Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finding Ways to Curb 'Pilot Disorientation' This Week's Crash in the Philippines Puts New Emphasis on Addressing a Leading Cause of Airplane Accidents

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Finding Ways to Curb 'Pilot Disorientation' This Week's Crash in the Philippines Puts New Emphasis on Addressing a Leading Cause of Airplane Accidents

Article excerpt

Looking down from 6,500 feet above Boston, the East Coast spreads out sparkling in the night. A second later, the plane hits a cloud bank and there's nothing but dark gray - visibility zero. "As a pilot, you're trained to think about everything that can go wrong," says Victor Antonini, dropping his twin engine Cessna 310 a thousand feet below the clouds.

Even with five navigational devices lit up on his dashboard, Mr. Antonini says that in unfamiliar mountainous terrain on a cloudy day or night, it's easy for a pilot to become disoriented.

Such momentary lapses are one factor responsible for the leading cause of airline fatalities. It's called controlled flight into terrain (CFIT), and it's a top priority of aviation safety experts around the world. Pilots simply get confused about their whereabouts and inadvertently fly into a mountainside or embankment. "It's the biggest problem in aviation today," says Stuart Matthews, president of the Flight Safety Foundation (FSF), a nonprofit Virginia-based group. Stuart and other aviation experts see all the earmarks of CFIT in the devastation left behind after Cebu Pacific Air flight 387 slammed into the side of a mountain in the Philippines Monday. It is adding a new sense of urgency to a problem the industry has been wrestling with for years. In 1992, the FSF organized an international task force to identify the causes of CFIT and find ways to eliminate it. Their goal:to cut such accidents worldwide by 50 percent in five years. With a massive international education and training effort still under way, there's been mixed success. In 1997, CFIT accidents were responsible for 640 fatalities, a record. But only seven accidents were attributed to CFIT - down from 20 in 1992. "The figures seem to indicate it's working," says Mr. …

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