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Sole survivors in airline crashes

Today’s crash in Libya was at least the third of its sort in the past few years to weave a small miracle into its largely tragic story.

A 10-year-old boy from the Netherlands was in good condition Wednesday in a Libyan hospital, aside from a few broken bones, and despite 103 other people around him perishing.

Last July, 14-year-old Bahia Bakari survived a Yemenia Airways crash in the Indian Ocean that killed 152 others as the weak swimmer clutched to a piece of wreckage in the choppy waters.

First officer James M. Polehinke survived a Comair CRJ-100 that crashed on takeoff in Lexington, Ky., in August 2006, killing 49. He was the only one to live through it.

All three share an improbable connection:  They are a sole survivor of a commercial aircraft crash.

In the past 40 years, 14 airliner crashes resulted in a single person surviving. In an overwhelming number of cases (about 75 percent), just as the three above, a child or crewmember was that fortunate soul.

Some speculate that the training of a staff member or the not-fully-developed skeleton or lighter weight of a young person may slightly increase the odds of survival. In the larger scope, though, it’s like changing a baseball game by throwing a blade of grass onto the field. So much is left to be determined by forces we do not understand.

Juliane Köpck, 17 years old at the time, survived more than a week on her own in the Peruvian jungle after being the only person to survive a 1971 crash. She routinely defied every astronomical improbability thrown her way.

It is important to note that all three of these recent incidents occurred near take-off or landing, as do the bulk of aircraft crashes.

However, Popular Mechanics not too long ago published a story explaining what one would need to do to survive a 35,000-foot fall from a jetliner in mid-cruise. The article’s conclusion: protect your head, try to land in a soft swamp or snowdrift and hope you are lucky.

The article cites the Aircraft Crashes Record Office in Geneva to conclude that of the 118,934 people to die in 15,463 plane crashes between 1940 and 2008, only 42 survivors made it through the experience alive after falling from a height over 10,000 feet.

Like many things, crash survival stories are mysteries. The latest chapter makes one wonder whether such events are random happenings. A compilation of sole-survivor crashes from the AP shows the rarity.

Aviation News Rundown: Libya crash, plus news from Learjet 85 and Chevron Aviation

In the early stages of investigation, Libyan officials do not suspect terrorism in the crash of an Airbus A330 Wednesday just short of the Tripoli International Airport runway on final approach. At least 96 of the 104 died on board the Afriqiyah Airways flight from Johannesburg, South Africa to the Libyan capital. Flight Global reports the aircraft, confirmed by Airbus as serial number 1024, had completed just 1,600 hours in 420 flights prior to the crash.

Libyan officials reported one Dutch child survivor from the flight. Witnesses said it "exploded on landing."   

UPDATE: Reuters reports that the Airbus involved in the crash had passed European spot checks.

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Production of the mostly composite Lear 85 (pictured above) is on schedule, according to a report posted by AVWeb. Part assembly will begin in July in Mexico. The jet will be the first made by an American company to include Category 1 and Category 2 aircraft parts manufactured south of the border. Assembly will take place in Wichita, with the earliest deliveries arriving in 2013.

Meanwhile, delivery of the HondaJet again has been delayed until late 2012. An AP report cites a Honda spokesman blaming the second setback of a year or more on supplier delays of getting "unspecified major components" to the manufacturer.

Matt Thurber of AIN reports that Chevron Global Aviation will cease marketing Chevron and Texaco aviation fuel in 27 states, beginning Nov. 15. Chevron's distributor, Hiller/Air Petro, will continue serving operators in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.

In the realm of aviation economics and adding to the continued release of first-quarter reports, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association says piston aircraft shipments for the first three months of the year were off by more than 7 percent, while turboprop shipments dropped by 32.6 percent and jet deliveries sunk 14 percent, to 164 total. However, total billings increased by 7.1 percent.

Once-struggling NetJets reported that quarterly revenues increased by 18 percent compared to the
same period in 2009.

 

 

Before the Blog: From the Internet archives ... Alaska + Bear + Plane = Duct Tape

OK, the GlobalAir.com blog had yet to be established until earlier this month. Before then, a trove of wonderful stories spread across the Internet. On afternoons when nothing of the moment quenches our thirst for a good aviation story, we'll use an old one. Consider these posts like a nice antique store, without the constant odor of mothballs and Lemon Pledge.

Just because something is old news, though, does not mean everybody has heard the last word on a subject. So we welcome you to the stories that happened Before the Blog.

Today's tale goes all the way back to last fall, when an Alaskan bear ripped into a small Piper like a can of sardines. The pilot perservered, though, and so did his plane. 

A case of duct tape later, it never looked better. Check the video slideshow of the before and after shots below:

[youtube:123G3aPEkdM]

"Did the bear smell fish on board?"

"Can you really fly a plane like that or is this a hoax?"

"I hope that pilot has a bear-skin rug."

Stories circulated along with the email.

"That is so Photoshopped."

Even the message boards at Snopes and Myth Busters got in on the act as the story went viral.

Soon after the news/hoax broke, the Alaska Dispatch chased the story down and found out it is very much true, despite some of the facts passed around in the chain email not being entirely accurate.  And for those who wonder about the effectiveness of the tape: It's common practice among commercial aviation, only it's called speed tape.

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