Thursday, December 23, 1999


PHILADELPHIA -- Arthur Alan Wolk, the lawyer and aviation expert who immediately revealed the flaws in the conduct of the flight crew of Swissair 111 and the serious electrical safety defects in the MD-11 within hours of the crash, has filed his first lawsuit for a victim of the crash, a New Jersey resident, who lost her husband.

The lawsuit, which seeks damages of over $500,000,000, including compensatory and punitive damages against Swissair, Delta Air Lines, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas, claims that Swissair improperly maintained the aircraft and failed to provide adequate training and information to the pilots so they would recognize the seriousness of an in-flight fire, which they could not possibly hope to fight in the air.

Wolk also faults Boeing and McDonnell Douglas for knowing that the aircraft had wiring deficiencies and flammable insulation, and failing to provide the flight crews with either a means to fight the fire or isolating various systems so that the crew would not be flying blind as a result of electrical failures as a complication of the fire. Wolk also faults Boeing and McDonnell Douglas for failing to provide adequate instructions and manuals to the flight crew so that they would recognize immediately the seriousness of the problem and their complete inability to deal with it.

Finally, Wolk faults the flight crew for apparently failing to know where they were and how close they were to the nearest airport so they could effectively get the aircraft on the ground before a fire made control impossible.

Wolk will be at the forefront of the lawsuits arising out of Swissair 111, and has been involved in most major airline crashes as an attorney for the victims.

Wednesday, October 27, 1999


Arthur Alan Wolk Uses Portion Of  Fee To Establish Group To Improve Aircarft Fire Safety

PHILADELPHIA- - Oct. 27, 1999 - Arthur Alan Wolk, internationally-known aviation attorney based in Philadelphia, on Friday, October 22, achieved a landmark first domestic settlement from Swissair flight 111. Today, Wolk announced that he is donating a portion of his fee to establish a panel of unbiased experts to study and recommend critical improvements in aircraft wiring and fire safety.

The settlement, reached on behalf of the family of 37-year-old Richard Coburn, a husband and father of three, formerly of East Brunswick, NJ, is hoped to be the first of many from the tragic plunge into the waters of Halifax, Nova Scotia of a Swissair MD-11. Wolk and Coburn's widow both hope to achieve some lasting benefit from the tragedy by working to improve aviation safety.

The cause of this accident is still under investigation by Canadian and U.S. authorities. Privately, however, most agree that Wolk's assessment, made within hours of the crash was correct - - that the disaster was preventable.

Wolk has been on the plaintiffs' steering committees of most of the country's major aircrash disasters and has correctly identified the causes of each disaster well in advance of the release of official findings. He is also credited with many times providing vital information to government investigators.

Wolk, who is a member of the Swissair 111 plaintiffs' steering committee; the group that is guiding all of the victims' cases through the courts, says that this early settlement will accelerate the process of closure for victims' families whose agony has been prolonged due to the lack of settlements thus far.

"Now the Coburn family will be secure with Richard Coburn's legacy and can begin the most important job of cherishing the memory of their wonderful husband and father. By working to improve aviation safety it is our hope that no other family will again suffer such unspeakable pain," said Wolk.

For more information, please contact Mr. Wolk at his office, 215-545-4220.

Thursday, September 23, 1999


Transcripts just released between the pilots of SwissAir Flight 111, and Air Traffic Controllers, reveal a lack of urgency that consumed precious minutes, which could have avoided the crash, says Arthur Alan Wolk, pilot, aviation lawyer, and crash expert.

The transcripts show that the aircraft was at 30,000 feet, and only thirty miles from the airport, when the pilots reported smoke in the cockpit. Instead of commencing an emergency descent, and heading directly for the runway, the SwissAir pilots made several, time consuming, turns, and dumped fuel, spending nearly ten more minutes in the air than they had too.

The MD-11 could have been landed overweight without difficulty, and given the lack of any adequate means, while airborne, to fight a fire. Declaration of an emergency, at once, and a landing, at the closest airport, at any weight, was the only appropriate procedure.

We have learned, from aircraft fires, historically, that the only procedure that has a prayer of avoiding an accident, is the quickest possible descent and landing.

Wolk has calculated the shortest time possible, from report of smoke, by the flight crew, and the crash, and has concluded that landing could have taken place seven minutes after the first communication. Radar contact was lost, with the flight, 16 minutes after the crew radioed Pan an urgent, but not distress, radio call.

It's easy to second guess this crew, Wolk cautions, but perhaps this accident points up the need to revisit cockpit procedures when smoke is reported in the cockpit or cabin. The capabilities of the MD-11 to descend safely and swiftly, and land overweight, without risk, makes this crash wholly preventable.

We should not lose sight of the fact that since it was introduced, in 1991, the MD-11 has had no less than nine FAA mandated airworthiness directives concerning potential fires and smoke from wiring bundles and connectors. Not only should a directed safety investigation be ordered, at once, on MD-11 wiring, but decisions on whether to treat smoke as a life threatening emergency, aboard an aircraft, should no longer be a judgment call by the flight deck crew, Wolk suggests.

We'll never know if the pilots were concerned how they would be viewed by the chief pilot if they had declared an emergency, right away, and landed overweight, and the smoke was found to be inconsequential. Eliminating their choice in the matter may avoid such concerns, in the future, delaying safety-of-flight critical decisions.

Thursday, August 5, 1999


Swissair and McDonnell Douglas/Boeing have perpetrated the most cruel hoax possibly imaginable on the victims of Swissair 111.

In open court before the Honorable James T. Giles, those defendants in some 170 lawsuits filed following the crash, told the court that they have agreed to share in the responsibility for the crash of Swissair 111 and not to contest liability for compensatory damages for the U.S. victims of the crash. There was, however, a proviso which was lost on most of the attendees, but not on the Plaintiffs' Steering Committee responsible to the victims of the crash to see to it that they are properly compensated. The lawyers for Swissair and Boeing conditioned their offer on the application of the Death on the High Seas Act that there be a forum non conveniens decision which would eliminate all foreign claimants against Boeing/McDonnell Douglas for product liability and a decision by the court to throw out the Article 28 cases (under the Warsaw Convention), in other words, all those foreign travelers who purchased their tickets abroad.

In short, this cruel hoax was an effort to grandstand before the public and the press in an attempt to appear that Swissair and Boeing were owning up to their unmistakable responsibility for this accident.

What is it that they really offered, however? First, the Death on the High Seas Act, which doesn't even apply to this accident, may allow for recovery of economic damages only for those who are financially dependent upon the deceased. In short, the value of the cases for children on the aircraft would be virtually nothing. The value of the loss of society, companionship, loss of guidance and tutelage, fear of impending death, pain and suffering, and all of those intangible, non-economic items which are truly the measure of the loss of a person, might not be recoverable under the Death on the High Seas Act.

The Death on the High Seas Act, in fact, is so tenuous that both Houses of Congress have voted to either eliminate it retroactively to the crash of TWA 800, which preceded Swissair 111, or vastly limit its impact. Indeed, the crash of Swissair 111 didn't happen on the High Seas, but in Canadian territorial waters.
Nonetheless, Boeing/McDonnell Douglas and Swissair would want to eliminate most of the damages recoverable by requiring as a condition of their payment the application of the hideous limitations that are imposed by a statute which most everyone agrees has long since outlived its usefulness.

In addition, in this world economy, the defendants would have the court throw out all claims for those on the aircraft who were not U.S. citizens, regardless of the basis of their claim.

The MD-11 was designed, certified and manufactured in California. It is supported both with respect to parts, service instructions, service bulletins and airworthiness directives from the United States. The pilot flight manuals were created in the United States, and supplements prepared, even to this day, in the United States. All the wiring, flammable insulation and virtually all of the installations that may be relevant to this accident and its cause occurred in the United States or by designers or manufacturers in the United States. Notwithstanding these facts, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing claim that it is not convenient for the litigation against them to take place in the United States. Where are the designers? Where are the certification people? Where are the people who built the aircraft? They are right here in the United States. Where are the people who designed and built the entertainment system? They are in the United States. The home office of McDonnell Douglas was in St. Louis, Missouri.

To have it the way the defendants want it, an American sitting in seat 4-A would have an entirely different recovery and different law applied to his recovery than a person sitting in seat 4-B. If the person sitting in 4-B happened to be a child even from the U.S., there would virtually no recovery. If the person in 4-A was a man who had no one dependent upon him, there would be virtually no recovery. If the person in 4-C was a Swiss citizen, there would be virtually no recovery except that provided under Swiss law.

Instead of resolving all of the cases in one single place before a Judge uniquely qualified to handle the case, in a court designed to handle such disasters, with procedures established to facilitate the administration of justice, the defendants would have two-thirds of the cases sent to twelve different countries, the application of twelve different sets of laws, with only God knows how much delay.

The only thing worse than the crash of Swissair 111 into Peggy's Cove last September was the charade on the public, the world press and, worse, the court that Swissair, McDonnell Douglas and Boeing pulled on August 5, 1999.

For more information about Swissair Flight 111, call Arthur Alan Wolk, Esq. at (215) 545-4220.

Friday, April 23, 1999


Aviation attorney, Arthur Alan Wolk, who has done substantial research in the field of aircraft fires, notes that the United States Navy refused to allow the continued use of Kapton in Navy fighters because of its poor performance, specifically its propensity for arcing and the propagation of dangerous fire-producing sparks. The FAA was made aware long before this crash that Kapton was a hazardous wiring for use in aircraft, yet did not mandate more stringent inspections of aircraft in which Kapton was used as electrical insulation.

Kapton was described by DuPont, its manufacturer, as having "outstanding thermal, mechanical, chemical and electrical properties." In fact, Boeing engineers concluded that Kapton was completely unsuitable because when wires arced within the Kapton insulation, Kapton became a carbon track, allowing further propagation of the electrical arcing, much like a dynamite fuse.

This clearly made Kapton a bomb waiting to go off in any aircraft in which it was utilized.

It is indefensible that both the FAA and the manufacturer of this aircraft would permit the use of electrical wiring in a civilian, passenger carrying airliner, knowing that in an aircraft in which the crew is equipped with an ejection seat, the material was found to be unsuitable because of its fire and arcing propagation characteristics, says Wolk.

This will be undoubtedly a very ugly and embarrassing investigation for the industry and a further embarrassment to the FAA, which already has thousands of lives etched on its tombstone of ineptitude, says Wolk.

Tuesday, March 23, 1999

Attorney Specializing in Aviation: NTSB Investigation of the Boeing 737 Took Longer Than it Did to Conceive, Design, Certify, Produce And Field the Aircraft


In response to the NTSB's March 23, 1999, hearings on the USAir 427 accident, Attorney Arthur Alan Wolk, who has focused his efforts in the field of air crash litigation, issued the following opinion:

The National Transportation Safety Board, which is about to announce its long awaited conclusions on the causes of the crash of USAir 427, which occurred on September 8, 1994, and United 585, which occurred on March 3, 1991, took longer to complete its investigation of these two accidents than it did for Boeing to conceive, design, certify, produce, and field the Boeing 737.

Not only did it take too long, but from statements issued by both the NTSB and the Federal Aviation Administration, it is clear that both of those agencies of government still don't have a clue either about why the rudder of the Boeing 737 has a mind of its own or the means to fix it. In short, eight years after 25 people were killed in United 585, five years after 132 people were killed in USAir 427, and six years after more than 100 people were killed in Copa 201, the Boeing 737 still is not fixed.

The FAA, in the face of pending recommendations that a dual rudder actuating system be installed in all existing Boeing 737s to prevent the single actuator causing a crash, has said, "There is no data to suggest planes with dual power control units are less prone to an in-flight upset than the 737." It also pointed out that a 737 "is equipped with a standby rudder system that serves a similar purpose." This statement demonstrates that the Federal Aviation Administration, the agency of government responsible for ensuring the safety of flight and for certifying the Boeing 737, still doesn't understand how the rudder control system of that aircraft works. The standby rudder actuator on a Boeing 737 has absolutely no role to play in serving to prevent a rudder hardover caused by an errant rudder power control unit. In fact, because of defects in the standby rudder actuator, it can actually make the situation worse. These statements, then, from the FAA are even more frightening in the face of this lengthy investigation and at least three accidents taking hundreds of lives. It means that the FAA still doesn't have a clue about the fundamental and basic operation of an aircraft that it certified.

The problem is very simple. The Boeing 737 is the only transport category airplane that has a single actuator for the rudder, which is in violation of the federal regulations which require redundancy. Boeing got around the redundancy requirement by performing an analysis, without flight tests, that established that the chance of failure was so remote, it didn't have to have a redundant design. The FAA went along with it, and it was wrong. In fact, the FAA and Boeing admit that the Failure Modes and Effects Analysis performed to obtain that certification was wrong. Therefore, certification was wrong. Therefore, the airplane should have been grounded or fixed. It is neither.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that the rudder was the cause of at least three unsolved Boeing 737 rollover accidents in the last decade, the FAA recently granted certification to three new 737 models, the -600, -700 and -800 Series. In a stunning abdication of its responsibility to ensure safety, the FAA granted that certification with, yes, a single rudder actuator in each of those aircraft. In short, the advanced model Boeing 737 being produced at the rate of 24 a month continue to have the same fundamental flaw that the 3,000 existing 737s have -- no redundancy in the rudder control system.

The FAA also claims that now pilots are being trained to handle the problem of a runaway rudder. This also demonstrates that the FAA is out of the loop and out of touch with the reality of airline pilot training. The advanced maneuvers training (or upset training, as it has been called by the pilots) presumes that the rudder malfunction no longer exists. In other words, the rudder, which may have gone to full travel and caused the airplane to be upset in the first place, has now returned to its normal position. Unfortunately, when the rudder fails in a Boeing 737, it stays there, so all the upset training and all the advanced maneuvers training in the world won't protect the crew and passengers of a Boeing 737 with an errant rudder.

The FAA and the NTSB also laud the changes that were recommended by the NTSB and implemented in Boeing 737 rudder control systems. These included an inspection to determine that adverse tolerances in the manufacture of the servo valve in the rudder could not stack up and cause a malfunction, changes in the design of the servo valve purportedly to prevent rudder malfunction, and the addition of a rudder limiter that would keep the rudder from going full travel and, therefore, allow the pilots to regain control using the ailerons on the wings, which could overpower the rudder. Unfortunately, none of those changes either has or will work to prevent an accident under the most critical phases of flight -- landing and takeoff.

The rudder limiter is designed not to function at altitudes 700' above the ground and below on landing and 1,000' above the ground and below on takeoff. So at a point in time when the crew has the least possible altitude within which to regain control of the aircraft, the potential for rudder malfunction is uncorrected. Even with the current modifications, the United 585 crash in Colorado Springs would still likely have occurred.
There is always a risk when interpretation of safety regulations is stretched, strained, winked at or disregarded, and that is, an accident. How many more accidents? How many more people will die before those who should be held accountable are held accountable?

According to the NTSB, there may be recommendations to split the rudder of the 737, like the 727 rudder, and use two actuators to provide a level of redundancy required by the regulations, and certainly called for by the accident history. The FAA and Boeing decry such a recommendation, claiming that it would harm the systems in the aircraft and be expensive. Neither the agency responsible for safety nor the manufacturer of the aircraft ultimately responsible for safety address the harm to the other set of systems which will result from the failure to implement these necessary modifications, and that is the systems of the human beings aboard these aircraft. It is those systems that need to be protected at all cost.

But what is perhaps most indefensible in this flurry of sound bites and competition among federal agencies to gain the political upper hand of looking like they are doing something to help the public in the face of an inexcusable eight year delay is the abject failure to appreciate how modern technology can make correction of the 737's flaws far less expensive and less complicated than envisaged or complained of.

We live in a fly-by-wire technology era, where wires instead of hydraulic lines and electric actuators instead of hydraulic actuators are the way aircraft are designed and built. In short, the Boeing 737 can have a second actuator electrically operated and driven and equipped with a comparator, such that if the hydraulic actuator and the electrical actuator don't agree, the rudder will not move. It's cheap, it's simple, it can be implemented relatively quickly, and it can solve the problem.

With regard to the 737 Advanced model aircraft and the certification without rudder activator redundancy, while the NTSB sat back and let it happen, shame on the U.S. Government, shame on the FAA, and shame on the NTSB.

These new airplanes should never have been certificated without a dual rudder actuator, and had the NTSB applied enough pressure, they wouldn't have been. The NTSB has demonstrated a lack of accuracy and thoroughness in accident investigation historically, but now delay can be added to its list of inadequacies.
It is stunning that the first scanning electron micrographs of the United 585 rudder control servo valve that were obtained by the NTSB, were obtained not as a result of its own metallurgical analysis of this suspect component, but of photographs that were supplied by none other than an expert hired by Arthur Alan Wolk. It is stunning that the NTSB didn't know until weeks ago that the servo valve of both United 585 and USAir 427 had metal burrs left in them during manufacture that were not in compliance with the drawings; in other words, manufacturing defects, and that those burrs could cause jamming of the slides of the rudder actuator. It is frightening to think that eight years after initiating an investigation into the crashes of three airplanes full of people that the NTSB is just getting around to having a hearing to tell people what everybody in the industry knew within hours of the accidents -- they were all caused by the rudder, and if you have an airplane with a single rudder actuator, when the regulations require two, that's probably why the rudder caused the accident.
The FAA, Boeing and the NTSB say that the necessary changes in the 737 already in the process of being implemented make a safe airplane even safer. Statistically, that's probably true. After all, 90,000,000 hours and only a few crashes that we know were caused by the rudder. That's a pretty good record. So, I guess then, we have abandoned the principle that when we actually know of a reason for an aircraft crash, it must be fixed so that others will not lose their lives.

So, really instead of having a little machine that checks your boarding pass when you get on a Boeing 737, each passenger should simply spin a roulette wheel, because that is exactly the gamble every passenger and every crew member takes when he or she gets aboard a Boeing 737 with a single rudder actuator. I suggest your carry-on bag should be a parachute!

Friday, January 22, 1999


 -- Jan. 22, 1999 -- According to Philadelphia aviation attorney, Arthur Alan Wolk, analysis of the cockpit voice recorder of Swissair 111 reveals a disagreement between the captain and first officer on the appropriate procedures to be followed when smoke began filling the cockpit.

The first officer recommended that the aircraft be landed immediately, and the captain declined that recommendation. That decision was fatal to the crew and all the passengers aboard.
Fire in an aircraft cabin is one of the most serious emergencies that can affect an aircraft in-flight. An emergency descent and landing is the only procedure that can save the aircraft. There was nothing to prevent Swissair 111 from making a safe landing within minutes of the first discovery of smoke, and nothing would have presented any danger to the passengers or crew by landing slightly overweight on a runway that was more than ample.

It is sad that so many lost their lives, but hopefully this will remove any doubt from any airline and from any flight crew that smoke in an aircraft is not a time for a majority vote; it's the time for the fastest possible emergency landing at the nearest airport, regardless of the circumstances.

Although immediately following the crash Swissair denied that such a landing was possible, analysis of procedures in the MD-11 flight manual reveal that such a landing at Halifax could have been safely made within seven minutes of the discovery of smoke -- about half the time the aircraft remained airborne after that discovery.

Other parts of the investigation may reveal that electronic engine controls need to be isolated from electrical faults so that loss of engine power does not complicate the emergency landing process. There is much more to be learned from the investigation of this crash, but one thing is certain -- there is neither adequate means nor training currently available to fight a fire in an aircraft in-flight, in spite of the well-worn but true statement "where there's smoke there's fire".