Monday, April 7, 2008

"We gaan!"

"We gaan," - "Lets go" - These were the words spoken by KLM pilot Capt. Van Zanten as he pushed the throttles of his Boeing 747 for takeoff at Tenerife Airport, March 27 1977, just moments before becoming the first pilot ever to fly one huge 747 into another, a Pan Am 747 taxing on the same runway, resulting in the deaths of five hundred and eighty-three people.

Because of missed radio calls and use of non-standard terminology, Capt. Van Zanten believed the runway was clear and that he had received permission to take off. In fact a Pan AM flight was taxiing down the same runway - unseen in dense fog. When the Pan Am flight called, as KLM was hurtling down the runway towards them -"We will report when clear" - aboard the KLM flight only the second officer questioned the captain's and first officer's belief that the runway was clear, on the cockpit recording he can be heard asking, "Is he not clear? "That Pan American?" But the captain, Van Zanten, believing the runway was clear, quickly cut him off with an "Oh yes" and continued his takeoff.

At the time Capt Van Zanten was considered KLM's top pilot. But today the tragic disaster at Tenerife is considered an example of an outdated "command and control" paradigm and the accident at Tenerife is used as an example of the need for Cockpit Resource Management - the close cousin of the maritime Bridge Resource Management. of course there were a number of other factor as well that contributed to the accident.

The full story of the disaster at Tenerife can be read at Salon's Ask the Pilot by Patrick Smith and is well worth the read.


I'm not sure what to type here said...

That's sad that all those people died. Did the captain person die?

Will said...

Wow! A comment I didn't leave. This blog is really taking off.

Anonymous said...

It's spelled "Van Zanten".

Do show some consideration when dealing with non-Anglo-Saxon names, you will come off less ignorant.

K.C. said...

Don't know how I missed that, thanks. Why don't you try being a little more polite. You come off less of an asshole.