Saturday, January 23, 1999

Should have landed

Should have landed

By DAVID RODENHISER -- The Daily News

"The last nail in the coffin."

That's how Barbra Fetherolf describes a cockpit clash between the pilots of Swissair Flight 111, which crashed off Peggy's Cove on Sept. 2, killing her daughter and all 228 others on board.

A reported disagreement between pilot Urs Zimmermann and co-pilot Stefan Loew, just minutes before the jet went down, appears to be the final mistake in the tragic chain of events that caused the disaster, Fetherolf said yesterday from Haverford, Penn.

The Wall Street Journal reported the dispute Wednesday, in an article based on a leaked copy of the summary transcript of the cockpit voice recordings.

According to the Journal, Loew, 36, favoured a rapid descent and quick landing at Halifax International Airport, after the pilots saw and smelled smoke.

But Zimmermann, 49, was more methodical, concentrating on emergency checklists to trace the problem's source.

Fetherolf said the report verifies what she has suspected all along: the pilots could have tried to land sooner, perhaps saving her 16-year-old daughter Tara, and the rest of the passengers. She believes Loew had the proper strategy.

"They probably would have - and this is just my opinion - had a better chance if they wouldn't have re-circled over the water again," Fetherolf said.

"Because, obviously, we know the results of what they did."

She added that, every time she thinks of Flight 111 circling over the Atlantic Ocean, while the cockpit continues to fill with smoke, "I just want to scream: `Bring this darn plane down!'"

Fetherolf said investigators haven't been sharing information with victims' families, so she has had to rely on media reports, as well as pilots who offer insight via an Internet discussion group she set up.

Based on those sources, she believes Flight 111's controversial Kapton wire insulation and the inflight entertainment system could have both contributed to the crash.

"It sounds like ... the entertainment system was overheating and started the whole chain of events," she said. "It seems as so every step of the way there was failure. If any one incident would have gone right, then perhaps they would have been saved."

Fetherolf believes Zimmermann's adherence to protocol, instead of taking quick action, increases Swissair's liability for the crash, because the airline is responsible for its pilots' training and the guidelines they follow. However, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration encourages disciplined application of checklists as a prudent safety measure.

Fetherolf wouldn't say if she is suing Swissair.


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