Monday, October 29, 2012

Too Tired to Fly?

Special Operations 
By Mark Thompson
October 29, 2012

Did Ambien kill four Air Force special operators returning from a classified five-hour spy-plane mission in February?

The four – two special-ops pilots and two sensor operators – were aboard a perfectly-functioning Air Force aircraft as it prepared for a night-time landing at Ambouli International Airport in Djibouti, Africa.

On final approach, the aircraft, call sign Ratchet 33, entered an ever-steepening, ever faster dive, despite audible warnings:
– Seven seconds before the crash, the U-28 spy plane was 1,600 feet above the ground and diving at 5,400 feet per minute. Its Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System blared “Sink Rate, Sink Rate” into the crew’s headsets. But the two pilots apparently did nothing.
– Three seconds later, the plane was at 1,100 feet and diving at 8,000 feet per minute. The ground proximity warning system again warned the crew: “Pull up. Pull up.” Again, the crew did nothing.
– Four seconds later, the plane crashed five miles southwest of the Djibouti airport, diving at 11,752 feet – nearly two miles — per minute.
“All four aircrew members,” an Air Force investigation into the crash released last week said, “died instantly upon impact.”

How could this happen?

Here is the official conclusion of the investigation, led by Air Force Brigadier General Timothy Leahy:
The MC [mishap crew] never lost control of the aircraft; there are no indications of mechanical malfunction; and there are no indications the crew took any actions to control or arrest the descent rate and nose down attitude. I find that the clear and convincing evidence indicates the cause of the mishap was unrecognized spatial disorientation.
Well, OK. But how did the “unrecognized spatial disorientation” — meaning the two highly-trained pilots, with more than 3,500 flight hours between them (and more than half of that flown on combat missions) had no idea where they were — happen?

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