Category Archives: Travel

America Is On The Same Glide Path As The Fatal Germanwings Flight

America Is On The Same Glide Path As The Fatal Germanwings Flight

Germanwing airplane plane

The pilot was locked out of the cockpit. That phrase finally revealed the full horror of the crash of Germanwings flight 9525.

Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz waited for the pilot to leave the cockpit then locked the door to prevent his re-entry. After which Lubitz, for reasons unknown and perhaps unknowable, deliberately steered the jet into a harrowing 8-minute plunge, ending in an explosive 434 mph impact with a rocky mountainside. One hundred fifty men, women and children met an immediate, unthinkably violent death.

Lubitz, in his single-minded madness, couldn’t be stopped because anyone who could change the jet’s disastrous course was locked out.

It’s hard to imagine the growing feelings of fear and helplessness that the passengers felt as the unforgiving landscape rushed up to meet them. Hard, but not impossible.

ISIS Tweet: We Are Coming to America
ISIS Tweet: We Are Coming to America

America is in very deep trouble and we feel the descent in the pits of our stomachs. We hear the shake and rattle of structures stressed beyond their limits. We don’t know where we’re going anymore, but do know it isn’t good. And above all, we feel helpless because Barack Obama has locked us out.

He locked the American people out of his decision to seize the national healthcare system.

He locked us out when we wanted to know why the IRS was attacking conservatives.

He locked us out of having a say in his decision to tear up our immigration laws and to give over a trillion dollars in benefits to those who broke those laws.

Obama locked out those who advised against premature troop withdrawals. He locked out the intelligence agencies who issued warnings about the growing threat of ISIS.

He locked out anyone who could have interfered with his release of five Taliban terror chiefs in return for one U.S. Military deserter.

And, of course, Barack Obama has now locked out Congress, the American people, and our allies as he strikes a secret deal with Iran to determine the timeline (not prevention) of their acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Was Andreas Lubitz depressed, insane, or abysmally evil when he decided to lock that cockpit door and listen to no voices other than those in his head? Did he somehow believe himself to be doing the right thing? The voice recordings from the doomed aircraft reveal that as the jet began its rapid descent, the passengers were quiet. There was probably some nervous laughter, confusion, a bit of comforting chatter with seat mates, followed by a brief period in which anxiety had not yet metastasized into terror. It was only near the end of the 8-minute plunge that everyone finally understood what was really happening. Only near the end when they began to scream.

Like those passengers, a growing number of Americans feel a helpless dread as they come to the inescapable conclusion that our nation’s decline is an act of choice rather than of chance.

The choice of one man who is in full control of our 8-year plunge. I wonder when America will begin to scream.

Dr. RICHARD S. WELLS

Homeland Security steps up screening of aviation employees

Homeland Security steps up screening of aviation employees

By KATHRYN A. WOLFE

A TSA agent is shown. | Getty

The Department of Homeland Security tightened screening requirements for airport and airline employees today, following a three-month review triggered by allegations of gun-smuggling by airline employees last year.

The changes mean that all airport and airline employees traveling as passengers will have to go through TSA security screening. Aviation workers will also have to submit to a “fingerprint-based criminal history records check” every two years, until TSA can create a real-time system for criminal background checks.

In addition, airports will have to reduce the number of ways to access secure areas to an “operational minimum.” Aviation employees will also be screened more often, including randomly throughout the workday.

Two Senate Democrats were quick to praise the action. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called the new steps a “prompt response and a significant first step,” but also said “more is needed.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the top ranking Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee that oversees the TSA, said it’s a “decent first step. But we need to continue to look at the long-term picture and see how we can broaden this in a cost-effective way.”

This additional screening won’t be “100 percent physical,” Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said in a statement, because it would “not completely eliminate potential risks, but would divert critical resources from other critical security functions to mitigate other risks.”

In the gun-smuggling case, authorities said four men including a Delta Air Lines baggage handler were able to smuggle guns from Atlanta to New York on board airplanes, including getting the guns through security. One of the defendants was traveling using the “Buddy Pass” privileges of his mother, a retired Delta gate agent, ABC News reported at the time.

Flights diverted at airport as drone sighted over runway

Flights diverted at airport as drone sighted over runway

Manchester airport suspended flights on one of its runways for 20 minutes after members of the public reported spotting a drone

An airport diverted flights and suspended one runway after a drone was sighted flying nearby.

Manchester airport halted operations on its Runway One to allow police to investigate the sighting, a spokesman said.

UAV UAS drone small

The runway was suspended for around 20 minutes and four inbound flights were diverted to nearby Liverpool and East Midlands airports.

The growth in civilian drone technology in recent years has led to concerns over how the new remotely-controlled aircraft may interfere with other aircraft.

A Manchester Airport spokesman said: “Due to a report of a potential drone sighting in airspace near to the airport, some flights have experienced short delays and a small number of flights have diverted to alternative airports whilst Greater Manchester Police carried out an investigation using their Police Helicopter. Upon inspection, nothing was found.

“As the safety and security of all of our passengers is paramount, operations on Runway One were suspended for 20 minutes. Runway Two, which was unaffected, will remain open for an hour so normal traffic flows can resume.”

John Mayhew, air traffic control company Nats’ general manager at Manchester Airport, said: “Flying drones in the close vicinity to any airport without permission is completely unacceptable, with the reported sighting causing delays to inbound and outbound traffic and the diversion of a small number aircraft to other airports.

“The matter has now been referred to the police.”

The UK board investigating aircraft near misses last December described how a device believed to be a small radio-controlled helicopter drone came within 20ft of an incoming Airbus A320 passenger plane at Heathrow airport.

The Airbus was 700ft from landing when the pilot reported seeing a small black object to the left of the aircraft, the report said.

Worker trapped in airliner cargo bay during flight, pilots heard screaming

Worker trapped in airliner cargo bay during flight, pilots heard screaming

An Alaska Airlines flight that had just departed from Sea-Tac Airport returned to the airport after pilots heard a person banging on the cargo compartment Monday afternoon.

Alaska Flight 448 to Los Angeles returned to the airport after only 14 minutes in the air to investigate the noise from the forward cargo hold beneath the plane’s passenger compartment. Air traffic controllers gave the pilots priority over other flights to get the plane back on the ground, the airline said.

Rescue workers and airline officials discovered a baggage handler, an employee of Alaska contractor Menzies Aviation, in the cargo compartment when they opened its door. The compartment is both pressurized and temperature controlled, said an airline spokesman.

The worker told investigators he had fallen asleep in the compartment.

Both airline and airport officials were investigating the incident. The compartment carries luggage and cargo.

The trapped worker was taken to a hospital to be checked. He was able to walk away from the aircraft under his own power after the cargo door was opened.

Passenger Marty Collins told KOMO-TV that the flight was surrounded by emergency vehicles when it returned to the airport.

She said passengers did not hear the worker banging or making noise.

“Nobody on the plane heard anything like that, nobody knew why we were turning around,” she told the station. “They just said we were fine and we weren’t in any danger.”

Passengers were later told about the situation.

“They just said there was someone in the cargo hold and he’s been escorted off and taken away,” she said.

Flight passenger Jesse Sycuro told KING-TV that passengers in first class “heard banging from underneath us and a person yelling for help.”

According to Sycuro, two air marshals jumped up and spoke with a flight attendant, who alerted the pilot.

“And shortly after that, we heard the announcement that the plane was going to be turned around,” Sycuro told KING-TV. “The banging continued for quite a while we were circling. … Air marshals banged back down trying to communicate with the person in the hold and yelling down that we were landing.”

The flight departed again at 3:52 p.m. and landed in Los Angeles about 6:30, around 80 minutes late, according to the airline’s website.

‘Mutiny’ on plane: Police called twice as passengers are forced to wait on tarmac for five hours

‘Mutiny’ on plane: Police called twice as passengers are forced to wait on tarmac for five hours

Police were twice called to a stationary aircraft after reports of passengers clashing with staff over being stranded on tarmac for over five hours when their plane was diverted.

Pilots of the Qatar Airways flight landed at Birmingham Airport on Monday night after severe winds prevented the plane landing at Manchester, where it had been scheduled to arrive at 7PM.

Passengers were instructed to remain in their seats as they waited for the plane to be refuelled and for new flight crew to arrive at the airport.

Police were first called to the aircraft after some passengers reportedly began vocally expressing their agitation and officers were forced to return two hours later after reports that angry passengers were attempting to disembark the plane.

Footage taken at Manchester Airport shows passengers waiting for the return flight becoming increasingly frustrated with staff after the events in Birmingham resulted in a knock-on delay to the aircraft’s return to Qatari capital Doha.

One passenger who was in the plane when it was on the tarmac and asked not to be named, spoke to The Daily Mail: “We were told they were waiting for refuelling and then a new crew.

“Some passengers started kicking off so the police were called. An old lady next to me was shivering so we asked for blankets but there weren’t enough.

“When we got home I had to sleep for two days to recover.”

A spokeswoman for Qatar Airways apologised for the delay. She said that after the diversion the plane was unable to fly back to Manchester as operating crew had exceeded their legal flying hours by the time that the aircraft had been refuelled.

French investigators: Co-pilot accelerated plane on descent

French investigators: Co-pilot accelerated plane on descent

By The Associated Press

Germanwing plane crash airplane

PARIS (AP) — The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings flight repeatedly sped up the plane as he used the automatic pilot to descend the A320 into the Alps, the French air accident investigation agency said Friday.

The chilling new detail from the BEA agency is based on an initial reading of the plane’s “black box” data recorder, found blackened and buried at the crash site Thursday.

It strengthens investigators’ initial suspicions that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally destroyed the plane — though prosecutors are still trying to figure out why. All 150 people aboard Flight 9525 from Barcelona to Duesseldorf were killed in the March 24 crash.

The BEA said the preliminary reading of the data recorder shows that the pilot used the automatic pilot to put the plane into a descent and then repeatedly during the descent adjusted the automatic pilot to speed up the plane.

The agency says it will continue studying the black box for more complete details of what happened. The Flight Data Recorder records aircraft parameters such as the speed, altitude, and actions of the pilot on the commands.

Based on recordings from the plane’s other black box, the cockpit voice recorder, investigators say Lubitz locked the pilot out of the cockpit and deliberately crashed.

Lubitz spent time online researching suicide methods and cockpit door security in the week before crashing Flight 9525, prosecutors said Thursday — the first evidence that the fatal descent may have been a premeditated act.

German prosecutors have said Lubitz’s medical records from before he received his pilot’s license referred to “suicidal tendencies,” and Lufthansa, Germanwings’ parent company, said it knew six years ago that Lubitz had had an episode of “severe depression” before he finished his flight training.

In Marseille, prosecutor Brice Robin said that his investigation focuses on France for now, but he has filed a formal request for judicial cooperation from Germany that could expand the scope of his probe.

Robin underlined French investigators’ conviction that he was conscious until the moment of impact, and appears to have acted repeatedly to stop an excessive speed alarm from sounding.

“It’s a voluntary action that guided this plane toward the mountain, not only losing altitude but correcting the aircraft’s speed,” he said Thursday.

The mountain rescue officer who found the data recorder, Alice Coldefy, described Friday the unexpected discovery in a spot that had already been repeatedly searched.

“I found a pile of clothes, we were searching it, we were moving them downhill and while doing this I discovered a box. The color of the box was the same as the gravel, of the black gravel, that is everywhere at the crash site,” she told reporters in Seyne-les-Alpes.

So-called black boxes are actually orange, but this one had burned up in the crash and blended with the dark earth covering the area, known to local guides as “the black lands.”

“I didn’t realize I had found it and I wasn’t thinking it was possible to find it among all this debris,” she said.

Mountain officers and trained dogs are continuing to search the site. When the terrain is fully cleared of body parts and belongings, a private company will take out the large airplane debris.

NASA’s Super Fast Space Engine: To Mars In 39 Days!

NASA’s Super Fast Space Engine: To Mars In 39 Days!

  • Company in Texas has been asked to develop its revolutionary engine
  • Ad Astra’s Vasimr engine could apparently get to Mars in 39 days
  • It is one of 12 advanced technology projects to be funded by Nasa
  • Others include new types of habitation and small deep space satellites 

Nasa has selected a variety of companies to work on projects to create advanced space technologies, including faster methods of propulsion.

Other projects to be worked on include improved habitats for humans, and small satellites to explore deep space.

And one of the companies in the 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextStep) says they have an engine that could get humans to Mars in just 39 days.

Nasa has selected a variety of companies to work on projects to create advanced space technologies, including a faster method of propulsion known as Vasimr (illustrated), which could apparently get to Mars in a matter of weeks, not months

Nasa has selected a variety of companies to work on projects to create advanced space technologies, including a faster method of propulsion known as Vasimr (illustrated), which could apparently get to Mars in a matter of weeks, not months

The Vasimr engine – which uses plasma as a propellant – is being developed by the Ad Astra Rocket company in Texas.

Their engine shot to fame a few years ago when it was revealed that it could drastically reduce the journey time to Mars from months to weeks – although it may require a nuclear power source.

And following the successful test of a prototype in 2013, it seems Nasa is now considering it for use on a future mission to Mars.

‘We are thrilled by this announcement and proud to be joining forces with Nasa in the final steps of the technology maturation,’ said Dr Franklin Chang Diaz, Ad Astra’s Chairman and CEO, in a statement.

‘We look forward to a very successful partnership as we jointly advance the technology to flight readiness.’

Over three years, Nasa will give the company about £6.8 million ($10 million) to get the engine almost ready to fly in space.

This will be achieved with a demonstration of their new prototype, the VX-200-SS, which will be able to fire continuously for more than 100 hours.

A previous test in 2013 saw Ad Astra complete 10,000 successful high power firings of a Vasimr prototype.

However, this involved short duration bursts for less than a minute. Proving the engine works for more than 100 hours will be key to it one day being used on a spacecraft.

In rocket propulsion, the higher the temperature of the exhaust gases, the higher their velocity and the higher the fuel efficiency. Plasma rockets like Vasimr (illustrated) feature exhaust velocities far above those achievable by their chemical cousins, so their fuel consumption is extremely low
In rocket propulsion, the higher the temperature of the exhaust gases, the higher their velocity and the higher the fuel efficiency. Plasma rockets like Vasimr (illustrated) feature exhaust velocities far above those achievable by their chemical cousins, so their fuel consumption is extremely low

 

The Vasimr engine could be part of the entire spacecraft that will ultimately take astronauts to Mars. The rocket that will send them on their way will be the Space Launch System, illustrated, which will complete an unmanned flight in 2019 - and it will have room for some secondary payloads to go to deep space
The Vasimr engine could be part of the entire spacecraft that will ultimately take astronauts to Mars. The rocket that will send them on their way will be the Space Launch System, illustrated, which will complete an unmanned flight in 2019 – and it will have room for some secondary payloads to go to deep space

 

With this and other technologies, Nasa said in a statement they want to develop exploration capabilities around the moon, and at Mars.

‘Commercial partners were selected for their technical ability to mature key technologies and their commitment to the potential applications both for government and private sector uses,’ said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at Nasa Headquarters.

‘This work ultimately will inform the strategy to move human presence further into the solar system.’

Three advanced electric propulsion projects, including Vasimr, will develop engines that operate in the 50 to 300 kilowatt range.

By comparison, current electric propulsion used by Nasa – such as the ion engine on the Dawn spacecraft – operates at less than five kilowatts.

Meanwhile, seven companies have been picked to work on the habitats that will house astronauts as they make their way to Mars in the 2030s.

While the Orion capsule will take astronauts to and from Earth, it can only sustain a crew of four for 21 days.

To make the journey to Mars, expected to last anywhere from several months to three years, astronauts will need to live in some other structure.

Nasa will be hoping one of the projects it is funding will find a way to house the astronauts for the grueling journey to and from the red planet.

HOW LONG WOULD A MANNED MARS MISSION TAKE?

Owing to the orbits of Earth and Mars, there are specific windows of opportunity when a mission can take place.

Our planets come as close to each other as 33.9 million miles (54.6 million km), but can be as distant as 250 million miles (400 million km).

For this reason spacecraft to Mars, such as the Curiosity rover, have to launch in certain windows when the planets are aligned.

The next window is open from January 2016 to April 2016, and will see the launch of two more missions to the red planet.

For a future manned mission, they will need to launch out in one of the windows and return in another.

Just getting there will take up to nine months. The astronauts will then be there waiting for a year until they can come back, again taking up to nine months – a total of around three years.

Whether an engine such as Vasimr could shorten the time it would take to cover the distance, though, remains to be seen.

Lufthansa knew of co-pilot’s previous ‘severe depression’ in 2009

Lufthansa knew of co-pilot’s previous ‘severe depression’ in 2009

The co-pilot who crashed Flight 9525 into a French mountainside last week had informed the German carrier Lufthansa in 2009 about a “previous episode of severe depression,” the airline said on Tuesday, raising fresh questions about the series of decisions that allowed Andreas Lubitz to stay in the skies.

The admission that the company knew at least some of the history of Lubitz’s mental illness came after the company’s chief executive, Carsten Spohr, said publicly last week that Lufthansa — parent of the budget airline Germanwings for which Lubitz worked — had no previous knowledge of his medical history.

In a statement Tuesday, however, the carrier said it wanted to issue a “swift and seamless clarification.” In 2009, Lubitz had taken several months off during his training to become a pilot. When he resumed the program, Lufthansa said, he provided the airline “medical documents” that noted his bout of severe depression.

The company said it had forwarded those documents to prosecutors who are now handling the crash as a homicide case.

Under European aviation law, pilots with active and untreated cases of depression are prevented from flying. But if deemed medically cured, there may have been no legal impediment for Lubitz to continue his training and obtain his license, experts say.

However, pilots who have attempted “a single self-destructive act” — such as suicide — are legally barred from commercial flying. Also, pilots who are taking psychotropic medications — such as popular antidepressants — as part of their therapy, for instance, have some limitations, including a stipulation that they not be alone in the cockpit.

German prosecutors said Monday that Lubitz had suffered from “suicidal tendencies” for which he was treated over an extended period. The prosecutors said that the treatment occurred before he was issued a pilot’s license and that they had found no indications that he was recently suicidal.

But Germany authorities have said that he had been issued multiple doctors’ notes judging him unfit to work, including one covering the day of the plane crash. At least one of the notes was found torn up in his apartment.

The system depends on employees reporting their own medical conditions to their employers, and Lufthansa has said that it was not aware of the recent medical problems.

An official familiar with the investigation said Tuesday that authorities were not examining the Lufthansa Group for any negligence. Lufthansa provided investigators with information about Lubitz’s airline medical examinations and copies of previous correspondence with the airline, the official said. But since the depressive episode occurred in 2009, the official said that investigators did not believe Lufthansa was immediately culpable.

During Lubitz’s employment with Germanwings, starting in 2013, his medical certificates and examinations declared him flightworthy.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman said that the company had graduated him from its rigorous flight school, despite the previous depressive episode, because following medical checks “he was perceived to be healed.”

“At any time he was flying, he was declared fit to fly,” the spokeswoman said, who spoke on the condition that her name not be used, a German custom.

When asked whether Lufthansa had known about any subsequent psychological condition, she said: “Not that we are aware of.”

Germany’s medical examinations for pilots give a yes-or-no answer to employers about whether aviators are ready to fly, offering no space for additional information or caveats. Officials familiar with the investigation have said that one working theory is that Lubitz was concerned about losing his medical certificate when it came up for renewal later this year.

Michael Müller, chief executive of ATTC, a company that helps prepare pilot candidates for entering flight schools, including Lufthansa’s, defended the carrier’s track record. He said he was aware of at least one instance, for example, when the company had pulled a pilot from the cockpit after his ex-wife had committed suicide.

“I’m afraid it will never be possible to prevent these things from happening entirely,” he said. “In my view, Lufthansa did not fail. When a doctor says someone is healthy and he is certifying this, then he is allowed to fly. In a pilot’s career, it can happen that you get ill, also psychologically. You can’t simply say, ‘We’ll let him go.’ ”

The Lufthansa Group has already offered $53,635 to families of every victim to cover immediate living expenses. The new revelation was likely to open the airline to far greater damages. A Lufthansa spokesman said Tuesday that its insurer, Allianz, had set aside $300 million to pay for liability claims from victims’ families.

French President François Hollande visited German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Tuesday, where the two discussed the ongoing investigation into the catastrophe alongside a range of other issues.

Hollande called for bolstering the checks on pilots over European skies, saying that he was working toward “ensuring that we can strengthen our safety rules for piloting these aircraft.”

He said that more than 800 people were laboring at the mountain crash site to push the investigation forward as quickly as possible.

Separately, a French aviation investigation agency said Tuesday that it had begun a study of “systemic weaknesses” that may have led to the crash. The French Bureau of Investigations and Analyses for Civil Aviation Security said it would focus on the procedures used “to detect psychological profiles,” as well as look at cockpit safety rules.

German investigators offered few new details about the status of their inquiry on Tuesday. One official familiar with the investigation said that the initial questioning of Lubitz’s family and girlfriend had been completed but that investigators remained in contact with them as new issues arose.

The official said that neither Lubitz’s parents nor his girlfriend were aware of any suicidal impulses ahead of the plane crash.

Birnbaum reported from Düsseldorf.

Germanwings crash co-pilot Andreas Lubitz body parts ‘found’

Germanwings crash co-pilot Andreas Lubitz body parts ‘found’

French authorities believe they have found the remains of the co-pilot who deliberately crashed the Airbus A320 last week, German newspaper Bild reports

Crash scene investigators have found body parts thought to belong to the co-pilot of the ill-fated Germanwings flight that crashed into the Alps, it has been claimed.

French investigators confirmed that they had found traces of Andreas Lubitz’s body among the crash debris high in the mountains where the wreckage of the downed Airbus A320 – en route to Dusseldorf from Barcelona – fell.

Debris of the Germanwings Airbus A320 at the site of the crash (Reuters)

German newspaper Bild confirmed that French authorities believe they have located Lubitz’s remains.

plane

Families of those killed are understood to have been invited to give DNA samples to expedite the identification of their loved ones.

Andreas Lubitz ‘was in therapy for suicidal tendencies’

Professor Michael Tsokos, the investigation’s chief forensic scientist, confirmed that Lubitz’s body was among those retrieved.

Forensics experts have been working continuously to analyse over 600 body parts scattered across an inaccessible Alpine valley following the crash.

Experts expect that the majority of victims will be identified and certified dead by the end of April.

Forensic investigators have so far identified 78 separate DNA strands from body parts at the crash site.

Meanwhile a senior Lufthansa manager has said that he is doubtful that the flight data recorder will ever be found.

Search and rescue workers collecting debris at the crash site of the Germanwings Airbus A320 (EPA)

Speaking on an ARD talk show, Kay Kratky said that the speed of the plane was almost 500mph and warned that the recorder could have been pulverised.

“It could be that the impact was too much and it is not sending any signals,” he said.

Girlfriend of Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz is ‘expecting his child’
Police find ‘clue’ at home of Germanwings’ co-pilot Andreas Lubitz

His comments came as French officials refused to confirm categorically that the disaster was intentionally caused by co-pilot Andreas Lubitz.

To the frustration of some families, the investigation is still designated a manslaughter inquiry rather than being upgraded to a murder probe.

The pastor of the Lutheran church in Andreas Lubitz’s hometown has courted controversy by insisting that the community stands by him and his family, despite the fact that prosecutors blame the 27-year-old for causing the crash that killed 150 people.

“For us, it makes it particularly difficult that the only victim from Montabaur is suspected to have caused this tragedy, this crash – although this has not been finally confirmed,” pastor Michael Dietrich said.

“The co-pilot, the family belong to our community, and we stand by this, and we embrace them and will not hide this, and want to support the family in particular.”

Meanwhile an ally of Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has called forGermany’s draconian privacy laws to be relaxed to prevent a repeat of the Germanwings tragedy.

Dirk Fischer, CDU transport expert, has proposed an easing of medical confidentiality for those in sensitive jobs.

Under his proposals pilots would “go to doctors that are specified by the employer,” he told the Rheinische Post newspaper.

The doctors would then be obliged to warn employers and the Federal Aviation Authority of any pressing concerns such as serious mental disorders.