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Boeing scrambles to contain fallout from deadly crash (nytimes.com)
42 points by yogi123 on Mar 12, 2019 | hide | past | web | favorite | 68 comments

As mechanical engineering students at my college, we analyze failures of engineering ethics in the past to better inform our decisions in the future. We analyze a number of situations, always the culpability of the engineer is placed first and foremost to us. Whether legal culpability falls on the engineer, we are taught that the moral culpability falls on us as the arbiters of safety. I can already see that the 737 Max failures will be taught 10 years from now in the ethics classes I currently take.

> As mechanical engineering students at my college, ... always the culpability of the engineer is placed first and foremost to us

In college we learned about the engineering & product decisions that led to the challenger disaster. There's a famous line that is rumored to have been said at one of the last design meetings before the disaster: "lets take off our engineering hats and put on your management hats". Personally, I doubt this sentence was uttered, but even the rumor conveys the point.

Singapore just grounded all their 737 Max flights. Aeromexico and GOL grounded their 737 Max planes today. Soon we’ll (U.S.) be the only country left flying these.

Today was the first time I ever checked the type of plane on a flight.

Me too. Seems like https://seatguru.com is the best site for figuring out the type of plane for a flight.

This should quiet anyone down who claims that China grounded 737 MAX for primarily political reasons.

News article about the grounding of flights in Singapore [1]

[1] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/transport/singapore-t...

Australia also grounded those aircraft today:


Air Canada is still flying the Max 8.

Germany grounded them too, now.

On people eschewing their 737 MAX flights, I would argue it's probably even safer to be on a 737 MAX these next few days since every airline and their pilots will be on edge with that particular model.

> I would argue it's probably even safer to be on a 737 MAX these next few days since every airline and their pilots will be on edge with that particular model

You're assuming that being "on edge" is sufficient to prevent a systemic design flaw. Without a proper investigation, it's not clear that is true at all.

The speed at which things went wrong is what concerns me. There's a very short window of time for the pilots to diagnose the issue and correct things.


With the Lion Air flight there was only about 20 seconds from the plane nose diving to impact -- and for a significant fraction of those 20 seconds their fate was sealed.


If it's a routine maintenance issue then yes but if they're trying to find a design defect then you may not be safer at all. I don't blame people for avoiding them for the time being.

No the Indonesian plane that crashed first the pilot had similar problems on a previous flight with the plane before the crash so he was aware of something being wrong but he still crashed. So pilot being aware of it won't make it safer.

Boeing and the FAA no doubt believe they are protecting shareholders by not grounding the fleet, but they're risking their reputation. If it turns out that Boeing is at fault, will the American media/industrial complex be able to keep a lid on it? I doubt it.

I haven’t seen any evidence that the two Max crashes are related. The first one was the result of Lion Air flying a plane that was not airworthy because its AOA sensor was known to be faulty.

There is no information about the cause of the second crash as of yet. You’re making a claim about the purported alignment of Boeing, the FAA, and the “American media/industrial complex” (whatever that is) but I’m not aware that there is such a thing. What do you know that the rest of us don’t?

You have the wrong standard of proof. Boeing and the FAA should be erroring on the side of caution, not hiding behind innocent until proven guilty.

And in case it's not totally clear, the caution should be for the passengers, not shareholders.

> "its AOA sensor was known to be faulty."

The plane was what, two months old? It should have been non-lethal even if a troop of rabid baboons was hired to maintain it.

I don't think that's actually rational, in the sense of minimizing loss of life. If you ground all these planes worldwide, what's going to happen? Either people will take older planes, which are in worse condition, or they'll take smaller planes / alternative routes, which are more dangerous, or they'll take cars, which are much more deadly.

Grounding the planes only guarantees saving lives if people stay at home instead, which isn't going to happen. If Boeing legitimately believes these planes are still no riskier than older ones (and it sounds like they do and that they have a reason for that belief), they're saving lives by keeping them in the air.

That's not remotely true. The fatality rate from air travel is so low that taking alternative jets will be much safer. The new plane's selling point is efficiency so it's used on long haul routes which nobody is going to drive.

Risk on taking “alternative old plane” is super low and “Boeing 737 max” is super high, so who are you trying to lie to?

If my routine maintenance breaks the steering wheel linkage in my car, does the resultant crash mean that the manufacturer did not build enough safety into the vehicle to protect it from steering errors induced by negligent mechanics?

> If my routine maintenance breaks the steering wheel linkage in my car, does the resultant crash mean that the manufacturer did not build enough safety into the vehicle to protect it from steering errors induced by negligent mechanics?

If it happens repeatedly, then probably yes.

We have some data from real-time tracking that the "vertical speed was unstable after take off" [1]. And that both crashes are similar in that regard, and both accidents could be explained by a problem with the newly deployed MCAS software system.

Clearly, there are no answers yet. There is no known cause for this recent crash yet. But there is some evidence. And that scant evidence might be coincidence, but it also has well-informed people concerned.

[1] https://twitter.com/flightradar24/status/1104668693613764609

under what scenario is it okay for a complete failure and the death of over a hundred people because of a single faulty sensor on a brand new airplane?

I'd be curious to hear from anyone who's a pilot (I know there are a few of them here).

What are the interactions between an automated system and the pilot?

Specifically, can a plane quickly switch from flyable to out of control?

There's a huge number of unknowns here, but I thought most pilot assistance systems were designed to be disengaged if needed.

These forums have several threads about the recent crashes and grounding with some experienced pilots discussing. https://www.airliners.net/forum/viewforum.php?f=3

Here's a pilot describing the new MCAS system on the 737 Max, and what a pilot would feel:


"Six similarities between ET302 and JT610" plane crashes [1].

[1] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/03/11/six-similarit...

Grounding the fleet causes disruptions, cancelled and delayed flights, etc. The direct costs may be paid by the airline, but it's not free from the passenger perspective either. People who have places to be also have "priceless" lives.

I cannot seriously believe they are rolling the dice for the second time.

Dumber things have happened. Boeing executives and FAA administrators may feel sincerely committed to their decision to approve MCAS without retraining and that they're doing everybody a service by keeping cool heads.

What an awful metaphor – "contain fallout" – for the NYT to use in its current online headline. ("Boeing Scrambles to Contain Fallout From Deadly Ethiopia Crash")

It makes it sound like there's some toxic debris Boeing is still racing to clean-up, when in fact the story is just about financial/reputational after-effects.

(NYT's original print headline for this story, "Crisis for Boeing As Safety Worry Grounds New Jet", at least avoided the problematic toxic-debris implication – though it somewhat implied the jet was grounded everywhere, or by Boeing, when it's just been grounded by some jurisdictions and carriers.)

> It makes it sound like there's some toxic debris Boeing is still racing to clean-up, when it fact the story is just about financial/reputational after-effects.

It doesn't make it sound like that at all. I don't think anyone except maybe you reads it that way. "Fallout" well-understood to mean "effects" or "results".

Clearly others (commenting & upvoting) read it that way as well. Good headline writing avoids murky euphemisms, especially if the originating source of the metaphor – in this case, bombs & debris from the sky – overlaps confusingly with the actual facts.

Boeing Cleans Up Burning Debris And Aircraft Parts from Recent Crash (in a Publicity Sense)

Or, just spitballing here, "fall(ing) out of the sky" perhaps.

I read it that way as well—-words do have secondary and tertiary connotations, and any competent journalist knows how to use composition and careful word choice to more effectively convey a particular narrative.

Here are some other recent NY Times headlines that use the word fallout

Trauma May Have Fallout Over Generations

Cambridge Analytica and Facebook: The Scandal and the Fallout So Far

As Trump Struggles With Helsinki’s Fallout, Congress Faces a New Charge: Complicity

Inside Uber’s $100,000 Payment to a Hacker, and the Fallout

Nissan and Renault Wrestle With the Fallout From Carlos Ghosn’s Arrest

Fallout is widely used to mean "affect-effects" with no secondary or tertiary connotations.

I mean....you really thought there was some kind of nuclear disaster in Helsinki after reading that headline?

All your examples use 'fallout' about abstract occurrences – not situations where an actual plane-and-jet-fuel crashed-and-exploded from the sky, throwing some actual 'fallout' across a debris field.

As far as I can tell, clean-up crews are having no notable problems with the fallout from the crash. Boeing is scrambling to contain the damage to its business.

Nobody with a full command of the language uses "fallout" to refer to a debris field. It is most commonly used in the abstract sense, to refer to negative after-effects, or else in the technical sense, for radioactive pollution.

The 'fallout' isn't the field itself, but toxic stuff that falls from the sky after an explosion.

No competent headline writer would use that figurative language around an explosive incident where there might be literal 'fallout'.

(The NYT uses 'fallout' to refer to the literal toxic materials thrown off from a non-nuclear explosion, as in stories like https://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/21/world/asia/cyanide-levels.... And also to refer to toxic off-gassing from other processes, as in the headline at https://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/23/us/home-drug-making-labor...)

> toxic stuff that falls from the sky

I know... "radioactive pollution."

The public would not expect a civilian airliner to be nuke-powered.

As noted in my examples, the NYT regularly uses 'fallout' to refer to non-radioactive toxics emerging from explosions and other activities as well. This usage is also confirmed by many dictionaries.

The Times in the first (and only working) link uses fallout in the "problematic aftereffects" sense, although I can see how this might be confusing.

The use of "toxic fallout" in the 1st link is pretty clearly referring to literal toxic chemicals released. And if you remove the '.' from the 2nd link, you'll see the same in the "toxic fallout" headline there.

I can't believe you stole 30 seconds of my life on this "topic."

As a common consumer of news on sites like HN, headline practices are very interesting to me.

Some statistically significant percentage of xbox 360s are starting to red light for customers running a certain model number. Microsoft assures customers that there's no need to panic as this particular model has been reliable for a long time, and it could just be a statistical anomaly. Microsoft is currently investigating the issue but consumers are weary about paying full price for a product that might break.

Substitute xbox 360 with PLANE, substitute microsoft with BOEING, substitute "weary about paying full price" with "dying in a horrible fiery death".

I'm not sure why this is contentious. Be on the safe side and wait for the investigation to complete in case there's some kind of unexpected single point of failure caused by mechanical defects.

> xbox 360s are starting to red light ... substitute "weary about paying full price" with "dying in a horrible fiery death" ... wait for the investigation to complete

Paying full price and dying a fiery death don't exactly seem like comparable substitutions.

Planes don't just fall out of the sky. Having 2 major crashed on the same model could indicate mechanical defects.

When microsoft faced an issue with statistically increased failure rates they initially played the plausible deniability game ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xbox_360_technical_problems#Re... ). In fact this is the only response you will ever get from a public company with short term looking stockholders.

I definitely wouldn't buy that xbox for $300 if I heard similar news reports, but I sure as hell wouldn't buy that $300 plane ticket and bet my life on boeing's words.

> I definitely wouldn't buy that xbox for $300 if I heard similar news reports, but I sure as hell wouldn't buy that $300 plane ticket and bet my life on boeing's words.

I suppose we agree, but just to a different extent. I could conceivably buy an Xbox knowing that it might crash at some point. But I wouldn't buy an airline ticket knowing it might crash at some point.

Seems like anti-stall software shouldn't be killing more people than actual stalls.

When was the last major airline downed by a pilot error stall anyway?

In german we even have a word for this: Verschlimmbessern [1]

Making something worse in an attempt to make it better. As an engineer I'm often concerned about committing such a fallacy.

[1] https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/verschlimmbessern

Anecdotally, I was speaking to a friend who has a pilot's license, and his thought was that a well-trained pilot should know how to adjust due to the failure, but the system seemed counter-intuitive. I think it does at the very least beg the question of whether this feature has already caused more problems than it would have likely prevented. Would commercial pilots have to report when a plane stalls/would the airline keep track of such data?

The pilots of both Air France 447 and Colgan Air 3407 managed to stall perfectly serviceable aircraft in 2009, killing 277 combined.

Exactly my point -- we've just seen 346 people killed by (presumably) an anti-stall system -- when it's been a decade since we've had the problem this system is meant to prevent.

If the 737 MAX anti-stall system has a flaw of course it should be fixed. That's hardly an argument against anti-stall systems in general. The accidents prevented by anti-stall systems don't make the news.

Yeah, it is tough to assess without knowing the likeliness of a stall, and the likeliness a stall causes a crash. Otherwise, we run into the problem of having such a small sample size.

It does look possible that the anti-stalling software new to these planes has a bug.

I hesitate to even say something, in deference to the much more knowledgeable folks working this at the NTSB and sister agencies right now.

But I'd be surprised if it were that simple, especially given the airtime of all planes flown. Airtime which I'd assume passed largely without incident, as by now some news agency should have drug up any similar close calls.

If we're doing wild speculation, I'd bet on something like the Tesla battery punctures (where it turned out high-energy impacts from pointed road debris were more common than expected).

E.g. a maintenance issue, coupled with a specific configuration, coupled with pilot behavior

Or, it could just be a poorly maintained plane and a freak accident. But that's what root cause analysis and black box recordings are designed to ascertain.


Fox News' webpage looks like a tabloid...but there were 2 videos about the crash and Boeing's safety concerns on the front page when I checked a minute ago.

Notably, the most liberal news site, NBC News, has a story about the Boeing MAX being safe at the top of its home page.

So I think it's your imagination.

I see it on foxbusiness.com, but nothing on foxnews.com's front page until I scroll maybe 4 pages down. This is on a mobile...maybe their desktop site has a sidebar?

It is front/top on NYT.

Is NBC that far left? I felt like MSNBC was further...

I agree. So what does MSNBC say about it?

Personally I doubt a strong correlation will be found, other than the American/foreign media dichotomy.

I agree, NBC is pretty much on the left. If they're calling the plane safe, my conspiracy theory must be bunk.


You may be the most reasonable conspiracy theorist I've ever met.

I see multiple headlines on Fox News about this crash. I think you're over thinking this.

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