”The Report” on Danish National Broadcasting – DR1

SAS’ Black Box

On September 13th 2001 The Danish National Broadcasting Corp. aired a special edition of the investigative program The Report. For the first time the program lasted a full hour as opposed the the usual 30 minutes. The title SAS’ Black Box (Scandinavian Airlines System) var a hint to the event that were hidden i the history of the renowned airline. I was one of two producers on the program.

Explosive wires led to SAS

The idea had come about during the research for a previous edition of The Report about one year ealier. That program was about a certain type of wiring insulation, which was used in half the world’s passenger jets and in a wide range of military jets as well. However, investigations at both Boeing and the Pentagon and at the Swedish aircraft manufacturer SAAB had revealed that the insulation was explosive! Not excactly the most comforting characteristic for a material which is used by the pounds and miles on an aircraft.

The explanation for this is a fairly technical one, but in short it goes that if the Kapton insulation on just one wire in a bundle of wires (wires are routed in large, thick bundles around the hull of an aircraft) would crack, and this is common, once the aircraft reaches a certain age, then sparks from the exposed metal wire would jump to adjecent wires in the bundle. The phenomenon is known as arc tracking. This could set off explosions which - in the worst case – could ignite other materials on board the plane. Kapton was – and is – under suspision in numerous accidents and incidents involving fire on board aircraft.

US whistleblowers in the program

Both Boeing and the Pentagon had attempted to keep a lid on the lethal risks of Kapton documented by the investigations mentioned above. But within both organizations a whistleblower revealed the test results. I visited the USA to interview both these whistleblowers, Ed Block, the Pentagon’s former top expert on aircraft wiring, and Patrick Price, a former chief technician at Boeing.

The lid was coming off the SAS’ Black Box
During the research for the Kapton program, I came across several interesting people in Denmark. I was trying to find people with a knowledge of Kapton – also within SAS. However, I soon came to realize that noone within the company could – or would – help me. Dangerous wiring on aircraft is not something that is talked about. So I started searching among former SAS captains, who might be able to help me. I first same across Stefan Rasmussen and then Oluf Husted. Both are former SAS captains, but the first mentioned is considerably more famous than the second. Neither of them knew anything about Kapton.
But they knew a lot of other things – about SAS.

Safety in SAS – then and now

This was the beginning of more than six months of research into the traditions for safety in SAS. The result appeared on screen on September 13th, 2001, but practically drowned in the round the clock coverage of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon just two days earlier. SAS’ Black Box was by the way originally set to be aired on September 11th...!A few days before the program was to air, I drafted the usual press release to all Newspapers. The release sums up the contents of the programme very well, so we’ve chosen to re-release it here:

PRESS RELEASE

Hidden in the black box

A one hour special of ”The Report” will reveal, how the renowned Scandinavian airline SAS for long periods of time and in particular cases have appearently set aside the concern for passengers’ safety favouring income and profit instead.

For long periods of time SAS have had alarming problems with flight safety. Problems, which the SAS board members were personally informed about, but which still don’t appear in the stock exchange prospect called SAS, One Stock that the board presented to the public and to stock holders a few months ago.
The Report Special will show viewers and passengers, what secrets the board and SAS are hiding in the company’s black box.

The program also focuses on the Transportation Secretary, Jakob Buksti’s, firing of Jørn Madsen, who thought that the same rules and regulation, which apply to other airlines, also applied to SAS.
Jørn Madsen was hired by the Department of Transportation to clean up The Danish Aircraft Accident Investigation Board after a period of years with internal problems.
It is the job of the board to investigate accidents and serious incidents with aircraft in Denmark. Jørn Madsen was given the job by the Department of Transportation of making sure that airlines and the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board as opposed to previous times complied with the law with regards to such investigations. This, among other things, means that an airline must report an accident or a serious incident – which is when something is very close to an accident – to the Accident Investigation Board, immediately after it has occured. It also means that the Accident Investigation Board must investigate such accidents and serious incidents independently.

Jørn Madsen took the job seriously. This led to a long hard fight with especially SAS, who wouldn’t just let outsiders look into the airlines’ matters. The fight climaxed in 2000, when an engine on an SAS aircraft had an uncontained engine failure shortly after take-off from Copenhagen Airport, Kastrup. Jørn Madsen impounded the engine in order to make an independent investigation of it, and SAS objected fircely – also to the Secretary of Transportation. A few months after the accident the Secretary of Transportation, Jakob Buksti, fired Jørn Madsen as head of the Accident Investigation Board. The cause was poor cooperation with the airlines.

The Report Special reveals the sherade behind the firing. A sherade, which involves money and passenger’s safety. SAS, the Department of Transportation, and the Danish Civil Aviation Administration (SLV), which is the other aviation authority under the Department of Transportation and secratary of Transportation, Jakob Buksti, pulled the strings, and for the first time ever Jørn Madsen tells the story of how authorities led by the Department of Transportation supported SAS at the expence of the indepence required by law of the Accident Investigation Board.
The program has also investigated one of the worst disasters for SAS. On December 27th 1991 captain Stefan Rasmussen crashed in a snowy field just outside of Stockholm, Sweden, carrying 123 passengers on borad. The Report Special brings new revelations to light concerning the SAS’ role in the accident, and Stefan Rasmussen tells his whole story.


The program led to a case with the Danish Press Council brought forth by SAS againt The Report. Despite the fact that we had tried for months to get SAS to comment on the disturbing documentation and revelations, which we could air on the program, SAS didn’t agree to an interview until the very last moment. The interview was set to take place with accountable manager Marie Ehrling. However, she barely could – or would – answer any of our questions, once the camera was rolling. The outcome was that on the final version of the one hour program we used a mere 8 seconds from the interview, which in total had lasted about 1 hour. This offended SAS to such an extent that they dragged the entire program and the Danish National Broadcasting Corp. before the Press Council – and lost with a crash. The Council found no reason whatsoever to critizise The Report.

Below you will find a link to the verdict from the Danish Press Council concerning the case mentioned above. Unfortunately, the verdict is only available in Danish, but we have translated the verdict into English.
For a brief summary of the complaint, see above.

Verdict:
The Press Council notes that according to the priciple of the media’s sovereign right to edit, the media is entitled to edit recorded interviews and to refrain from using collected information.

The complaint concerns, whether a few seconds of an interview in a one hour program is in accordance with ”sound press ethics”. In his complaint the plaintif has not stated, which points the Danish National Broadcasting Corp. has left out, but should have aired. The conuncil has no knowledge of the remaining contents of the interview with accountable manager, Marie Ehrling, to which the complaint refers.

The Council does not find that it can set up guidelines for how large parts of a recorded interview the media should actually air.

As the case has been presented before the council, the council has no opportunity to decide, if SAS should have been heard on certain points. The council therefore finds no grounds for critizicing the Danish National Broadcasting Corp.

http://www.retsinfo.dk/_GETDOC_/ACCN/W20020907725-afgrTARGET=


Only a few weeks later SAS lost a similar case with the Press Council brought forth against the magazine ”The Engineer”. Below you will find a brief summary of the case, the verdict, and a link to the original verdict (only available in Danish).

Summary:

The magazine had published a portrait interview of the CEO of a large corporation (the CEO of SAS, Jørgen Lindegaard, editor). The plaintiff had approved the article, whereafter the magazine added some negative information concerning the plaintiff’s corporation, which had not been presented to the plaintiff. The plaintiff considered the added information to be false and thought that this was a violation of their agreement concerning the article. The council stated that the magazine had the right to edit the article and noted that in addition it did not appear as if the plaintiff had accepted the allegations, which had not been presented to him. Sound press ethics had not been violated.

http://www.retsinfo.dk/_GETDOC_/ACCN/W20020914125-afgrTARGET=


 

Whistleblowing in aviation

I June 2010 Nele Sienknecht turned in her bachelor at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. Thebachelor was entitled "SAS Skandal Airlines" and is a thesis on whistleblowing and reporting systems in the aviation industry. The thesis only exists in a German version sofar, and can be downloaded here.

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