Survival in The Sky
January 17, 2009 1:16 AM   Subscribe

Known as Black Box in the UK, Survival in the Sky was a four-episode 1996 series about commercial aviation accidents and the investigation of their causes. (Two additional episodes were filmed in 1998.) Not currently available on DVD, five of the six episodes are available in their entirety on YouTube (links within).

The series, narrated by Will Lyman, is notable for being produced with the cooperation of the NTSB and AAIB, and is a studied and thoughtful contrast to the much more frenetic Seconds from Disaster, a recent series which often focuses on aviation disasters. Survival in the Sky features a minimum of CGI recreation and no dramatic reenactments, instead allowing period footage and compelling interviews with survivors, air crew, experts, and investigators tell the story.

Please see the wikipedia entry for a synopsis of the specific incidents each episode explores, and beware that there are a few moments in the show which take an unblinking look at the aftermath of aviation disasters.

The episodes (missing the 1998 program about Flight 800):
  • "Blaming the Pilot" (1996) [1 2 3 4 5]
  • "Deadly Weather" (1996) [1 2 3 4 5]
  • "A Wing and a Prayer" (1996) [1 2 3 4 5]
  • "Crash Detectives" (1996) [1 2 3 4 5]
  • "Sky Crimes" (1998) [1 2 3 4 5]
posted by maxwelton (12 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
wow, that's a great program.
posted by krautland at 5:09 AM on January 17, 2009

I saw it on UKTV Gold when I was in England. I think my favorite show about flight is the one about the plane that landed in the Canary islands entirely with the power of the pilot and this little, tiny back-up propeller. fascinating.
posted by parmanparman at 6:17 AM on January 17, 2009

You're thinking of the 767 landing in Gimli, Manitoba in 1986. The little propeller comes out of the fuselage and provides just a wee bit of hydraulic power.
posted by crapmatic at 8:05 AM on January 17, 2009

The Gimli Glider was, as you said, a B767, but something similar happened to an Airbus A330 over the Atlantic a few years later - Air Transat 236. It actually landed at the Azores, rather than the Canaries, but was impressive airmanship nonetheless - gliding for about 20 minutes after a fuel leak (and some stupid choices by the pilots, but that's easy to say in hindsight) to land safely with a few injuries and minor damage to the aircraft.

The propeller in question is a RAT, or Ram Air Turbine. It's basically a small wind turbine used to provide emergency power to drive the aircraft hydraulic systems if the engines and APU (auxiliary power unit) are not available. It actually works in the opposite sense of a regular aircraft propeller, taking the forward motion of the aircraft and using it to generate energy, instead of the other way round.

Urgh, 3 wikipedia links in 2 paragraphs. I feel dirty.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:37 AM on January 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

There's a fairly modern version of this by National Geographic called Air Crash Investigations (or Mayday or Air Emergency, depending where you live).

Some episodes - (wiki [youtubery]): There are assloads more on the YouTubes, but I got tired of linking.
/air disaster junkie
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:25 AM on January 17, 2009 [3 favorites]

please don't post great links like these on a Saturday when I have deadlines, maxwelton.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:31 AM on January 17, 2009

I've been watching these all day because I just. can't. stop. The demonstration in the first linked episode, with the pilot and copilot in a simulator, was particularly sobering for me. I was able to graphically see/hear what kind of screaming alarms/panic/sheer terror that Sullenberger and his crew would have had to calmly make the right decisions through in order to safely ditch the plane. I'm pretty good in a crisis but nowhere NEAR that good.
posted by hecho de la basura at 12:16 PM on January 17, 2009

I was able to graphically see/hear what kind of screaming alarms/panic/sheer terror

That struck me as well. It's like the various alarms and klaxons are designed to induce sheer terror into the cockpit crew. I was impressed with the professionalism of everyone they talked to throughout the episodes, but particularly the crew of United 232 in the third episode. I'd fly on their airplanes any day.

Some of the footage bordered on the surreal; the journalist who finds the few, injured, dazed survivors of (what I believe was) Air Inter 148 sitting around the burning wreckage, trying to stay warm, while hundreds of potential rescuers idle nearby--you'd laugh if that was a plot point on a TV drama. And yet.

I had never seen the show before and watched all five hours yesterday. Thanks for the links, C_D, I have a deadline which I will never make if I start exploring those today.
posted by maxwelton at 12:44 PM on January 17, 2009

excellent stuff, thanks.
posted by Busithoth at 2:44 PM on January 17, 2009

Oh boy, those scenes of the survivors being pulled out of the Potomac are *intense*.
posted by forallmankind at 8:24 PM on January 17, 2009

I remember watching this show when it was first aired and it was excellent.
posted by ob at 9:58 PM on January 17, 2009

Survival in the Sky features a minimum of CGI recreation
What's wrong with CGI? Usually computer graphics help me get the bigger picture. When I watch period footage I'm often lost in all the details and have a hard time grasping how little events contribute to a larger accident.

If I can choose between looking at Seconds From Disaster's sparse blue background with (say) a faulty part highlighted in yellow, or looking at footage of a complex machine and attempting to spot the crack, I'll choose CGI.
posted by Monochrome at 10:42 PM on January 21, 2009

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