Earlier this morning the BBC’s Bill Turnbull had the opportunity to interview aviation expert Maverick Smith about what might have happened to Germanwings Flight 4U9535 which tragically crashed in the French Alps yesterday, killing all on board.
BILL TURNBULL: Thanks for joining us, Maverick. Obviously this is a tragedy but given your knowledge is there any chance you could shed some light on what possibly occurred?
MAVERICK SMITH: Well of course it’s too early to speculate. Thankfully they seem to have found one of the airplane’s black boxes, either the CVR or the FDR, so we should have a better idea pretty soon. The boxes will be being analysed as we speak.
BT: Sure, let’s not speculate but we know the plane reached it’s cruising altitude and then almost immediately began to descend. What would have caused that?
MS: Again, that will hopefully be revealed when they analyse the data. It really is too early to speculate. Clearly something’s gone catastrophically wrong but it could be anything. Engine failure or a fire or-
BT: A fire, what would that be like? You’re thousands of metres in the sky and the pressurized vessel you’re in catches fire. What would that be like? Could you paint us a picture of what people – the pilots – would be going through?
MS: Well, obvioulsy there are procedures, check-lists that the flight crew would have to work through for most situations including fire.
BT: And that could explain the lack of a mayday call?
MS: It could, it could. Pilots are trained to fly the plane first and foremost, then, if time, they will call an emergency.
BT: So they were probably so busy trying to rescue the plane that they didn’t have a chance to radio? They were so focused on trying to save the plane?
MS: It’s certainly possible.
BT: Eight minutes the descent took. That’s quite a long time. Do you think the pilots were screaming? Praying?
MS: From my experience… This particular crew were experienced, I’d imagine that they were doing their best to save the plane right until…
BT: Splat. Until the impact.
BT: Until the plane was dashed to a billion tiny pieces on the mountain side. Obliterating flesh and machine alike?
MS: Yeah. Although we should reall-
BT: Sure, we shouldn’t speculate but for those eight minutes, and I appreciate it’s too early to speculate, but for those eight minutes let’s say the pilots are struggling for their lives. Would the passengers have known what was happening?
MS: Tough to say but we know the rate of descent was well within the limits of the airplane. It would not have felt any different, to the passengers, than that of a normal descent.
BT: Sure, but looking out of the window and seeing mountains getting closer and closer. They’d have known there were no nearby airports.
BT: You don’t have airports up mountains. So they’d know something was badly wrong. Would the passengers start screaming? Could you paint that picture for us. Maybe one person started screaming and it spread?
MS: I really think it’s too early-
BT: There were two babies on board, a group of children. They must have been screaming. Perhaps an elderly couple just hugged each other. Gripped hands with each other and closed their eyes tight, trying to ignore all the screaming going on around them. The chaperones for the children trying to remain calm. Trying to suggest things were okay but inside they’d be screaming too. Do you think that’s a likely scenario?
MS: I… erm…
BT: Of course it’s too early to speculate but even those who didn’t know what was going on, when the plane was nearly touching the mountains then, then they must have started screaming.
MS: I suppose.
BT: I agree, horrifying. What would their screams be like? Would even the men be screaming or would you expect a more stoic reaction? As grim realization of their imminent doom set in?
BT: Of course it’s too early to speculate but let’s assume the flight crew burnt or were suffocated in the cockpit, the plane gradually lost height and hit a mountain amid howls of pure despair. Does the plane’s age play a part in that? It was 25 years old.
MS: The plane itself is a workhorse of the industry. Obviously they’re well maintained.
BT: Sure, but it could have just fallen apart because it was old. And regardless, it’s pretty safe to say for eight minutes people on that plane went through abject terror as the old plane dropped like a tombstone.
MS: It’s a bad thing but really, we can’t-
BT: It is, just thinking about it is almost too much. But if you could just try and paint a picture for us of just how frightened people were. The scramble in the cockpit as the pilots wrestled with the controls before succumbing to the inevitable.
MS: If we wait for the report w-
MS: There’s nothing yet to-
BT: Well, that’s very interesting. Thanks for painting such a vivid picture of what these poor souls went through. It’s worth remembering, of course, that flying is inherently safe.
MS: Of course. You’ve more chance of winning the lottery.
BT: Though you could say these people won the death lottery.
BT: Indeed. Well, thanks again for your time. Now, before we find out what the weather has in store for us it’s over to Steph McGovern at Dusseldorf Airport who is filming the relatives of the dead. Steph, are you there?
Steph McGivorn: Hi Bill!