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Author Topic: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise  (Read 88169 times)

Jeff Victor Hayden

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visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« on: September 09, 2013, 09:42:35 PM »

As it's a bit quiet recently on the forum here's a grim reminder of how many things can come together and end in tragedy. Some vague similarities to the Electra's last flight, problems with seeing and navigation problems/errors (not by the crew I hasten to add). This is the story of Air New Zealand flight TE 901, 28 November, 1979.

This is the website dedicated to the disaster http://www.erebus.co.nz/

A documentary on the disaster and enquiry http://youtu.be/yP36X0BsMQ0

And a photograph taken by one of the passengers at the moment of impact: "Almost every passenger on the sightseeing flight carried a camera and up to the last second shot films, which were painstakingly salvaged and carefully developed."
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manjeet aujla

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2013, 09:27:12 AM »

Another similar tragedy, was this flight, july 1992 from bangkok to kathmandu. Crashed on approach into the mountains. All dead.

http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=19920731-0

on utube

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_mbdZLqnraU

This one in very personal. I was scheduled to be on this flight. I was connecting from LA to bangkok to this daily connection into kathmandu. Something came up 2 days before the flight, and I changed to the Aug 1 flight, a day later. I flew from LA into bangkok and I remember sitting at the bangkok airport waiting for the connection to kathmandu when news came that this one (the flight a day earlier) had disappeared. 

Those were the days when I was young and kathmandu was sort of an exotic must stop for backpackers. The city catered heavily to euro/us travelers then, and whole sections of the city were just all-night dance/bars with american music, totally safe, with large remnants of hippy culture. I was flying in for a month of meeting a group of aussie friends. This event really shook me, especially considering the totally random reason which had caused me to change my flight on the eve of departure.

They have a memorial park for the crash. And it still sobers me up, when I see pictures of the memorial park, and in it, the nameplates of those who died.


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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2013, 11:11:22 AM »

The photographs of the sector whiteout on the Erebus website reminded me of an investigation of the approach to Howland island in the same conditions that AE encountered. I think it was Ted Waitt who did the approach in a helicopter, you couldn't see Howland but, it was there.

Sector whiteout link...
http://www.erebus.co.nz/Investigation/CaptainVettesResearch/CaptainVettesResearchPage2.aspx

I'll see if I can find the approach to Howland video by Ted Waitt as well.
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Joe Cerniglia

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2013, 01:46:28 PM »

Here it is:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9c3yZ0xeHw

Joe Cerniglia ~ TIGHAR #3078ECR
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JNev

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #4 on: September 10, 2013, 09:30:09 PM »

The Waitt footage provides a good illustration of the contrast in conditions that can happen, IMO.  In the early footage, Howland is well camouflaged among the cloud shadows.  I guess that was analogous to what Jeff Victor was saying - that natural conditions can serve to mask an object in flight.  A white-out being a different creature, of course, from the confusion of shadows, but a means of obscuration none-the-less.

Toward the end of the footage is a bright, inviting Howland - clear as a bell out from under the haze and shadows of the clouds.  It is hard to believe that something so easily seen as that can also be so well hidden as in the early footage, but there lie the examples.

Added -

Of course one can finally discern Howland even among the shadows - it eventually sharpens a bit and becomes more obviously extended in length, plus the ship appears clearly enough.  The ship's presence may be a close proxy for the Itasca on that fateful day in 1937.

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« Last Edit: September 10, 2013, 09:51:49 PM by Jeff Neville »
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #5 on: September 10, 2013, 10:43:11 PM »

Thank you for the link Joe, that's the one.

Jeff, I may be wrong but I believe the chopper headed straight at Howland, knowing where it was of course. So the closer they got the more obvious (ish) it became. When you look towards Howland at the beginning of the chopper flight there is nothing obvious that would entice you into continuing in that direction, "must be on you but cannot see you" She may well have been right.
Perhaps Ted should have tried the same experiment with some burning tyres/oil on Howland to see if that made a difference or not.
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Laura Gridley

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #6 on: September 10, 2013, 10:56:45 PM »

Jeff,

Thank you for the link to information regarding this accident.  I was very young when it happened and so don't remember it and was not even really aware of it until your post.  Fascinating reading on the investigation but so tragic.  The visual illusion created by the whiteout is quite scary when life or death is at stake (but on further reading it sounds like, as in many crashes, there were quite a few things that ultimately contributed to the accident).  I have now spent several hours reading these Flight 901 reports...where has the evening gone?!
« Last Edit: September 11, 2013, 12:56:15 AM by Laura Gridley »
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Jeff Victor Hayden

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #7 on: September 11, 2013, 12:58:13 AM »

Read the flight path controversy on the Erebus website as well Laura, you can then see how the visual deceit fitted in with where they expected to be, Mcmurdo sound. The unreported change to the flight sealed their fate..."Because the airline altered the last leg of the flight plan by 26-28 miles to the east at 2.10 am on the morning of the flight and failed to tell the crew"
A very sad story for sure.



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Laura Gridley

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #8 on: September 11, 2013, 01:49:39 AM »

Read the flight path controversy on the Erebus website as well Laura, you can then see how the visual deceit fitted in with where they expected to be, Mcmurdo sound. The unreported change to the flight sealed their fate..."Because the airline altered the last leg of the flight plan by 26-28 miles to the east at 2.10 am on the morning of the flight and failed to tell the crew"
A very sad story for sure.

Yes, I was just read that part of the site as well.  To a layman like me, that seems to be an important factor in the crash.  And the appearance of their actual lateral visual references seemed to "fit" with their expected visual references unfortunately, so they didn't pick up that they were not actually where they thought they were (I hope that sentence makes sense!). 

The visual illusion that resulted in them not seeing that they were flying straight into a mountain does remind me of the video of the helicopter trying to "spot" Howland and how difficult that can actually be.  When I watched that video awhile back, I was stunned at how hard it was to see the island.  Of course, again, that is from my layman's perspective/no experience whatsoever as a pilot.  As Chippendale said in his Erebus report though "1.17.48 Those who have not been exposed to whiteout are often sceptical about the inability of those who have experienced it, to estimate distance under these conditions, (and to be aware of terrain changes and the separation of sky and earth)."  Seems quite easy to not realize the hardships visual perception can pose until you actually see them yourself.  Also brings to mind a theory I heard re: Titanic and possible horizon illusion as contributing factor to the iceberg not being seen.
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Greg Daspit

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #9 on: September 11, 2013, 10:56:54 AM »

From Bob Brandenburg In Time and Tide- “A single case is sufficient to show that it was possible to satisfy the landing time
constraint: Earhart could land safely at point I before 11:25 if her 09:25 distance from Howland was at
least 120 nmi, depending on enroute speed. This result is consistent with radio signal propagation analysis
suggesting Earhart likely was between 80 and 210 nmi from Howland at 09:25”

80 to 210 nmi seems pretty far away to see the Itasca or the island in perfect conditions
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #10 on: September 11, 2013, 12:13:39 PM »

80 to 210 nmi seems pretty far away to see the Itasca or the island in perfect conditions

That's right.  All of the discussions about cloud shadows and how far away various flights have been when they first spotted Howland are probably moot.  The best available evidence suggests that Earhart never got near enough to stand a chance of seeing Howland and, incidentally, all of those multi-million dollar searches of the sea floor took place in areas where the plane could not possibly be.

When Bob Brandenburg first computer-modeled the Electra's antenna system, applied the most current propagation software, and discovered the "3105 Donut", I tried to alert Dave Jourdan at Nauticos so that he could adjust his search area or at least consider this new information - but he wasn't interested.
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Christine Schulte

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #11 on: September 12, 2013, 04:37:57 AM »

There’s something that from my armchair perspective I don’t understand about AE/FN’s approach to Howland Island. AE was obviously not too well prepared for the difficulties she might face in locating the island, but wouldn’t FN have been? As navigator for Pam Am he worked out a route over the Pacific that involved landing on an island/sheltered spot on the coast of an island (Wake Island? Guam? both?) for refuelling if I remember correctly. There seems to have been radio direction finding equipment by the time he left but surely they can’t have had that at the planning stage?
 
Other pioneering fliers who flew over water for long stretches (Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, the Europeans who worked for the postal service(s) between Europe and Latin America…) seem to have encountered the same difficulties apparent in the video in telling apart clouds and land from a distance. Also, navigators seem to have been very aware that they couldn’t be entirely sure they were where they thought they must be. Most crews seem to have used wireless communication extensively to communicate with ships and ground stations en route. Apart from the psychological significance of being in touch with the outside world (which must be huge), this gave them a better idea of where they were, and enabled them to make course corrections when necessary. (Still, a lot of flights wound up huge distances off course, or lost.)

Quite apart from the apparent loss of the belly antenna that seems to have made her unable to hear ITASCA or anyone else, AE of course wasn’t adept at Morse code and couldn’t transmit on the frequency used by ships and other Morse code operators anyway because she’d had the trailing wire antenna removed after the Luke Field accident. She doesn’t seem to have been aware of the consequences of not being able to contact ships etc. This kind of lackadaisical planning seems to have been quite typical for her, and apparently none of her advisors pointed out what it meant– but how about FN?
Could a 1930s aerial navigator - even if he was one of the finest around -  be so confident of being able to find a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific that he felt he could do without an experienced wireless operator?

Perhaps someone can help me understand this?

Thanks,

Christine
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #12 on: September 12, 2013, 10:26:58 AM »

This kind of lackadaisical planning seems to have been quite typical for her, and apparently none of her advisors pointed out what it meant– but how about FN?
Could a 1930s aerial navigator - even if he was one of the finest around -  be so confident of being able to find a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific that he felt he could do without an experienced wireless operator?

Perhaps someone can help me understand this?

Thanks Christine.  This is a fascinating subject.  Understanding why people behave the way they do is hard enough in our day-to-day lives.  Understanding the motivations of historical figures whom we've never met is far more difficult.  Any opinion I have is unavoidably influenced by my own perceptions and prejudices.

With that caveat, I think we have to understand that Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, at the time of the second world flight attempt, were each desperately trying to rebuild their careers after a major fall from grace. 

For Earhart, the accident in Hawaii that ended her first world flight attempt was a potentially career-ending catastrophe.  The era of long-distance stunt flying upon which she had built her fame was coming to a close.  The world flight was to be her crowning achievement, followed by a lucrative life of writing, personal appearances, and maybe even Hollywood. Luke Field changed everything. Now she was looking at a high-profile failure, massive debt, and mocking criticism in the press. Unless she could redeem her reputation she would retire a discredited has-been.

Noonan too, was trying to put his life back together.  The glory days of the China Clipper had brought him international fame as Pan Am's star navigator, but the brutal schedule of the trans-Pacific route had led to excessive drinking, a failed marriage, and ultimately a bitter departure from the airline.  The Earhart world flight was his shot at redemption.  He had re-married, stopped drinking (maybe), and reportedly planned to open a navigation school.  There is also some evidence that he was involved in a Hollywood film deal about the world flight.  But the flight had to succeed.

What looks to us like a cavalier attitude toward preparations for the second world flight may, in fact, have been quite the reverse.  Desperate, rushed people often fail to make good decisions.
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Christine Schulte

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #13 on: September 12, 2013, 01:26:37 PM »

I can absolutely follow your reasoning as far as AE is concerned. But FN? He’d certainly have stood to profit if the flight was successful; but he’d been taken on to navigate AE  to Howland originally and if he failed to do that, his career would have been over.  I try to not engage in “what if-”reasoning but imagine for a moment what would have happened if they’d made it to Nikumaroro alive AND been rescued after a week or two. AE was already famous and “any kind of publicity is good publicity” may have applied to her (and George Putnam surely would have just loved to publish her recollections of life as a castaway!). But FN? Obviously nobody would have  cared to be taught navigation by the man who’d just famously FAILED  to steer Amelia Earhart to Howland Island.

Excessive drinking seems to have been a huge problem with many early fliers but most of them seem to have managed somehow (like Wilmer Stultz on the Friendship flight) and to have retained their professional reflexes – as long as they were able to keep up their blood alcohol level at least. That’s why I’m asking myself how crazy or doable it would have seemed to a hypothetical average  aerial navigator with FN’s experience to attempt the Lae-Howard flight without decent wireless communication in 1937.

(In note 4 to chapter 20 of “The Sound of Wings”, Mary Lovell states that “Balfour (i.e. Harry Balfour, the wireless operator at Lae) was later to claim to the writer Vincent Loomis that Amelia had asked him to go along with her as radio operator.” If she did – Ms. Lovell thinks she didn’t -, this would indicate that they had second thoughts about their decision not to take a wireless operator. Very interesting.)

Beyond the mystery, this is quite a sad, tragic story in many ways.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: visual counterfeit , navigation and subsequent demise
« Reply #14 on: September 12, 2013, 01:52:22 PM »

Let's look at Fred in Lae on the night before they leave for Howland.  By now he knows AE well enough to know that he can't count on her to manage the radio with any degree of proficiency. In her own writings about the flight so far there is no description of any occasion in which she used the radio successfully except for listening to some commercial news reports during the flight from Miami to Puerto Rico.  There's no indication that Fred knows any more about radio than Amelia.

When he worked for Pan Am he relied upon the radio operator aboard the Clipper and the DF stations on the ground to fine tune the approach to island destinations.  He had to know that he was relying on AE and Itasca to fine tune the approach to Howland with radio navigation - and yet he also had to know that AE was clueless about the radio.  So why in God's name did he tell Eric Chater that he felt confident about the flight and climb cheerfully aboard that airplane the next morning?  Did he feel sure that he could find Howland without help from the radio?  Or did he feel like he didn't have a choice and may as well put a good face on it?  After all, what's he going to do?  Refuse to go?  "I'm sorry AE.  This is stupid.  I'm not going until we're sure you can make that radio direction finder work."  You can just see those headlines.  EARHART FORCED TO CANCEL FLIGHT DUE TO NAVIGATOR'S FEARS
Many an aircraft accident could have been prevented if somebody had told the pilot in command, "This is stupid!"

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