Connect with us





The Lockheed TriStar L 1011 aircraft was well ahead of its time. It is said that the manufacturers, Lockheed built two automatic pilots first and then built an aircraft around them. It was a ‘wide body’ aircraft with two isles and a nose like a Dolphin. The Flight Deck was very spacious when compared to other airliners. It also had a lower galley (service area) which could be accessed by two lifts. It could carry out automatic landings far superior to any other airliners of that era. The airline pilots of the day would describe the automatic functions of the TriStar in three letters ‘P F M’ (Pure Magic). Some said that the only thing the computers couldn’t do was to play ‘Star Spangled Banner’ (the American National Anthem)

Some of the technology was far superior to even the fly by wire Airbus aircraft that arrived 10 to fifteen years later! It was a good match between man and machine. That was because Lockheed being a builder of Military aircraft benefited from the spinoff from space technology which in turn trickled down to Civil Aviation. Unfortunately, the Rolls Royce (RR) RB 211 Trent Engines that were chosen to power it had some teething problems which delayed the L 1011 project and almost made RR go ‘belly up’. As a result, the McDonald Douglas DC10, another three-engine aircraft, stole a march over them, commercially.

One of the launch customers for the L 1011 TriStar was Eastern Airlines of USA. On the night of 29 December 1972 a Lockheed 1011 TriStar, registration N310EA (See Picture) just four months old, took off from the John F Kennedy Airport, New York to Miami International Airport, Florida, under the Command of Capt. Robert Loft. The First Officer was flying this sector. From some of our ex Eastern Airlines colleagues who flew TriStars with us later in Air Lanka, we gathered that Capt Loft was a bit high-strung even at normal times.  The rest of the crew that night were First Officer Alfred Stockstill and Flight Engineer Don Repo. There was also a ground engineer Angelo Danadio occupying the fourth seat in the Flight Deck.

The following is the reconstruction of the crash using the information from the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR), which is recorded on a common timeline; it was done by the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) USA. The flight was uneventful until the landing approach at Miami. The crew, after they selected the undercarriage (wheels) down, observed that the nose gear down and locked indicator green light was not lit up. In the Flight Deck there were three green lights (one for each wheel unit) to indicate that all wheels were down and locked. Since there were only two green lights instead of three, the Captain decided to recycle the landing gear up and then down again hoping that the problem will sort itself out. There was no change in the number of green lights.

The next thing they did was to test the light system by pressing a button in the overhead panel to illuminate all the lights in the forward and overhead panel, just in case there was a bulb failure. The TriStar crews called the test system, the ‘Christmas Tree Lights’ as all the caution, advisory and warning lights that were supposed to flash intermittently did so like a Christmas tree.

The nose gear down and locked indication light didn’t come on during the light test.

 See figures 2 ,3 ,4

It confirmed that both bulbs in the Nose

Light assembly were unserviceable. (In each Landing Gear light assembly there were two small light bulbs). Then again, how if there was a triple failure of the Nose wheel Lock and Bulbs? The crew had to know for sure, before they attempted to land. They had already lined up for the landing. So, to buy some time, the Captain Loft informed the Air Traffic Control Tower that they had a problem. The Control Tower instructed them to discontinue the landing, go around and climb to 2000ft and turn left towards the swamps called the Miami Everglades. It was a dark, moonless night.

After reaching 2000 feet the Captain instructed First Officer Stockstill to engage one of the two automatic pilots which was capable of holding the altitude.

 See figure 5

In the TriStar L 1011 the only time, both autopilots (Autopilot A and B) are simultaneously engaged is when the Automatic Landing System is engaged. Each of the two autopilot switches have three positions Off, CWS and CMD. When the Autopilot is switched on, the First Officer Stockstill would have switched on the one allocated to him (Autopilot B) upwards from ‘OFF’ to ‘CMD’ through a ‘CWS’ position known as ‘Control Wheel Steering’ position. CWS is an intermediate position where the autopilot will be directly controlled through the Control Wheel and not through programming any switches in the automatic pilot control panel. In the CMD position Autopilot B would have maintained 2000ft as instructed, provided 2000ft is set on the altitude window and the ALT Hold button is on. If however some pressure was exerted on the control wheel (15 to 20 lbs.) the CMD selection switch would drop back to the intermediate position of CWS and the ALT Hold button would deselect with the ALT light will go off without any audio warning to the pilots. This was how the system was designed to work at the start.

While the aircraft was flying with the Autopilot ‘B’ engaged at 2000ft, the crew proceeded to trouble shoot.  F/O Stockstill had managed to remove the light assembly with great difficulty and tried to replace the two small peanut size light bulbs. This too was extremely difficult. Spare light bulbs of all types and sizes were carried at the Flight engineer’s station.

On Lofts’ remark, “To hell with it”

Stockstill gave up replacing the bulbs and when trying to reinstall the Nose wheel light assembly, it got stuck. And now he was struggling to put it back. Everyone in the flight deck were involved. It is believed that F/O Stockstill tried to replace it by erroneously turning it 90 degrees sideways into the recess (holder) and jammed the assembly. The lens did say ‘Nose’, when inserted in the correct way up but it could be seen only when it lit up and that did not happen as the bulbs were not replaced.

Capt Loft told F/O Sockstill, “Just leave it there”

Now that it was confirmed that the indicator bulbs had fused and the only sure way of positively checking whether wheel was down and locked was go down to the electronics bay below the Flight Deck.

Capt Loft tells F/E Repo impatiently “To hell with it …. Go down and see whether it is lined up on the red line …. That’s all we care.”

Then he laughed at himself and said “Screwing around with a 20 cent piece of light equipment … in this plane”

There through a ‘peep hole’ (facing backwards) one could see Red coloured marks that should be mechanically aligned. So accordingly, Flight Engineer Repo went down to the electronics bay (Popularly known at Eastern Airlines as the ‘Hell Hole’) to check. On his first visit Repo couldn’t see the alignment marks as the wheel well light wasn’t on. So he had to come up and ask Capt Loft to switch it on. When Repo asked for the wheel well light, which was on the overhead panel to be switched on, the positioning Ground Engineer Dinadio was still seated behind the captain and eager to help. Turning around, Capt Loft requested him to go and help F/E Repo to locate the mechanical indicators for the nose landing gear.

The NTSB investigators believed that when turning around in his seat, to speak to Ground Engineer Dinadio, Capt Loft may have accidently applied some forward pressure on the Control Wheel which made the Autopilot switch drop from CMD to CWS deactivating the ALT hold button and thereby initiating a gentle, unperceived, descent. Usually when there is a deviation of 250 feet from the selected altitude, in the autopilot altitude window, a ‘C cord’ chime is activated for a duration of half a second. This unfortunately was missed by the operating crew who were deeply engrossed in solving the nose landing gear indication problem. The chime occurs at the Flight Engineer’s Station and Don Repo was down in the ‘Hell Hole’

When the aircraft was at about 900ft above ground the Air Traffic Controller noticed it and casually asked,

“Eastern, ah, four oh one how are things comin’ along out there?”

However, he did not instruct Eastern 401 to get back to the assigned altitude of 2000 feet!

The L 1011 also had a radio altimeter which bounced radio signals off the ground and went off close to the ground. By the time Capt Loft and F/O Stockstill realised that they were very close to the ground, it was too late.

The aircraft impacted with the ground killing 5 of 13 crew and 96 of the 103 passengers. While Capt Loft and F/E Repo were badly injured, F/O Stockstill died on the spot. The Captain succumbed to his injuries before he was rescued while F/E Repo died in hospital. Ground Engineer Angelo Denadio’s injuries were less serious and he survived. The subsequent postmortem of Capt. Loft revealed that he had a brain tumour which may have affected his peripheral vision which also plays a part in night flying ability. It was later disregarded as past reports of other crew members didn’t indicate any obvious deficiencies in his ability.

There was a guy named Bob Marquis in an Air Boat hunting for Sulphur belly frogs in the swamp. He saw the aircraft flying low overhead and hit the ground and rushed to the spot. The first rescue helicopter pilot to arrive couldn’t initially find the wreck, till he saw the flickering light of Marquis, the frog catcher’s battery powered light on his headband. He then switched on his powerful ‘Night Sun’ helicopter spot light. Because of the debris being picked up by the rotor, the pilot couldn’t land close to the wreck, but had to land about 200 yards away and depend on Marquis’ Air Boat to ferry the survivors. Other helicopters arrived later. The rescue operations went on till morning. The helicopter pilots could see all three wheel marks on the ground before the L-1011 disintegrated on impact.

 The aircraft automatic systems assumed that it was doing a normal landing with the leading edge and trailing edge devices of the wings out and wheels down. That is why the Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS), another safety device on board did not trigger off. The GPWS has a series of voice warning call outs such as “Terrain, Terrain”, “Too Low Gear”, “Too Low Flaps” , “Sink Rate” and “Woop woop pull up” when not in the ‘Landing Configuration.’ In this instance Eastern 401 was in the Landing Configuration.

See figure 6

The NTSB Investigators declared that

·         The three flight crew members were preoccupied in an attempt to ascertain the position of the nose landing gear.

·         The flight crew did not hear the aural altitude alert which sounded as the aircraft descended through 1,750 feet mean sea level

·         There were several manual thrust reductions during the final descent.

·         The flight crew did not monitor the flight instruments, during the final descent until seconds before impact.

·         The captain failed to assure that a pilot was monitoring the progress of the aircraft at all times.

The NTSB determined that “The probable cause of the accident was the failure of the crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final 4 minutes of the flight and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent an impact with the ground. Preoccupation with the malfunction of, the nose landing gear position indicating system distracted the crew’s attention from the instruments and allowed the descent to go unnoticed.”

In short “No one was minding the shop” and as a result they lost ‘Situational Awareness’ or what is going on around them.

      The NTSB Investigators had the benefit of using the Flight Data     Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) which had been mandated.

As a direct result of this accident and another DC 8 accident in 1978 at Portland, Oregon, USA, airlines realised that pilots need to be taught ‘soft skills’ known as Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) using actual accidents and studies of ‘Human Factors’. A pioneer on these studies was WWII veteran, author and BOAC Capt. David Beaty who was born in Hatton, Ceylon, a son of a Methodist Minister and an old boy of Kingswood College, Kandy.

All airlines have built in ‘Human Factors’ to their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s). For example, now there is a designated ‘Flying Pilot’ and a ‘Monitoring Pilot’. The Flying pilot must ‘mind the shop’ and get the other crew members to carry out necessary tasks at his behest.

The priorities being to Fly, Navigate and Communicate, in that order. Once in two years it is now mandatory that all crew undergo CRM training and now known as Crew Resource Management, because it is not only the Cockpit Crew but all the associated team members inside and outside the Flight Deck, play a part in safe operations. For instance Behavioural Scientists wondered as to why in the Eastern 401 accident the Air Traffic Controller didn’t mention to the pilots that they were supposed to be at 2000 ft. Their studies showed that there was a great pay and conditions gap and hence a status gap between the Air Traffic Controllers and Airline Captains and therefore there was a natural hesitancy to admonish or at least volunteer information which may have saved the day!

There were also a few modifications done to the L-1011 too. Lockheed installed a loud ‘wailer’ to indicate that the autopilot switch had dropped off from the CMD position. The half a second altitude deviation chime was increased to one second duration. The square lens of the green landing lights had the word ‘TOP’ etched on it, so that no mistake could be made when fitting the assembly back. Another wheel well light switch was fitted in parallel in the hat rack close to the trap door to the ‘Hell hole’.

Postscript: Some of the parts like the galleys from the almost new N310EA, Eastern 401 Flight, that survived crash were re-used on other newly delivered Eastern Airline L-1011’s. Subsequently there were documented reports that the ghost of F/E Don Repo was spotted in those aircraft. Eastern tried to supress information of these sightings by replacing the log books with new ones! This was confirmed by of our ex- Eastern Airlines colleagues that worked with us in Air Lanka in the early days. But that’s another story!

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Communication the key to representative government



By H. A. J. Hulugalle

The theme is “Social Communications and Youth.” I take social communication to mean the exchange of ideas between different segments of society.

For representative government, there has to be communication between the rulers and the ruled. For rural development, there has to be communication between planners and the peasants. Domestic harmony postulates communication between the older and younger members of a family. Communication between the teacher and the taught is the essential condition of education at school and university. Different communities live in amity when good communication enables them to understand each other’s problems.

The communicators are our pastors and masters, politicians, journalists, filmmakers, broadcasters and other manipulators of mass media. The health of a society demands that they fulfill their functions with intelligence and integrity.

Youth comes into this, because the future is theirs. In their time, they will not only handle the means of communication, but also determine its content.

One of the problems of today, in all countries is youth unrest. Sometimes, but not always, this is the outcome of imperfect communication. The young are impatient with parents, and other elders who will not or cannot understand their aspirations and yearnings. There is a generation gap. To the young people, if they stop to think, life must be more baffling than it was to an older generation. So much is changing around them including media, methods and goals.

Those of us who were able to acquire a knowledge of English had our windows open to the world. In this, young people today are impeded. Ambitious programmes for mass education fail for practical reasons. The temptation to act first and think later is common in newly independent countries. What is good is often scrapped because everybody cannot have it.

Without the religious motive, dedicated teachers are becoming fewer. Schools are ill-equipped, class rooms are crowded and suitable books in the national languages are not available. Students are herded into universities even when they do not possess the basic qualifications. The majority who follow arts courses are not interested in higher education or in the life or the mind. All they want is a job. And they cannot get this because the instruction they receive and the examinations they pass are not relevant to the conditions of the country or the kind of work they may hope to get.

As an American writer has said: “My own opinion, for what it’s worth, is that the college and the university fail to educate their students because they have long since ceased trying to do so.”

How can these facts of life be communicated to the student before he enters the university, and even more important, to the parent who impoverishes himself to give his children “higher education?”

Communication between government and the population at the grass-roots level will always be weak and generally ineffective until, in the words of the Donoughmore Commission, there is drive at the centre and demand at the circumference. The importance of communication for sound local government and economic development need not be stressed.

Every inducement should be offered to children to acquire a working knowledge of the three languages used in SriLanka. It does not require unusual intelligence to do so. Most traders use the three languages freely. In the long run, the people will adopt what is most useful for education, culture and the market place. For the present, the important thing is to be able to communicate freely and get rid of prejudice.

As for the training of youth for the communications industry – press, radio, films, etc – some have a special knack; others acquire it by persevering effort. A good liberal education, wide reading and the ability to convey one’s thoughts easily are useful assets. A pseudo-intellectualism is a counterfeit gimmick. A good journalist is always involved: he participates and is not merely an observer of the human condition. As such, he cannot forget his responsibility to be truthful and fair.

Walter Lippman, one of the most respected journalists of our time, says: “As the Free Press develops, as the great society evolves, the paramount point is whether, like a scientist or scholar, the journalist puts truth in the first place or in the second. If he puts it in the second place, he is a worshiper of the bitch goddess success. Or he is a conceited man trying to win an argument. In so far as he puts truth in the first place, he rises towards – I will not say ‘into’ but ‘towards’ – the company of those who taste and enjoy the best things of life.”

It is possible that the Press, like the pulpit and preaching hall, is too obsessed with politics, thereby distorting values. It should, as far as it is within its power, encourage readers to think for themselves rather than make confusion worse confounded. The appetite of the captive audience for political trivia grows with what it feeds upon. The dialogue should be a quest for truth and not to stir emotions and prevaricate.

To survive, the Press, like other forms of private enterprise, must make money. It seeks to cater to the dangers in going too far in this direction.

Henry Luce, the founder of the Time magazine, one of the most successful publishers of the century, has said: “The first and principal danger of the Press that gives the people what they want is that there is no significant restraint on vulgarity, sensationalism and even incitement to criminality. The second danger, which is perhaps even more insidiously deleterious to the public taste and morals, is the fact that there is in this situation an enormous financial incentive to publish twaddle – yards and yards of mediocrity, acres of bad fiction and triviality, square miles of journalistic type.”

These are warnings which anyone entering the professions connected with mass media should never forget. While good, clear fun is necessary for the entertainment of the masses, there are enough serious problems to engage the best minds of the younger generation who can learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before them and benefit by maintaining standards.

(Courtesy Catholic Messenger)

Continue Reading


They do it differently…



Michelle and husband Chanitha

Duos are there, aplenty, especially in this pandemic scene, but what Michelle and Chanitha do together, as a husband-and-wife duo, is totally different.

This has, no doubt, paved the way for their success, as entertainers, in the entertainment scene, in the Maldives.

Michelle and Chanitha are from Sri Lanka and have been performing, in the Maldives, for the past two-and-a-half years, and, they say, it has been a very fulfilling experience, especially seeing guests enjoying their music, and complimenting them, as well, for their professionalism.

Right now, they are based in a tourist resort and have been doing that scene for the past two years, as the resort’s house band.

“We had the privilege of entertaining guests at the resort’s Christmas Dinner dance (2019/2020) and also ushered in the New Year at two grand New Year Eve dinner dances (2019/2020), at the same resort,” said Michelle who, incidentally, happens to be the daughter of Melantha Perera.

Michelle went on to say that as their music is wide and varied, they also did the Valentine’s dinner dance (2020/2021), and also functions, connected with Women’s Day, and weddings, as well.

The duo’s repertoire is made up of over 600 songs, and they do pop, jazz, RnB, rock ‘n’ roll, rock, blues, and lots more.

“We both sing, harmonise, and Chanitha plays lead guitar standard solos,” said Michelle, adding that their music has been very much endorsed by guests and the bouquets that have come our way have been very gratifying.



Continue Reading


Critical thinking and the ‘value’ of university education



By Harshana Rambukwella

‘Critical thinking’ is a term that has become ubiquitous in both general and higher education discourse. One sees this phrase appear frequently in educational policy statements. Many who speak of education reform see it as a key skill that education needs to foster. Those who see education primarily as a tool of producing a productive workforce or ‘human capital’ also see it as a positive attribute. However, there is little clarity about what ‘critical thinking’ means. For many involved in education policy-making it seems to mean something like problem-solving ability and the ability to make reasoned judgments – a so-called ‘higher order skill’ in Bloom’s Taxonomy (a hierarchical categorisation of skills developed by an educational psychologist in the 1950s and widely utilised worldwide). There is a significant body of scholarly literature on higher education and the need to foster critical thinking. This literature tells us that the ‘industry’ needs critical thinkers and that often our universities and undergraduate programmes are failing to produce such thinkers. Critical thinkers we are told will make better doctors, better engineers, better lawyers and a host of other ‘better’ professionals.

But to be ‘critical’ can and does have many other meanings. If we move from the adjective ‘critical’ to the noun ‘criticality’ things begin to become fuzzier. The dictionary definition suggests that criticality is something of great importance, that it is a point at which a physical material like a chemical becomes unstable, that it is an orientation to life which promotes questioning and criticising what you observe in the world and so on. It is this fuzzier meaning of the word ‘critical’ that interests me. Critical thinking, unfortunately, like many other concepts which have a long, complicated and radical intellectual history have been tamed and domesticated when they enter mainstream education discourse.I have been personally puzzled when educators talk glibly about ‘critical thinking’ when all their actions mark the very absence of such a critical spirit or orientation. For instance, within the University system I have been at many forums where we discuss the ever-increasing student load with little or no matching investment or expansion of human or physical infrastructure. On many occasions these discussions veer toward how we can use innovative teaching methods, alternative assessment strategies and other innovations to bridge the gap between increasing student numbers and the inadequacy of resources. It is very rarely that our faculty boards or senates take this question to the next level. Why are we getting increasingly larger numbers? Why is the state investing less and less in higher education? Why is an institution’s contribution to education measured in terms of student output? Clearly there is a larger fundamental set of questions about the nature and purpose of education that need to be asked. However, these questions often become marked as ‘political’ or ‘ideological’ and many educators see their role as one of avoiding such ‘politics’ or ‘ideologies’ and instead focus on the ‘practical’ aspects of education.

My submission is that a similar evacuation of the political and ideological aspects of critical thinking happens when we bring it into the curriculum and the classroom. The notion of criticality dominant in mainstream education is heavily appropriated by neoliberal thinking. In this version of criticality students are trained to practice a form of emotional self-surveillance that passes as critical thinking. It ultimately leads students to be conformist and feel guilty about their inability to be ‘productive’ members of society. Take for instance, the practice of ‘reflective thinking’ that has gained much currency in teacher education. To be a reflective practitioner in this understanding is to constantly think about how to be a ‘better teacher’. Are my methods adequate? Am I practicing learner-centered approaches? How good are my lesson plans? The casualty of such thinking is often politics and ideology. Very rarely do we compel our students or teachers/lecturers in training (student teachers), to think about how unequal and classed out education systems are. It is rarely that we speak openly or think about the sexism, classism and even racism of what passes as educational content. By reducing the notion of ‘criticality’ to a ‘skill’ (one among many other ‘productive’ skills that are supposed to be given to students to make them employable) ,a delusion is created that critical thinking is being promoted.

As opposed to this commodified and toothless notion of criticality are the meanings of ‘critical’ that lie on the fuzzier margins of the word. In western philosophical thought ‘critical’ is a term that can be traced from the thinking Socrates, for whom it meant a radical questioning of what appears normal and normative, extending through thinkers such as Erasmus, Thomas Moore, Bacon, Descartes, Russell extending into figures like John Dewey whose thinking has also played a major role in contemporary education philosophy. While the names I have invoked cover a vast range of philosophical orientations and what I am doing here is a kind of gross glossing over of different philosophical traditions, one thing in common here is a radical spirit of questioning the normative. This does not mean that all these thinkers rejected the normative or what was accepted in their societies but their understanding of norms was always tempered by a critical spirit that questioned before acceptance.

This brings me to the notion of ‘value’ in the title of this essay. In his 1997 book The University in Ruins, Bill Readings observes that ‘value’ in the new ‘corporate University is determined by accountants rather than philosophers. This pithy statement captures the dilemma of critical thinking I have been outlining above. Appropriated by a mainstream discourse of education, which in turn is heavily informed by neoliberal values, critical thinking has lost it philosophical edge – its value today lies in its ability as a skill that will provide a competitive advantage in the employment market. Reading’s book as a whole is about this neoliberal transformation of the higher education sector. What he outlined in the 1990s was a process that was gathering pace in Euro-America where modern Universities were increasingly turning both in terms of their administrative structure and in what they taught and how they defined themselves. The ‘ruins’ the title refers to is the notion of a classical university as a site of critical philosophical thought – a site from which to question the normative. In Sri Lanka what we see today is a particularly intense form of this emasculation of the notion of the classical university. Sri Lanka is fast becoming what I would call a ‘frontier market’ of higher education. State policy is guided by a highly impoverished vision about producing ‘employable graduates’ and deregulating the higher education sector so that more and more profit-making entities that offer degrees can be established. Value in this new university culture lies in the numbers of graduates that are produced and their prospective employability. Critical thinking, as I have explored in this essay as a whole, is understood in equally impoverished terms. I offer no ‘practical’ solutions to this dilemma but make these observations in a somewhat polemical style to provoke discussion and debate.

Harshana Rambukwella is Professor in English and Director of the Postgraduate Institute of English, the Open University of Sri Lanka.

Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall that parodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies. 


Continue Reading