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'Psycho' automation left pilot powerless | Loungtastic

The untold story of QF72: What happens when 'psycho' automation leaves pilots powerless?

Returning from the toilet, second officer Ross Hales straps into the right-hand-side seat beside Captain Kevin Sullivan in the Qantas jet's cockpit. "No change," Sullivan tells him in his American accent.

He is referring to the Airbus A330-300's autopilot and altitude as it cruises at 37,000 feet above the Indian Ocean on a blue-sky day. 

Within a minute, the plane's autopilot disconnects. It forces Sullivan to take manual control of Qantas Flight 72, carrying 303 passengers and 12 crew from Singapore to Perth. Five seconds later, stall and over-speed warnings begin blaring. St-aaa-ll, st-aaa-ll, they screech. The over-speed warnings are louder, sounding like a fire bell. Ding, ding, ding, ding. Caution messages light up the instrument panel.

Horror In The Sky...

"That's not right," Sullivan exclaims to Hales, who he met for the first time earlier in the day on a bus taking crew from a Singapore hotel to Changi Airport. His reasoning is simple: how can the plane stall and over-speed at the same time? The aircraft is telling him it is flying at both maximum and minimum speeds. Barely 30 seconds earlier, nothing was untoward. He can see the horizon through the cockpit windows and cross-check instruments to determine that the plane is flying as it should.

"You'd better get Peter back," Sullivan says, urgency in his voice. Minutes earlier, first officer Peter Lipsett, a former Navy Seahawk pilot, left for his scheduled break. Hales picks up the plane's interphone to call the customer service manager to track down the first officer.

In the rear galley, flight attendant Fuzzy Maiava slides his meal into an oven. He can relax slightly after collecting meal trays from passengers. Window blinds are drawn in the cabin, and calm has descended following lunch service. Some passengers queue for toilets. As Maiava closes the oven door, an off-duty Qantas captain and his wife, who have been on holiday, join him in the galley.

"Hey Fuzz, where's your wine?" they ask.

"Just help yourself - you know where it is," Maiava laughs. As they pour a glass, Maiava glances at the oven's timer. There are 13 seconds left.

Booooom. A crashing sound tears through the cabin. In a split second, the galley floor disappears beneath Maiava's feet, momentarily giving him a sense of floating in space. Blood rushes to his head as he, the off-duty captain and his wife are propelled into the ceiling, knocking them out.

In the cockpit, Sullivan instinctively grabs the control stick the moment he feels the plane's nose pitch down violently at 12.42pm (Western Australia time). The former US Navy fighter pilot pulls back on the stick to thwart the jet's rapid descent, bracing himself against an instrument panel shade. Nothing happens. So he lets go. Pulling back on the stick does not halt the plunge. If the plane suddenly returns control, pulling back might worsen their situation by pitching the nose up and causing a dangerous stall.

Within two seconds, the plane dives 150 feet. In a gut-wrenching moment, all the two pilots can see through the cockpit window is the blue of the Indian Ocean. "Is my life going to end here today?" Sullivan asks himself. His heart is thumping. Those on board QF72 are in dire trouble. There are no ejection seats like the combat jets Sullivan flew in the US Navy. He has no control over this plane. 

"It's the worst thing that can happen when you are in an aeroplane - when you are not in control," he recalls. "And you have a choice. You can either succumb to that or you fight it. I was fighting that outcome - and have been ever since."

Eight years after QF72 dived towards the ocean, the Top Gun pilot nicknamed "Sully" since his teens is breaking his silence. "We're in an out-of-control aeroplane, we're all juiced up by our own bodies because, we thought, we are in a near-death situation, and we've got to be rocket scientists to figure out how we can go in there and land the plane outside of any established procedures," he says. 

"We were never given any hint during our conversion course to fly this aeroplane that this could happen...

And even, I think, the manufacturer felt this could never happen. It's not their intention to build an aeroplane that is going to go completely haywire and try and kill you."

The events of October 7, 2008, are not merely about how three Qantas pilots found themselves fighting to save a passenger plane from itself. It serves as a cautionary tale as society accelerates towards a world of automation and artificial intelligence. 

The days of driverless cars, trucks and trains becoming commonplace are fast approaching. South Australia ran the country's first on-road trial of driverless cars in 2015. In two years, Sydney will become the first city in Australia to run driverless passenger trains on a new $20 billion metro railway. Proponents tout the multiple benefits of autonomous vehicles, such as the removal of human error dramatically reducing crashes.

In the air, complex computer systems already oversee a new generation of planes, reducing the control of pilots who spend long periods of flights keeping watch.

The technology has helped make the world's ever-more crowded skies safer. Yet paradoxically, it is technology that threatened the lives of those on QF72. And Sullivan still harbours fears about greater automation of flying after the computer system on the Airbus aircraft he was captaining wrenched control from its three pilots in 2008.

"Even though these planes are super-safe and they're so easy to fly, when they fail they are presenting pilots with situations that are confusing and potentially outside their realms to recover," he says. "For pilots - to me - it's leading you down the garden path to say, 'You don't need to know how to fly anymore.' You just sit there - until things go wrong."

Seconds after the A330 nosedives, Sullivan begins to receive responses to his control-stick movements. Slowly, it starts to give him control.

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As it does, he lets the plane continue to descend before gingerly levelling off and climbing back to 37,000 feet. Sullivan knows intuitively there will be serious injuries in the cabin. The plunge is of a magnitude he generated in fighter jets during his days flying from US aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and North Atlantic during the Cold War.

Yet this is a passenger plane.

In less than a second, the gravitational force bearing on those on board switches from positive 1G to negative 0.8G. As the plane drops, it literally flings into orbit people not belted into their seats. A G-force of 1G allows you to keep your feet on the Earth's surface, while 0G creates weightlessness. Negative 1G will propel you at your body weight into freefall. In all, the Qantas aircraft drops 690 feet in 23 seconds. A saving grace is that Hales, the second officer, presses a button for the seatbelt sign to alert passengers the moment he feels the plane lurch.

It is too late for more than 60 passengers and crew, bouncing about like in a pinball machine. Malcolm Yeo is standing near the rear galley, talking with a flight attendant about buying a duty-free watch when he hears the engines reduce power. The then aviation lecturer at Perth's Edith Cowan University assumes the pilots are preparing for clear-air turbulence.

It is common at high altitudes and occurs in cloudless skies when air masses collide, causing severe buffeting of planes. Seconds after gazing out a window, Yeo is propelled into the cabin ceiling. The sound of passengers screaming and glass breaking rips through the cabin. Seated in the middle of the cabin, Yeo's wife, Shirley, is worried sick about her husband. She was dozing when he left his seat.

A few metres from Yeo, Maiava lies on the rear-galley floor after hitting the ceiling. On the way down, he hit the galley bench and was thrown against the meal-cart storage. Regaining his senses, Maiava sees blood gushing from the off-duty Qantas captain's head. He lies unconscious on the floor. The captain's wife - also a senior Qantas flight attendant - begins to regain consciousness. 

Beyond the galley curtain, two unaccompanied sisters Maiava has been watching over scream. Fear in her eyes, the youngest reaches a hand out to Maiava. Barely conscious, he cannot do a thing to comfort her. Oxygen masks dangle from the ceiling, swaying from side to side. Baggage and broken bottles litter the cabin floor. 

Suddenly, a passenger from an Indian tour group rushes into the galley in a panic, pointing at an inflated life jacket around his neck. His face is turning blue.

"The guy's choking," Maiava shouts. Maiava knows how to deflate the jacket. But in a semi-conscious state his mind freezes. The off-duty captain's wife thrusts a pen at the passenger, pointing at a nozzle in the life jacket. Thrusting the pen into the nozzle, the passenger deflates his jacket and gasps for breath. Seconds later, he bows in gratitude. Maiava tells him bluntly to get back to his seat.

In the cockpit, over-speed and stall warnings keep ringing in the pilots' ears as the plane recovers to 37,000 feet above the Indian Ocean, about 150 kilometres west of the small Western Australian town of Exmouth. Sullivan and Hales have no idea what caused the plane to dive.

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The computer system does not tell them. Sullivan hand-flies as they begin responding to fault and warning messages. One of the aircraft's three flight control primary computers - which pilots refer to as PRIMs - is faulty. They begin to reset it by flicking the on-off switch.

Then without warning, the plane dives again. Sullivan pulls back on his control stick like he did in the first pitch down. Again, he lets go. It takes several seconds for the plane to respond to the commands. In little more than 15 seconds, the Qantas jet falls 400 feet.

In the rear galley, Maiava senses the aircraft is about to plunge the moment he hears a roar. It sounds like a speedboat running at full throttle as it is suddenly thrown into reverse. In absolute fear, he locks eyes with the wife of the off-duty Qantas captain. The second nosedive - less than three minutes after the first - propels them towards the ceiling. This time, they avoid hitting it by hanging onto a handrail. Lying on the floor seconds later, Maiava fears they are about to die. He prays death will come quickly and without pain.

"What the hell was that?" second officer Hales exclaims to Sullivan.

"It's the PRIM," the captain replies.

A realisation of their predicament has dawned on Sullivan. The flight control computers - the brains of the plane - are supposed to keep the plane within an "operating envelope": maximum altitude, maximum and minimum G-force, speed and so on. Yet against the pilots' will, the computers are making commands that are imperilling all on board.  

In a conventional aircraft without flight control computers, pilots are responsible for keeping it within the bounds of safe flying. In a passenger jet like the A330, the computers have unfettered control over the horizontal tail - 3000 pounds per square inch of pressure that can be moved at the speed of light. It enables the aircraft to descend or climb. For reasons unknown to the pilots, the computer system has switched on "protections". "The plane is not communicating with me. It's in meltdown. The systems are all vying for attention but they are not telling me anything," Sullivan recalls. "It's high-risk and I don't know what's going to happen."

For a six-year-old, San Diego's North Island is beyond imagination. Perched on a peninsula in San Diego Bay, the naval base is home to aircraft carriers and fighter jet squadrons. On a clear day in 1961, a mass of steel glistens in the sun and American flags flutter in the breeze. John Sullivan, a World War II submariner, has brought his eldest son to see the Blue Angels.

The aerial acrobatics of the US Navy's precision flying team leaves a young Kevin Sullivan in awe. "One plane came out of nowhere - about 50 feet [15 metres] over the top of me - and scared the shit out of me," he recalls. "As soon as I saw that, and I saw the power and I heard the noise, what little boy wouldn't want to be in one of those?" 

Eighteen years later, the third-eldest of five children became a US Navy pilot. Within two years, he was flying F-14 jets for the Fighting Aardvarks from the USS America during the Iran hostage crisis. In 1982, his squadron selected him for Top Gun, the Navy's fighter weapon school, made famous by the film of the same name. (His flying "buddies" later featured as extras in the opening scenes of Top Gun filmed on the USS Enterprise). In a matter of a few years, he was living an adventure.

His life took another twist in 1983 when he became the first US Navy exchange pilot to the RAAF. His stay in Australia was meant to last three years. But after marrying an Australian and having a daughter, he decided against returning to the US. He joined Qantas. 

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Three decades later, home is Seaforth in Sydney's northern suburbs and his flying career and marriage are behind him. Now in his early sixties, his silver hair has thinned. As much as he can, he wants to retain control over his life. He guards his privacy and that of those close to him. He prefers to meet at Good Weekend's office instead of his home. 

Despite intense interest in QF72 in its aftermath, the identity of Sullivan and the two other pilots has remained largely unknown outside Qantas. I contacted Sullivan almost three years ago to hear his account. He was still flying and declined due to sensitivities within Qantas about him talking. His silence ended last year when he left the airline and he got in touch. Over several months, we meet about five times to talk about the event that upended his life.

His former colleagues have noticed changes. "A lot of people mistake Kev for being Canadian because he is not in-your-face," one pilot says. "He has become much more reserved, and he is much more guarded about what he says. He was much more laid-back and laconic in the past."

In reliving QF72 during our meetings, Sullivan's face reddens and he breathes sharply. For a long time afterwards, he did not want to talk about it. Many passengers and crew still don't. It sits apart from other emergencies because it challenges the notion that technology is near fail-safe and superior to pilots' frailties. 

The fly-by-wire systems of modern airliners are a world away from earlier generations of planes flown using stick and rudder. In the Boeing 747 jumbo - the backbone of global aviation for almost five decades - pilots' control sticks are connected by wires and pulleys to parts of the plane such as the tail. In newer planes, pilots adjust a side-stick to make requests of the flight computer to move. The computer has command over "flight control surfaces" such as the tail or rudder. It sends an electronic signal to move those parts of the plane. A direct mechanical link between most pilots' controls and parts such as wing flaps has been removed.

The intent of the technology is to make flying safer - and it has. In the past decade, the number of commercial flights worldwide has surged by almost a quarter to about 40.5 million last year. Despite the surge in flying, fatalities in accidents involving planes carrying more than 14 passengers have fallen from 773 in 2007 to 258 last year, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

While flying is indeed safer, Sullivan's fear is that greater automation risks confusing pilots in an emergency. Eight months after QF72, an Air France A330 jet carrying 228 people on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all of those on board. Investigators found incorrect speed data was sent to the plane's flight control systems after ice crystals formed on air-pressure probes mounted on the nose. The autopilot disconnected, surprising the pilots and causing them to react to the false information displayed. They incorrectly pulled up the plane's nose, and seconds later it stalled before plunging into the ocean.

After QF72's second dive, the number three flight control primary computer faults again. Sullivan tells second officer Hales they will not touch it. He knows from a previous check of faults that the plane plunged as soon as they reset PRIM three to operational status. A minute later, Sullivan tells the passengers over the PA system they are dealing with flight control problems, and to stay seated and fasten their seatbelts. 

The flight attendants call the pilots on the interphone to find out what is happening. Sullivan is too busy to talk. His priority is to get the first officer, Peter Lipsett, back to the flight deck. Following plane hijackings in the US on September 11, 2001, passengers are banned from entering cockpits in-flight.

The crew of QF72 will need to go through a cockpit access procedure - an ordeal that takes several minutes when every second matters. Nursing a broken nose from hitting the cabin ceiling, Lipsett eventually rushes into the cockpit.

"It's carnage out there," he exclaims.

"Sit down, strap in, we're in trouble," Sullivan replies. In more than three decades of flying, Sullivan has never before uttered those words. The then 53-year-old has no idea whether they can safely land the plane. At any second, it could lurch into another dive. The systems are going haywire. Stall and over-speed warnings continue to blare. Most of the caution messages want the pilots to give them priority. The pilots face no end to the distractions as they begin intricate work. The button to silence aural warnings is not working.

Harnessed in his seat, Lipsett asks Sullivan whether he wants to declare a PAN, a warning one step from a mayday. "Yes," he responds. Shortly before the plane dived, they had flown past a RAAF base at Learmonth, near Exmouth on the North West Cape. Learmonth is the diversionary airport for north-west Australia, its runway long enough to handle an A330. 

Knowing passengers are likely to be badly injured, the second officer Hales asks for a damage report from the flight attendants. The response shocks: passengers and crew suffering moderate to severe injuries with broken bones and lacerations.

"That's it - declare a mayday," Sullivan says.

Lying on the ground near the rear galley, Malcolm Yeo feels his body for breakages. His hip, shoulder and head are sore. Anxious about his wife, he decides to make his way back. The scene that confronts him is distressing. Passengers groan and cry; ceiling panels lie everywhere. Yeo eventually makes it to his seat, where his wife meets him with relief. 

In the rear galley, the wife of the off-duty Qantas captain helps her husband and Maiava as best she can. She calls the flight deck, telling first officer Lipsett that both men are seriously injured. He warns her that the plane could dive again. Maiava is eager to get seated. "We have to move - we have to get to our seats," he says. Together, they shuffle to nearby jump seats.

Minutes later, they hear another announcement over the PA from the captain. Sullivan tells passengers he expects to land within 15 minutes at Learmonth where emergency services will be waiting. They need to stay seated with their seatbelts fastened.

As soon as air-traffic control in Melbourne responds to the mayday, alerts stream to authorities around the country. Planes in northern Western Australia on the same radio frequency hear the distress call, and controllers broadcast QF72's plight to the rest of the country's airspace. With QF72 diverting, Qantas' crisis centre in Sydney is activated while West Australian police and a small medical centre at Exmouth kick into gear. Because of the airfield's remoteness, emergency services need at least 30 minutes to prepare. The services in the area are basic: a fire truck and two ambulances.

Yet Sullivan still does not know whether they can land. The computer system is not telling them what data it is sampling and what it is doing. Thoughts race through the captain's mind: "What is my strategy? How will I stop a pitch down if it happens during landing?" In less than three minutes, the A330 has dived twice. Will it do it again? 

Yet their only real option is landing at Learmonth. Flying on to Perth could worsen matters. "I have nine crew injured out of 12 and mass casualties - that is serious," Sullivan recalls. "It means we're in deep shit." They punch "Learmonth Airport" into the computer used for navigation. The computer shows an error.

"After that second pitch down, I was really furious - I was being put in a position to question my mortality," Sullivan says. "I was cursing like a drunken sailor." As best they can, the pilots have to suppress their physiological reactions. These might help someone lift a car in a life-or-death situation, but they cloud thinking.

Circling Learmonth, the pilots run through a checklist. The plane's two engines are functioning. But they do not know if the landing gear can be lowered or wing flaps extended for landing. And if they can extend the flaps, they have no idea how the plane will react. As much as they can, the pilots try to assert control over the A330 while the computer system operates. It cannot be fully disengaged. Turning off the three flight control computers could trigger unintended consequences. They may fail or fault.

Pulling paper charts out for Learmonth, the pilots make more inputs into the system, to no avail. It means they will have to conduct a visual approach. The precariousness of their situation is laid bare in a lengthy summary of faults on their screens. They include the loss of automatic braking and spoilers to prevent lift once the plane is on the runway. The pilots do not know whether they can use the nose-wheel to steer the plane until it is on the ground.

Sullivan plans to rely on a strategy he practised in fighter jets. Flying at 10,000 feet above the airfield, he intends to reduce power and descend into a high-angle, high-energy spiral before lining up the runway and flying in fast in the hope of preventing another nosedive. 

But before they can land, they have to check whether their flight control system is working properly. Flying over Learmonth, the wing flaps are extended as the pilots conduct two S-turns to confirm they are OK, and the landing gear is lowered. It is enough for Sullivan. He is desperate to get the plane on the ground. The extent of injuries will not be known until emergency services are on board.

The first officer, Peter Lipsett, makes a final announcement, telling passengers to follow instructions. Minutes later, Sullivan lowers the A330's nose, and power to idle as he begins a final approach. Lipsett reminds him the speed is greater than it should be. "Noted," Sullivan replies. None of them know whether it will pitch down again. That is the risk they take. They have little choice.

Fifty minutes after the first dive, the A330's wheels scrape the runway at Learmonth. Passengers clap wildly as it glides along the tarmac. The pilots hear the cheering through the cockpit door, the sense of relief almost overwhelming. 

As the plane grinds to a halt, Sullivan turns to his pilots. "So, a little excitement in an otherwise dull day," he quips, imitating Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies. In the US Navy, Sullivan used humour to relax in highly stressed environments. It is to be a rare bit of levity on this day in 2008. Sullivan knows the satellite phone is about to ring incessantly. Before it does, he sends a text to his 20-something daughter travelling in Europe. I'm OK and I love you, it reads.

The pilots cannot allow themselves to relax. Passengers and crew suffering moderate to severe injuries have to be evacuated from an airfield in the middle of nowhere. Despite being parked on the ground, stall and over-speed warnings keep blaring in the cockpit. In a shocked state, the plane's customer service manager rushes in from the cabin.

"What was that?" she exclaims.

"I don't know. I don't know what happened," Sullivan replies.

He grabs her hand, assuring her they are safe. Co-ordinating with emergency services to help the injured now rests on her shoulders. The pilots will be tied up dealing with all manner of questions. The satellite phone is ringing. 

Lipsett begins to check a summary from the plane's maintenance computer. "Well, here's the problem," he says, pulling out a print out half a metre long. It shows 10 simultaneous failures at the same time-mark. Further down the page, they learn the flight control primary computers have failed or faulted. 

"It was basically a computer crash," Sullivan recalls. "It had stopped communicating with us and was distracting us. It started confusing us." After dealing with multiple calls over the satellite phone, Sullivan is finally able to enter the cabin more than an hour after landing. Before him ambulance officers nurse passengers; compartment doors ripped from hinges; smashed bottles, glasses and baggage strewn on the floor. The further along he walks, the greater the destruction and injuries. "It just looked like the Incredible Hulk had gone through there in a rage and ripped the place apart," he recalls. 

Parents hold bandaged children. They stare at Sullivan, some with accusing looks. He tells them he does not know what caused the nosedives, but he and his co-pilots tried to stop them. It's the only assurance he can give. The sight of injured children will stick with him for years.

The events still haunt Sullivan and Maiava. They have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and, with other crew members, remain part of a lawsuit in the US against Airbus and aerospace company Northrop Grumman. (About 100 passengers injured in the mishap have settled compensation claims.) Michael Hyland, an aviation lawyer at Sydney firm LHD who is advising Sullivan, says it has had a devastating impact. "The QF72 incident was a science-fiction nightmare that became a reality," he says. 

Sullivan knew his life and career would change forever. He took eight months off. When he returned, he was hyper-alert and concerned about another potential loss of control. He no longer enjoyed a job that had defined him. His professional attitude meant he would not continue his flying career beyond his ability to do so effectively. He reached that point last year after three decades at Qantas.

"The cards of life, in your poker hand of life, those cards have been taken off the table. I've got some pretty crappy cards now," Sullivan says. Instead of suppressing thoughts of QF72, he believes it better to admit it has affected him and seek help. "I can still play those cards, I have to. Otherwise, as we see with returning defence force personnel, police, first responders, there is the potential for depression, substance abuse or self-harm."

Maiava, a former policeman from Auckland, cherished his job as a flight attendant. It was glamorous; every trip different. "I was going to retire in that job until that happened, and my whole life just turned around," he says. He has not had paid work since and suffers chronic physical and psychological injuries. "I get spasms continuously, every day, non-stop. Those are what trigger the flashbacks, the memories, the nightmares - it just hasn't gone away," he says. He has endured six operations since 2008. "The pain is chronic; the medication I'm on is unreal. I hate it but I have to take it because it's helping me."

It has taken a toll on those closest to him. A father of five children and grandfather to eight, Maiava withdrew from family and friends, holed up in his bedroom staring out the window for hours on end. He reached a low in 2012 when he tried to take his life. He woke from a coma to find his family at his hospital bedside in tears. He now relies on strategies from psychiatrists and psychologists to improve his life, and believes telling his story will aid his recovery. "The QF72 incident has lived inside me every single day, 24/7," he says. "It controlled my life but I intend to get better."

Three years after the near-disaster, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau issues a final report. It finds incorrect data on measures such as airspeed and angle of attack (a critical parameter used to control an aircraft's pitch) was sent by one of the A330's three air-data computers - each of which has its own sensors on the fuselage - to other systems on the plane. One of the three flight control primary computers then reacted to the angle-of-attack data by commanding the plane to nosedive. While finding a "failure mode" affected the air-data unit, investigators cannot pinpoint the exact mechanism that triggered the stream of incorrect data. They reason that the failure mode was "probably initiated by a single, rare type of trigger event". The investigation pored over potential triggers such as a software bug or hardware fault but found them all unlikely.

The report also reveals that a "design limitation" in the flight control primary computer's algorithm failed to handle multiple spikes in the angle-of-attack data. Airbus later rede - signed the algorithm and Northrop Grumman, the manufacturer of the air-data units, made modifications to improve the detection of data transmission failures.

But it fails to bring closure for QF72's captain. The inability to pinpoint the trigger leaves a crucial question unanswered. The air-data unit was taking good information in and pumping out extreme data. "They don't know why it did that. And there is no result," Sullivan says. "Everything that I have done in my life was tested that day. A good pilot makes his own luck but in this case we got lucky."

A food cart can also be seen soaring into the air in the video, its contents, including scalding hot tea and coffee, raining back down on the passengers.

Ten of the plane’s 121 passengers sought treatment for their injuries after the incident, some of them for burns. The flight was chartered by ALK Airlines, based in Bulgaria.


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Airline Secrets Revealed

It doesn’t matter if being up in the air feels like a second home to you and you’re practically an honorary pilot at this point for how much you jet set — there’s a lot you probably never knew about your commercial flying experience.


1 You’re probably flying with dead bodies.

Airlines need to make money however they can, and that includes taking on additional cargo like corpses and body parts. Ever wonder how donated kidneys make it from St. Louis to Dallas, or a body is flown from one city to another? Now you do.

--->2 You should never, ever drink the coffee or tea.

Your commercial flight has only three possible ways of getting the water for that fresh brew: bottled (too expensive, you’ll need to fly private for that), bathroom tap (the same sink someone may have used to deal with air sickness after a bout of turbulence), or from a fresh tap water holding tank that’s positioned just a few inches from the human waste and trash tank on most commercial flights. You do the math, and consider a can of seltzer or bringing your own Starbucks on board.


--->3 Cabin lights get dimmed for a reason.

It’s not mood lighting, people. It’s for the sake of your eyes adjusting more easily to the outside world in the event of a crash upon landing. Less soothing than thinking your pilot just wants to create a spa-like environment, right?

--->4 Your floatation device may be missing.

While airplane designing minds decided long ago that storing floatation devices and vests under seat cushions would be a great way to maximize space and safety, they never accounted for the popularity of thieving passengers. It turns out those vests are one of the top stolen items on airplanes, and the crew hardly has time to notice. Make sure you check under your seat before taking off.

--->5 Your cell phone won’t make the plane crash.

But the signal censors up front in the cockpit are pretty sensitive, so if your pilot is up front trying to get clearance for a takeoff and you plus 30 of your favorite seat mates can’t just enjoy airplane mode for a few minutes — you’re going to delay everyone. Don’t be that person.

--->6 Nobody can tell you not to breastfeed.

If you’re up in the air and your baby is hungry or cranky, it’s your right to feed. If the passenger next to you complains or causes a stir, the cabin crew is usually obligated to relocate them, not you.

--->7 Bad passengers are seated in the kiddie section.

If for some reason your seat changes last minute and you find yourself in the middle of a family of 14 young children, it’s likely because you did something to annoy the gate agent. Yes, they can punish you, so it's best not to be rude or demanding.

--->8 Tipping is actually a custom.

The airlines don’t talk about it much because they’re all in an effort to make their planes seem cheaper than anyone else’s, but tipping has been a long understood custom of better-heeled travelers. If your flight attendant treated you well, don’t be a stranger to the $5 bill in the handshake technique at the end of your flight. Or, if you’re looking for the best possible treatment, try bringing a fully sealed box of chocolates from duty-free on board to give to the attendant helping you the most. If you’re on a long flight from JFK to Marrakesh, your effort will certainly be worth it when you ask for your 16th cup of water and a third pillow.

--->9 Your frequent flier account has a secret section where gate agents and phone representatives leave remarks.

Yes, remarks about your personality and how you treated them. So be nice — you’ll never make it to platinum elite as a sourpuss.

--->10 Even if you’re in first class, your pilot probably isn’t eating the same meal as you.

Not because he doesn’t love beef stroganoff at 35,000 feet above ground — but because most airlines don’t want to risk an entire plane full of passengers and their pilot getting food poisoning.

--->11 You should always choose online check-in if it’s available to you.

This 24-hour window before your flight takes off is literally your best shot at upgrading your seat or changing for a more desirable one. If you miss this window, even your gate agent might have a problem switching you.

--->12 Your pilot is humoring you.

When your pilot says “rough patch of air” or “turbulence” he or she usually means, “We’re flying through a horrible thunderstorm.” And yes, your plane is lightly being pelted with lightning. Don’t worry — that’s normal, but passengers tend to go nuts when they hear the truth so it’s usually not revealed.

--->13 The smoothest ride is right over the wing.

If you’re planning to sleep, pick a seat there.

--->14 There's not really a George onboard.

If you hear your pilot make a reference to that name, it's the nickname for autopilot and usually that means your real pilot wants to take a nap, visit the lav, or eat the Philly cheesesteak he smuggled onboard from his last stop.

--->15 The crew needs to rush you to their seat so they can get paid.

Did you know that getting everyone seated isn’t just a takeoff priority — it’s that the majority of air crews don’t start getting paid until the cabin door closes. So move it along!

--->16 Many flight attendants are taught self-defense as part of mandatory training.

Don’t mess with your meal service, because someone may come out with a roundhouse kick if you don’t act like a lady or gentleman.

--->17 Flight attendants love those free sanitary pads from the bathrooms.

that! - it’s about sopping up spills and stains more efficiently than with the lower quality paper towels they’re actually given. If your bathroom is emptied of pads, it’s probably because someone spilled their cocktail.

--->18 Don’t always believe the seat hype.

While the exit rows definitely offer more leg room, they typically lack the ability to recline. If you’re the type who likes to nap, cross this row off your list. They also don’t offer underseat storage, a full-size tray table, or a magazine pocket.

--->19 Coach blankets aren’t washed frequently — but first class may be.

If you're offered a fleece blanket on board, just know that many people before you have been offered the same exact one. The rule is “cheap blankets get cheap treatment,” according to a gate agent for British Airways. If you’re flying in first class, the blankets are often made with plusher materials and treated to a daily cleaning. Even daily washing might not do you much good in the germs department though. Consider bringing your own wrap or scarf.

>--->20 There’s a reason your flush is so loud.

When you do your business at home, your toilet relies on water pressure and gravity to force fluids and other things down the plumbing. When you’re in the air, changed pressure and turbulence make this near impossible, so a forceful vacuum is required to get your you-know-what from point A to point Bye.

Why do flights take longer?

Top Gun 2 Two

Today, a non-stop flight from New York city to Houston, Texas takes about 3 hours and 50 minutes..In 1973, the same flight would have taken 2 hours and 37 minutes.

Why does it takes us longer to fly the same distance? The simple answer is FUEL EFFICIENCY

Airplanes are able to save millions per year by flying slower.

From 2002 to 2012 the price of fuel went up from $0.70 per gallon to over $3 per gallon. A 2008 associated press report said jetBlue saved $13.6 million a year by adding just under two minutes to each flight.

Fuel costs are also why airlines are attempting to make planes weigh as little as possible. That involves changes to the plane itself, and charging customers fees for heavy luggage.

Flights also seem longer because of a practice called BLOCK PADDING. Airplanes add a few minutes to the expected arrival time to seem more punctual.

So... do not be fooled when airlines say you're arriving ahead of schedule!

Mark Zuckerberg just purchased two side-by-side mansions on Lake Tahoe totaling a whopping $59 million!

Why buy a lake house when you could buy an entire compound? Well if you're a multi-billionaire like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, it's seems like a wise choice. The tech giant just purchased two side-by-side mansions on Lake Tahoe totaling a whopping $59 million, according to Variety.


While the price tag is higher than probably anyone could ever imagine paying for a vacation home, it's just a kick in the bucket for a man valued around $70 billion. The pair of properties total around 10 acres, have a total of 15 bedrooms, and include numerous piers to house multiple boats.

The smaller mansion, called Carousel Estate, is a charming Tudor-style home, built back in the early 1930s. The other house, called Brushwood Estate, was built in the '60s and has two adjoining guest houses for visitors to enjoy.

Want to take a tour? Read ahead to get a look at the billionaire's lakeside escape.

Facebook News Real Estate

Lush foliage provides a bit of privacy to the founder's first estate.

Facebook News Real Estate

The view from the home just might be worth that $59 mil.

Facebook News Real Estate

The home's exterior truly has a charming feel.

Facebook News Real Estate

We have a feeling Zuck will have plenty of boats to dock up on the pier.

More on the Hitman in Ortiz case...

The suspected gunman in David Ortiz's shooting at a Dominican Republic bar was arrested Wednesday as part of a group that authorities said was offered nearly $8,000 for a coordinated hit on the former Red Sox star.

Ramon Martinez Perez, who goes by the alias Rolfie, was detained and is currently being questioned, Dominican authorities said. Eddy Vladimir Feliz Garcia, who was arrested at the scene of the Sunday night shooting at Dial Bar and Lounge in the eastern part of Santa Domingo, was charged Tuesday as an accomplice to attempted murder.

Two other men, Joel Rodriguez Cruz and Oliver Moises Mirabal Acosta, were also arrested; another suspect remains at large.

Authorities asked that Luis Alfredo Riva Clases, known as "The Surgeon," turn himself in.

Prosecutors said in court documents that two men were seen on security camera footage talking with other people in two Hyundai sedans on a nearby street before two men got on a motorcycle to ride toward the bar.

Ortiz, 43, was shot in the back and suffered severe internal damage. The shot, which exited through Ortiz's stomach, also hit one of the attackers in the leg.

Ortiz, a Dominican Republic native, had his gallbladder and part of his intestine removed by surgeons hours after the shooting.

4 Places To Visit Rather Than The Dominican Republic:

10 Veterans Who Served In the Military

Didn’t know Clint Eastwood crashed in a WWII bomber!

Not all actors had that ‘Hollywood’ life style from the get go. Some had the tough job of being in military service. These ten actors are household names, they’ve gone on to great things, and they all have one thing in common – they are veterans. Some of them made use of military education benefits to further their careers. Others used their experiences in uniform as the springboard for a life in the spotlight – thinking Chuck Norris here but was surprised about Mr T being on this list. Also didn’t know Clint Eastwood crashed in a WWII bomber.

Gene Hackman

Hackman was born in San Bernardino, California, the son of Anna Lyda Elizabeth (née Gray) and Eugene Ezra Hackman. He has a brother, Richard. He has Pennsylvania Dutch (German), English, and Scottish ancestry, and his mother was born in Lambton, Ontario. According to a plaque in a city park, he worked for a time as a dog catcher for the local animal shelter. His family moved frequently, finally settling in Danville, Illinois, where they lived in the house of his English-born maternal grandmother, Beatrice. Hackman’s father operated the printing press for the Commercial-News, a local paper. As a young teenager Hackman was in some of the same social circles as the older Dick Van Dyke at that time. Van Dyke was friends with his older brother Richard. Hackman’s parents divorced in 1943 and his father subsequently left the family.

Gene lived briefly in Storm Lake, Iowa and spent his sophomore year at Storm Lake High School.  At the age of sixteen, Hackman left home to join the United States Marine Corps, where he served four-and-a-half years as a field radio operator. He was stationed in China (Qingdao, and later in Shanghai). When the Communist Revolution was victorious in 1949, Hackman was stationed in Hawaii and Japan. After his discharge, he moved to New York, working in several minor jobs

Elvis Presley

On March 24, Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army as a private at Fort Chaffee, near Fort Smith, Arkansas. His arrival was a major media event. Hundreds of people descended on Presley as he stepped from the bus; photographers then accompanied him into the fort. Presley announced that he was looking forward to his military stint, saying he did not want to be treated any differently from anyone else: “The Army can do anything it wants with me.”

Soon after Presley commenced basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, he received a visit from Eddie Fadal, a businessman he had met on tour. According to Fadal, Presley had become convinced his career was finished—”He firmly believed that.” But then, during a two-week leave in early June, Presley recorded five songs in Nashville. In early August, his mother was diagnosed with hepatitis and her condition rapidly worsened. Presley, granted emergency leave to visit her, arrived in Memphis on August 12. Two days later, she died of heart failure, aged 46. Presley was devastated; their relationship had remained extremely close—even into his adulthood, they would use baby talk with each other and Presley would address her with pet names.

After training, Presley joined the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany, on October 1. Introduced to amphetamines by a sergeant while on maneuvers, he became “practically evangelical about their benefits”—not only for energy, but for “strength” and weight loss, as well—and many of his friends in the outfit joined him in indulging. The Army also introduced Presley to karate, which he studied seriously, later including it in his live performances. Fellow soldiers have attested to Presley’s wish to be seen as an able, ordinary soldier, despite his fame, and to his generosity. He donated his Army pay to charity, purchased TV sets for the base, and bought an extra set of fatigues for everyone in his outfit

Chuck Norris

Norris has described his childhood as downbeat. He was nonathletic, shy, and scholastically mediocre.His father, Ray, worked intermittently as an automobile mechanic, and went on alcohol drinking binges that lasted for months at a time. Embarrassed by his father’s behavior and the family’s financial plight, Norris developed a debilitating introversion that lasted for his entire childhood.

He joined the United States Air Force as an Air Policeman (AP) in 1958 and was sent to Osan Air Base, South Korea. It was there that Norris acquired the nickname Chuck and began his training in Tang Soo Do (tangsudo), an interest that led to black belts in that art and the founding of the Chun Kuk Do (“Universal Way”) form. When he returned to the United States, he continued to serve as an AP at March Air Force Base in California.

Norris was discharged in August 1962. He worked for the Northrop Corporation and opened a chain of Karate schools including a storefront school in his then-hometown of Torrance on Hawthorne Boulevard. Norris’ official website lists celebrity clients at the schools; among them Steve McQueen, Chad McQueen, Bob Barker, Priscilla Presley, Donny Osmond and Marie Osmond.

Jimi Hendrix

Before Hendrix was 19 years old, law enforcement authorities had twice caught him riding in stolen cars. When given a choice between spending time in prison or joining the Army, he chose the latter and enlisted on May 31, 1961. After completing eight weeks of basic training at Fort Ord, California, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division and stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He arrived there on November 8, and soon afterward he wrote to his father: “There’s nothing but physical training and harassment here for two weeks, then when you go to jump school … you get hell. They work you to death, fussing and fighting.” In his next letter home, Hendrix, who had left his guitar at his girlfriend Betty Jean Morgan’s house in Seattle, asked his father to send it to him as soon as possible, stating: “I really need it now.” His father obliged and sent the red Silvertone Danelectro on which Hendrix had hand-painted the words “Betty Jean”, to Fort Campbell. His apparent obsession with the instrument contributed to his neglect of his duties, which led to verbal taunting and physical abuse from his peers, who at least once hid the guitar from him until he had begged for its return.

In November 1961, fellow serviceman Billy Cox walked past an army club and heard Hendrix playing guitar. Intrigued by the proficient playing, which he described as a combination of “John Lee Hooker and Beethoven”, Cox borrowed a bass guitar and the two jammed. Within a few weeks, they began performing at base clubs on the weekends with other musicians in a loosely organized band called the Casuals.

Hendrix completed his paratrooper training in just over eight months, and Major General C.W.G. Rich awarded him the prestigious Screaming Eagles patch on January 11, 1962. By February, his personal conduct had begun to draw criticism from his superiors. They labeled him an unqualified marksman and often caught him napping while on duty and failing to report for bed checks. On May 24, Hendrix’s platoon sergeant, James C. Spears, filed a report in which he stated: “He has no interest whatsoever in the Army … It is my opinion that Private Hendrix will never come up to the standards required of a soldier. I feel that the military service will benefit if he is discharged as soon as possible.” On June 29, 1962, Captain Gilbert Batchman granted Hendrix an honorable discharge on the basis of unsuitability. Hendrix later spoke of his dislike of the army and falsely stated that he had received a medical discharge after breaking his ankle during his 26th parachute jump.

Charlton Heston

In 1944, Heston enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces. He served for two years as a radio operator and aerial gunner aboard a B-25 Mitchell stationed in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands with the 77th Bombardment Squadron of the Eleventh Air Force.  He reached the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Heston married Northwestern University student Lydia Marie Clarke, who was six months his senior. That same year he joined the military. After his rise to fame, Heston narrated for highly classified military and Department of Energy instructional films, particularly relating to nuclear weapons, and “for six years Heston [held] the nation’s highest security clearance” or Q clearance.” The Q clearance is similar to a DoD or Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) clearance of Top Secret.

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