The New York Times headline "Metrojet Rules Out Technical Failure or Human Error for Crash in Sinai Peninsula" captures the gist of the article about the latest announcement from the Russian airline company whose plane crashed in Egypt over the weekend but doesn't flag the most important lesson for safety regulators.
Notwithstanding the company's position, the Times reports that aviation experts, including the former vice chair of the National Transportation Safety Board here in the U.S., think it's too early to rule anything out.
And it seems that the crash is part of a disturbing pattern in which airplanes whose tails are damaged continue in service and years later end up failing, with tragic consequences. The Times notes:
A China Airlines Boeing 747 en route to Hong Kong from Taiwan in May 2002 broke into several pieces as it was climbing to 35,000 feet, killing all 225 people on board. The repairs made 22 years earlier on the tail failed, causing a sudden and explosive decompression, according to the analysis by the Taiwanese government.
A Japan Airlines 747 suffered a similar failure in 1985, seven years after a tail strike had been repaired. The crew struggled to control the plane for some 46 minutes after takeoff before it crashed, killing all but four of the 524 people on board.
Here, the company "rejected the possibility that a tail strike in 2001 during a landing in Cairo, when the aircraft was operated by a different airline, might have left fatal structural flaws," the Times reports.
But three crashes fitting this pattern doesn't sound like a coincidence to me. I hope airline regulators are taking note and considering whether tail-struck airplanes should continue to fly. (Here's the whole Times story.)