Crash Report: Foiled by Faux Plastic Wrap


German air investigators this week finally put the wraps on a February 2006 runway excursion of a Falcon 20 at the Kiel-Holtenau Airport in Northern Germany.


The only serious injury from the overshoot was to the 22 year-old Russian flight attendant, but it had nothing (and everything) to do with the crash. There were only minor injuries among the other souls on board – two pilots and three passengers – on the flight from Moscow Domodedovo Airport to London Luton. 

The aircraft, registered in France but operating “by a Russian business aviation company” did not fare as well, coming to rest 100 ft. past the end of the asphalt of the 4,130-ft.-long Runway 08 and 16 ft. down an embankment. 

Based on the events that happened just prior, the outcome was very positive.

According to the accident report, the Falcon had been in the air for 2.5 hours and cruising at Flight Level 380 (approximately 38,000 ft.). That’s when the pilots heard an “explosive bang” the cockpit voice recorder picked up an unusual sound for 4.19 seconds – a “sizzling sound” – which was followed by “screams … from the cabin”, which was followed by the flight attendant asking, “Where is the fire extinguisher?”

German investigators later found out the source of the sizzling. The young flight attendant, whose training consisted of a three-month course in a Russian school for flight attendants and a total flying experience of 36 hours (with 3 hours in the past 90 days) was cleaning up the galley after meal service when the precipitating incident occurred. 

“The statement of the flight attendant indicates that while she was in the galley looking for a roll of plastic wrap she found the pyrotechnical device, unscrewed it, and inadvertently activated it,” the report states. She, unfortunately, received burns to her face and one hand.

Pyrotechnical “device” in this case is putting it mildly – it was a handheld flare. “Powered by a solid fuel rocket it was meant to reach about 300 m (about 1,000 ft.) and let a red flare sink to the ground on a parachute for at least 40 seconds,” says the German Federal Bureau of Accident Investigation (BFU). “The device was meant to be used outdoors for the purpose of signaling an emergency. The manufacturer stated that the activated pyrotechnical device could be extinguished by water. According to the manufacturer the device has to be treated in accordance with the regulations for Dangerous Goods and it is not permitted to transport it in passenger aircraft.”

As you can imagine, things went from bad to worse, with the aircraft filled with smoke and black soot. When the altitude was low enough, the pilots opened a window to exhaust the smoke, but the resulting noise and overall stress level caused them to misinterpret the length of their diversion airport: The controller stated that the runway was 1,260 meters (4,133 ft.); the crew heard 2,600 meters (8,530 ft.), which is why they did not use thrust reversers on the landing rollout.

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