The Avianca Airlines 052 crash occurred on January 25, 1990. A Boeing air jet headed from Bogota, Colombia, to New York, NY, was exposed to bad weather and circled the air over Long Island for more than an hour. The crew reported the lack of fuel, but on its way to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), the air jet’s four engines lost power. The crash happened in the woodland uptown of Cove Neck. With the passengers and crew summing up to 158, 73 were killed (Aircraft Accident Report 1-13).
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Of the plethora of existing reports and articles devoted to the notorious Avianca 052 crash, the majority summarizes the accident this way. The plane crashed more than two decades ago, but the unresolved controversy still lingers. The subjects to the controversy are the causes of the accident and whether it was at all preventable, the investigatory details and comments, the role of culture barrier, and the lessons learned. Also, probably the most significant point of disagreement on the subject is whether the blame for the crash and the deaths can be put on either of the sides concerned. Officially, among the causes of the problem, fuel shortage was a key factor that triggered the accident (Weiner par. 1-2).
Nevertheless, it is doubtable that the fuel shortage taken alone can be considered the root cause. In fact, neither the safety issues of the air jet itself nor the poor communication between the crew and the air traffic controllers (ATC) can be the ultimate cause. Rather, the accident was the result of a multitude of prerequisites, each of which affected the drastic outcome.
The reporters and analysts of the Avianca 052 crash have chorused their doubt as to the crew’s competence and accused them of culpable negligence. The video reports, both from more than 20 years ago and cotemporary, are convincing the audience that it was mainly the pilots’ failure to communicate their concerns to the ATC (Hensug05). Gladwell states that, in the Avianca 052 case, culture had more impact on the miscommunication between the pilots and the ATC (185-208). The cultural clash that captain Laureano Caviedes, his copilot, and the ATC experienced was due to the mentality Colombians have.
American pilots don not regard the controllers as superiors as Colombian ones do – which is why the copilot Klotz was uncomfortable pressing the issue. The transcript shows the captain exhausted and not making much use of his English, while the copilot was trying to be respectful up to the end (Gladwell 200-208). Not considering the situation critical enough to react urgently, the controllers put the Boeing jet at the end of the landing line when no fuel was left. It is also stated that, in bad weather conditions, the controllers are torn between the pilots’ claims and complaints, which is why they react only in the cases of emergency – which was the Avianca 052 state, but due to the copilot’s miscommunication, it was not regarded as one. Thus, not necessarily meaning that anyone is to blame for the misunderstanding, the role of culture is critical in the case, just as any other factor.
The NTBS made their comments which seem appropriate, except for the safety issues that had been present in the Boeing jet in the first place. The recommendations – as well as the dissenting opinions – mainly concern the policies and regulations that had to be applied to the jet flow and pilot-to-controller communications. From the recommendations, it is clear that the air traffic is too dense to adequately operate and the communication needs adjustment (Aircraft Accident Report 76-79).
However, apart from the empirical approach that would probably help prevent the accident, there also were some issues that could have saved lives, if addressed. For instance, the investigation has shown the insecurity of the passenger seats that led to the most part of the injuries and deaths (“Avianca Airlines Flight” par. 1-2). The crash would be totally preventable if the jet flow was more organized and the communication was more efficient. At the same time, the accident would be survivable if it was not for the weak passenger seat constructions that collapsed. Thus, the lessons that can be learned from the crash have not only organizational, but purely technical character.
“It was a delightful flight,” one of the survivors remembered later (Cushman par. 2). With a delight so rapidly turning into disaster, and with a dreadful cornucopia of pre-existing circumstances and causes, the attempts to seek out the guilty one are only natural. The evidence suggests that fatigue, stress, clash of cultures, poor weather, traffic density, and misunderstanding took place, with the unsafe cabin accommodations bringing along the multitude of deaths. The commentators are zealous in their judgments but in their urge to find the guilty one they somehow fail to perceive that the blame can be multifold. We suppose that the crash can hardly be explained by a single person’s mistake – rather, it was a fatal concourse of circumstances.
Aircraft Accident Report. Rep. no. PB91-910404. Washington, D.C.: National Transportation Safety Board, 1990. Print.
“Avianca Airlines Flight 52, B707.” Federal Aviation Administration. U.S. Department of Transportation, n.d. Web.
Cushman, John. “Avianca Flight 52: The Delays That Ended in Disaster.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 1990. Web.
Gladwell, Malcolm. Outliers: The Story of Success. London, UK: Penguin Books, 2008. Print.
Hensug05. “Avianca Flight 52 – Missing Over New York (Deadly Delay).” YouTube. YouTube, 2013. Web.
Weiner, Eric. “Fuel Emergency Is Declared for Avianca Jet.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 1990. Web.