the intoxicated passengers kicked the pilot's seat, jamming his body into the controls and causing the plane to make a fatal 500 foot dive into the water. The passengers were originally denied service from a water taxi because they were carrying a case of beer and several bottles of liquor. The pilot of the chartered plane would have been wise to do the same.
In December 2017, a pilot and five passengers were killed off the coast of Australia when it is suspected a passenger unknowingly knocked out the pilot while attempting to take a selfie in the front seat.
Ultimately, the entirety of a flight lies solely upon the pilot-in-command. While there may be pressures exerted from outside (and sometimes inside) sources, we must be diligent to think clearly and put the safety of flight first. This means ensuring we have the ability to shut out distractions; logically evaluate weather, equipment, and logistical conditions; and ensure passengers are properly briefed and everything inside the cabin is safe and controlled both before, during, and after flight. It means we must be confident enough to say no when conditions are not safe and never allow passengers to influence decisions that would affect the safety margins for a flight. While customer service is important, so is arriving to your destination in one piece.
Be smart. Be firm. Be safe.