Posted by: harrisonjones | July 21, 2017

Excerpt From Miracle on Buffalo Pass

 Miracle on Buffalo Pass will be released worldwide on September 23, 2017. The book documents the events of Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217 on December 4, 1978 and I’m happy to share a brief excerpt from the opening chapter. Click on the photo page to view more photos from the book.

         Flight 216 was late. Not an unusual turn of events for the winter of 1978 in Colorado. The departure from Denver had been delayed, and now strong headwinds were restricting the progress to Steamboat Springs. Captain Scott Klopfenstein and First Officer Gary Coleman prepared for the descent and approach and waited to clear the mountains east of Steamboat. The mountain range was not only an obstacle to navigation—it was also significant for several other reasons. On the west side of the range, the famous Steamboat Ski Resort could be found, and that would eventually be the destination for most of the passengers aboard Flight 216. The east side of the range constituted the Routt National Forest and nothing but wilderness. The ridge line at the top of the range not only divided ski slopes from wilderness, it also divided the United States of America. The squiggly line on a map represented the Continental Divide.
The aircraft’s distance measuring equipment (DME) was not operating to give the pilots a mileage readout to Steamboat making it necessary for them to cross reference two navigation stations to calculate when they would be beyond the mountain and it would be safe to descend. The DME was not required for the flight, but nonetheless very useful in that it would normally display an accurate mileage readout to any navigation station within 200 miles. The Denver Air Traffic Control Center did not provide radar service at the lower altitudes in the Steamboat area, although radio communications were usually good. Despite the strong headwinds and cloud cover, the flight was smooth with surprisingly little turbulence.
When Air Traffic Control cleared Flight 216 to descend, First Officer Coleman read the clearance back and glanced out the cockpit window to inspect the wing and propeller on the right side of the aircraft. Satisfied there was no ice accumulation, he continued to monitor the instruments and review the approach procedure for Steamboat Springs. The weather at the airport was reported as overcast at 2000 feet above the ground and six-miles visibility with light winds—well above the minimums for landing. The temperature hovered in the twenties, and snow was always a possibility in December, but none was reported now. Scott and Gary briefly discussed the familiar approach procedure and agreed the weather was not a problem.
With any luck, they would be able to turn the aircraft around quickly and head back to Denver to complete a long flying day. Both crewmembers had reported for duty at 12:30 in the afternoon, and now with sunset they protected their night vision by keeping the cockpit lights to a dim glow. The runway lights at Steamboat would be a welcome sight when they broke out of the clouds. Even with a quick turnaround, they would be fortunate to finish their duty day by 8:30. They had been forced to abort the first flight of the day and return to Denver because of the strong westerly headwinds. Every passenger seat would be occupied on the return flight and they would enjoy the advantage of a tailwind.

        The passenger terminal at Steamboat Springs consisted of one large room with random seating for customers awaiting arriving and departing flights. Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217 was scheduled to depart at 4:45 p.m. It was now after six, and the inbound flight was nowhere in sight. Some of the paying customers were voicing their frustration and expressing their displeasure with the airline. Others were accustomed to Colorado weather and the disruption it often caused for most activities—including airline flights. Whether they waited patiently or otherwise—the terminal was their temporary crucible. They were a diverse group.
A young mother cared for her eight-month old son—and waited.
Three young ladies, who worked for the Forest Service, talked about their upcoming training class in Denver—and waited.
A young couple, engaged to be married, discussed their wedding plans—and waited.
A twenty-year old man, on a business trip for his employer, was not intimidated by the challenge of delay—and waited.
A retired military officer was well versed in schedules gone awry—and waited.
A nineteen-year old guy from Lakewood, near Denver, was returning home—and waited.
They all waited with one thing in common—the desire to get to Denver and points beyond—a final destination and an end to the waiting.
The announcement that Flight 216 was arriving was met with relief and anticipation. Passengers near the terminal’s window could see the aircraft’s landing lights in the distance. Those who chose not to watch the approach soon heard the sound of the turbo-prop engines, first as they were reversed to slow the airplane on the runway, and then again as they idled toward the terminal.

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Photo courtesy of Dennis Heap

 

 

Posted by: harrisonjones | July 6, 2017

Miracle on Buffalo Pass

My previous blog described the beginning of a new book project, and after nine months, I can now discuss the conclusion of that work. The book will be titled Miracle on Buffalo Pass, and as previously promised, it documents a true story told in the words of those who were there.

MOBP Front Cover Final

On the evening of December 4, 1978, Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217 departed Steamboat Springs, Colorado bound for Denver with twenty-two souls on board. Less than an hour later, the flight was forced down on Buffalo Pass at an altitude of 10,500 feet when it encountered severe icing conditions and unforecasted downdrafts created by the winds of a mountain wave. The tragic accident triggered one of the most intense search and rescue efforts in Rocky Mountain history.

I should explain that the project was conceived by Kelly Coleman, a young lady who was born long after the incident on Buffalo Pass. Kelly is the daughter of Gary and Debi Coleman—Gary was the first officer on Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217 and narrowly survived the accident. When Kelly contacted me and began telling the story, I was intrigued and knew there were many questions that needed to be answered. Kelly introduced me to her father and Gary and I connected on so many levels right away. We visited the crash site near Steamboat Springs last October and have been collaborating for the past nine months. With a little research and a lot of detective work we were able to get in touch with many of the passengers, search and rescue folks, medical personnel, law enforcement officers, Rocky Mountain Airways employees, and others who saw a need and volunteered to help in the rescue. To date, I have interviewed more than thirty individuals who have graciously told their story for publication.

I’ve had the privilege of meeting people of great courage; men and women of unbound determination; unassuming heroes; highly dedicated law enforcement officers; doctors and emergency medical personnel willing to go far beyond a job description to save lives; skilled aviation professionals; and others who just volunteered themselves and whatever resources and equipment they owned because their character would not allow anything less. The people I have interviewed for this book have inspired me, not as a writer, but as a human being. I am indebted to each of them.

Many of these people will join me on September 23, 2017 for the official book release gathering hosted by the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum in Denver. The museum features an exhibit of artifacts from Flight 217.

Wings Book Signing 3

Coming soon, I will be posting pre-publication excerpts from the book as well as when it will be available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible editions.

Posted by: harrisonjones | October 4, 2016

Go Tell It On The Mountain

 

This past weekend I went to the top of a mountain to hear an incredible story. Located on the Continental Divide, just east of Steamboat Springs, Colorado, is Buffalo Pass. At just shy of 11,000 feet, the atmosphere is thin and the view is breath taking. More so for a flat land Georgia boy like me. On December the fourth, 1978, the isolation of Buffalo Pass was shattered when a giant ice formation fell from the night sky and was buried in the snow. It was as if Aliens had invaded Earth when human forms began emerging from the snow bank and standing in the shaft of light emanating from whatever had fallen from the sky. However, there was no one anywhere near Buffalo Pass to observe the strange scene. Why would anyone in their right mind be out in a raging blizzard with snow accumulating by the foot and wind spilling over the mountain crest at 60 knots or more? Humans are not designed to function with wind chills at 50 below. Even the Elk and Bear that normally inhabited the forest had taken shelter elsewhere.  

Thirty-eight years later, on an early October morning, I stand on Buffalo Pass enjoying a pleasant clear morning with the temperature in the fifties and a gentle breeze rustling through the forest. The weather forecast is for rain, but the prognosticators have somehow miscalculated. Only experienced aviators, of which I humbly include myself, understand the fickle nature of weather and the limited credibility of forecast. That is not to say I understand the weather. Only the fickle nature. Walking with me, as we climb over fallen trees and I stumble over rock formations, is another aviator. Gary Coleman is explaining the events of that night long ago when a Rocky Mountain Airways De-Havilland Twin Otter flew into a glacier like cloud and could not escape until the cloud decided to calve it off and force it down on Buffalo Pass. The ice was so thick, the smooth airfoils of the “Twotter” now resembled the rough peaks of the mountains below. The de-ice boots on the leading edge of the wings pulsed in vain as ice weighed the airplane down and destroyed the lift capability of the wings. It simply refused to climb and then refused to hold altitude. Gary Coleman occupied the copilot’s seat of Rocky Mountain Airways Flight 217.

rma-twin-otter

 Gary and I are accompanied by his lovely wife Debi and their faithful Yellow Lab, Miles. We have abaondoned the four wheel drive Suburban on a Forest Service Road, and now we travel the steep terrain on foot, hoping a hunter doesn’t mistake us for Elk. Debi is a former flight attendant and a pilot in her own rite. Our journey to the crash site is thwarted by a deep ravine, but we are determined and climb higher to find a way around the obstacle. I feel great anticipation at the possibility of reaching the crash site, and then I feel guilt as I realize Debi and Gary are experiencing different emotions. Miles ignores us and cavorts through the woods as if he owns the mountain.   

There were twenty-two souls on board the airplane that night, and miraculously twenty-one of them not only survived the impact, but also refused to succumb to the inhuman environment of the blizzard until they were rescued the next day. First Officer Coleman and Captain Scotty Klopfenstein, never gave up and fought the airplane and the fickle weather until the very end. When the mountain wave of air spilling over the crest of Buffalo Pass forced the airplane down, the right wing clipped the tower of a high voltage power line, shearing off several feet of wing and the aileron.  At the last second Gary kicked the right rudder to avoid a rock wall and slewed the airplane into a snow bank instead. A life-saving decision for twenty of the twenty-two souls on board. One passenger passed away on the mountain, and Captain Klopfenstein died a few days later in the hospital.

crash-1 

The wings sheared off and the fuselage rolled onto its right side as the machine, no longer an aircraft, came to a stop. The cockpit opened up and the windshield blew out before the skid ended. Snow scooped into the flight deck and left Gary trapped and buried up to his chest. As the blizzard continued to howl, the accumulating snow covered him almost completely, leaving only his hands to indicate a human was still there. Gary would need fate, fortune, or divine intervention to survive, and whether it was circumstance, luck, or divinity, help arrived in the form of a twenty year old passenger named Jon Pratt. Jon, an Eagle Scout and trained in survival skills, found Gary and removed the snow covering his face, allowing him to breathe. Gary was later diagnosed with a ruptured spleen, a concussion, numerous lacerations, and eventually frostbite. He could not be extracated from the cockpit until the next day. Somehow the ship’s battery continued to power the cabin lights and also the same ice lights on the exterior of the fuselage that had allowed Gary to watch the ice build on the wings. The ice lights evidently gave Jon the opportunity to discover Gary and render aid.  

Meanwhile, elements of the Civil Air Patrol, Rocky Mountain Rescue, Sheriffs Deputies, and scores of local volunteers organized to search and rescue. Following the erratic signal of the aircraft’s Emergency Locator Tramsmitter, they were able to navigate as far as the Grizzly Creek Ranger Station below Buffalo Pass before the road became impassable. Now, Snow Cats and Ski Mobiles were the only way to move higher up the mountain. Tough, courageous men did just that and radioed back at six a.m. that survivors, including Gary Coleman, had been found.  Evacuation began and the passengers and crew were transported down the mountain to the ranger station where they were triaged and moved to several local hospitals in ambulances with rattling snow chains on the tires. The ranger station consisted only of a tiny cabin with a pot bellied stove, but it was a luxury resort on that night.

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Now, on this warm October morning, we stand at the base of the tower the airplane first impacted. We silently imagine the Twin Otter buried in snow with its lights still illuminated. I am so impressed with the courage and determination of Gary Coleman. Just the kind of aviator I always enjoyed flying with. He points out the direction of approach and where the airplane came to rest.

buffalo-pass-7 

It has been thirty-seven years since he last visited the crash site, shortly after the accident. I wander away in order to allow he and Debi some privacy to process together. Miles ignores all of us.

buffalo-pass-4 

Debi reaches down and picks up an object from the ground. It is a piece of the fiberglass bulkhead from the Otter’s baggage compartment. We find more debris among the rocks and grass including an aircraft bonding strap designed to prevent static electricity from arcing between metal surfaces. Some of the small metal debris still features the blue paint of Rocky Mountain Airways. A testament to the endurance of polyurethane.

This story cannot be told in a blog post. It deserves to be told in a way that can be a legacy to all involved. The passengers, the crew, the search and rescue personell, the EMT’s, the doctors and nurses, and other volunteers who gave so generously. It needs to be told in their words from their perspective. It needs to serve as inspiration for others who are faced with adversity in their lives. It is testament that the human spirit can endure, and survive, and prosper. With the help of Gary, Debi, and their daughter Kelly, I intend to do just that in the form of a non-fiction book. The book is not yet titled, the first chapter is not written, and I am overwhelmed by the task at hand, but God willing, it will happen. Check back for progress reports.   

Posted by: harrisonjones | September 19, 2016

Shadow Flight Audio Edition

The audio book edition of Shadow Flight is now available on Amazon, Audible, and ITunes. Thomas Block did a great job producing a long book (114,000 words) with numerous characters and many sub-plots. Thank you Captain Block and I sincerely hope everyone will enjoy the audio edition and Tom’s interpretation of Shadow Flight.

 

Posted by: harrisonjones | June 12, 2016

Audio Edition Available

Equal Time Point is now available at Audible.com and at Amazon.com. Thank you to everyone who has inquired about the release date and also to everyone who has already purchased the audiobook. As always, comments and reviews are very much appreciated.

For those of you new to Audible, there is a 30 day free trial membership which includes a free audiobook. I hope you will take advantage of the freebie and of course I hope you will choose Equal Time Point.

Thank you once again to Captain Thomas Block for producing and narrating Equal Time Point. Look for my other titles to be released as audiobooks in the near future.

Posted by: harrisonjones | June 2, 2016

Audio Books

I’m happy to announce that my titles will soon be available as audiobooks. The first to be published will be Equal Time Point, and it will be available by mid-June. Shadow Flight and The Pilot Class will follow in the coming weeks. The books will be available at Audible.com, Amazon, and Apple Itunes.

 

The audio editions will be narrated and produced by Thomas Block. Captain Block has authored numerous bestselling aviation novels including Mayday, Orbit, Skyfall, and most recently, Captain. The bestselling novel, Mayday, co-authored with Nelson Demille, was also made into a movie. I am most fortunate to have Captain Block on board and I encourage you to check out his novels.

 

As always, I’m grateful to each of my readers who have supported my work and taken the time to post comments and reviews. Technology continues to revolutionize the world of aviation and now the book business as well. You can book a flight on your iPhone in seconds and then download a book as quickly to enjoy while you stand in line at the TSA. What a goofy world we live in. I’ll post the release date of Equal Time Point when it’s available.

Posted by: harrisonjones | January 22, 2015

The Pilot Class

TPC crop 2

At long last I’ve finished my third novel, The Pilot Class. Creating characters and encouraging them to say and do the things that make a story plausible can be a frustrating experience. They don’t always act like the reader wants them to. Everybody loves the hero that exacts revenge, retribution, and justice, but it’s important to hate the bad guy who caused the problems to start with. Since it’s not in my nature to cause unnecessary problems, it becomes difficult to create the antagonist. Once I learn to hate him too it becomes easier.

The Pilot Class follows a group of young pilots as they experience the initial training class for a major airline. The group includes former military pilots as well as civilians, one of which is a former female flight attendant. As pilots they all have confidence and ego, but it soon becomes apparent that they will have to cooperate to graduate. Personalities, a married flight attendant with an abusive husband, a major airline accident, and the federal government are all obstacles that stand in their way. Who will survive The Pilot Class to fly the line?

When I sat in my own pilot class years ago, I was fortunate to have great classmates who remain great friends. Turn off the TV, recline your lounge chair and enjoy a pilot class of your own.

The book is available on Amazon Kindle and will be published in paperback soon.

Posted by: harrisonjones | June 26, 2014

NTSB report on Asiana at San Francisco

The NTSB has issued its initial findings on the Asiana accident at San Francisco. The recommendations are extensive, but not surprising. As expected, the probable cause is listed as the flight crew’s failure to maintain a stabilized approach, resulting in the aircraft being below the glide slope and below a safe airspeed. Contributing factors include improper training, crew fatigue, failure to adhere to established procedures, reliance on automation, and a host of other usual suspects.

Asiana

Let’s cut through all the jargon, acronyms, and modes to see if we can simplify this report. The B-777 has two throttles on the control pedestal, and as you may correctly surmise, it has two engines. Push throttles forward and airplane goes fast. Pull throttles aft, airplane goes slow. Yeah, I know, pitch attitude is involved and blah, blah, blah, but let’s keep it simple. There are two entities that can push the throttles forward when the airspeed is low. One is the pilot and the other is the auto throttles. Someone has to take charge and push. The pilot can override the auto system at any time by simply pushing the throttles, no matter what mode the system is in. The NTSB says the pilot should have done just that to avoid the catastrophe. Draw your own conclusions.

There are interesting side issues revealed in the findings:

Two emergency evacuation slide/rafts (1right and 2right) inflated inside the airplane on impact. I can see how that would happen due to the impact force. If the door moves with the slide armed, the slide will inflate whether the door actually opens or not. The door at 4right actually separated from the airplane and struck a seated passenger, causing severe injury.

Two passengers were ejected from the cabin, when the tail separated from the fuselage because they were not wearing seat belts. Don’t know what to say about that. Seat belt signs, PA announcements, safety videos, etc. It’s an excellent idea to wear a seat belt.

Four flight attendants, seated in the aft galley area, were ejected when the tail separated even though they were strapped in. When the tail is ripped off, things happen. They still survived. It’s an excellent idea to wear a seat belt. Pardon my redundancy.

When the airplane came to a stop, the captain made an announcement and ordered everyone to remain seated. Obviously those who were ejected cannot be held accountable for premature evacuation. After 90 seconds, a flight attendant saw fire and smoke and initiated the evacuation anyway…rightly so. A minor point to notice here is that the emergency electrical bus, powered by the battery, remained operational and enabled the PA system. Radio communication with the tower remained operational also. Boeing builds a fine airplane.

One of the ejected passengers was subsequently run over by a fire truck, not once but twice. The NTSB recommends training for firefighters to watch out for passengers who have evacuated. Probably a good idea, but this is not as simple as it seems. Fire, smoke, fog, night conditions, fire fighting foam, adrenaline-charged firemen, panicked passengers, etc. complicate the issue. In this case, firemen entered the burning aircraft and removed five injured passengers who could not evacuate without assistance. God bless them.

According to the NTSB, the crew became aware of the low and slow condition at 200 feet above the ground, but did not initiate a go around until below 100 feet. At a normal descent rate of 700 feet per minute, that’s a delay of about 10 seconds. They did mention that fatigue was a factor, but even so…As a measuring stick; I might mention that go arounds are routinely initiated from 50 feet in the simulator (a truck appears crossing the runway) however that assumes a normal approach speed and rate of descent.

I’ll leave the CRM discussion to those enthusiasts who would have formed a committee at 200 feet and argued the merits of a missed approach.

I admire the NTSB for their expertise and thoroughness, and I applaud Boeing for designing and manufacturing an airplane that can sustain the force and damage of this accident and still result in a 98% survivability rate. The complicated discussion of fatigue, automation complacency, and CRM will continue. The simple laws of thrust, drag, lift and weight will remain constant.

Posted by: harrisonjones | March 22, 2014

Malaysia 370

I have no comment on what may, or may not, have happened to Malaysia 370. My imagination is well displayed in my novels, but the only fact in this reality is that the fate of the passengers and crew is unknown. Seeking the truth and discovering the unknown has driven human nature though out history, and so it will be until this mystery is solved. That motivation has brought the great technological advancement that we now are discovering can be used with unintended consequences. The mystery has consumed the public and the news media has capitalized on the curiosity. As spoiled citizens of a great society, we have come to expect immediate gratification. We expect all issues to be resolved in a two hour movie or a novel of less than 100,000 words. Without resolution, anger will soon follow and protest will be the outlet for frustration. Blame will be assessed and ineptitude will not be tolerated.

I am often amazed at how little the public knows about aviation, and the non-stop news coverage of this event has reinforced my opinion. After two weeks of coverage, I can’t see that they have researched anything they broadcast to an uneducated audience. The only thing that amazes me more than the questions they ask, is the answers their experts give. Who knew it took such expert knowledge to turn off a transponder? The experts spin their answers like a political candidate debating a rival and advancing an agenda.

I’m confident that the true professionals, who are investigating the incident, already have answers and will soon have more. Don’t expect them to broadcast a news bulletin until resolution is at hand.

It’s gratifying to know that I can solve a mystery in a novel and satisfy a reader’s need for resolution, and while I can’t do the same in this reality, at least I won’t produce noise that might hinder those who can. The innocent passengers and crew on Malaysia 370, and every other flight in the world, deserve our very best effort. Thoughts and prayers to all.

Posted by: harrisonjones | February 22, 2014

Pilot Fatigue

       It is reported that the NTSB is considering pilot fatigue as a factor in the UPS Airbus accident in Birmingham. A big clue is the fact that the crew discussed fatigue during the flight. Of course it’s easy to say that if the approach had been made to the normal runway with an ILS available, the accident wouldn’t have occurred. On the other hand, anyone who plans a flight based on normal circumstances is assuming a premise that will eventually conclude tragically. The law of averages does not apply to flight planning. Worst case scenario is more appropriate and Murphy’s Law is not a myth. It’s also easy to say, “Well the pilots knew they were going to fly all night so they should have planned for it.” That logic can’t be disputed, however when you get up at 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, just go back to bed at noon and see how much sleep you get before 8 tomorrow night. Much easier said than done. Forcing yourself to sleep is a losing battle. The harder you try the more your brain speeds up.

            Night flying has been a problem since before the invention of landing lights. All nighters, midnight rockets, graveyard flights (Uh…let’s not go there although you may have noticed that there are graveyards next to a large percentage of airports), have always been a pain in the posterior. The attempt to solve the problem with Federal Aviation Regulations is largely ridiculous and evidenced by the fact that cargo carriers are governed by different rules than passenger carriers. If having no passengers on board means the pilot needs less rest then shouldn’t there be a sliding scale for passenger flights. I mean obviously the pilot with 400 passengers on board needs more rest than the pilot with only 50 souls on his airplane. Furthermore, why should a company operating airplanes in the 100 million dollar price range rely on the FAA to tell them how much rest their employee needs. The feds only require the company to meet the minimum standards, but they can implement more restrictive rest rules at their discretion. When an airplane comes down on your house or a shopping center or a school, the result on the ground is the same no matter what’s onboard. So is the purpose of the rule to protect passengers or cargo or people on the ground? If the rule varies based on what’s on board, should race, gender, or personal income be a factor?

            I maintain my position that humans are still the strangest creatures that God has created and although we have progressed, we are still slowly evolving.

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