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Preliminary Report on Spanair Crash Released

Spanish authorities have released a preliminary report about the Spanair crash that killed 154 people last month.  As a government official notes, aircraft accidents tend to happen for multiple reasons.  In this case investigators are pointing to two concerns:  a cockpit alert system failed to notify pilots that the wing flaps had not extended correctly; and that a temperature gauge had overheated.  However, they do not yet know if the cockpit alert system failure, the failure for the flaps to extend, and the temperature gauge are related.

You’ll note that this is why I (and others) tend to say that initial reports about airplane crashes are so ridiculous.  The talk of old planes, unreliable eyewitness accounts, and other nonsense is never the reason.  Airplanes are extremely complex systems.  And as Malcolm Gladwell pointed out in his first article* for the New Yorker, complex systems simply have more opportunities for things to go wrong, and the more small things that go wrong, the more likely it is that a combination of those small things will lead to a disaster (as a side note, that article is still a great read.)

*As detail-oriented reader Doug has pointed out, while Gladwell mentions the above point, that is not the crux of the article (the crux of the article, according to detail-oriented reader Doug is that as technology has made systems safer, engineers are willing to take greater risks, thereby counteracting any safety benefit that had been developed.)  Carry on…

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  1. Detail Oriented Reader Doug sounds AWESOME.

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