The National Transportation Safety Board recently issued its initial ‘factual’ report into an incident last July which forced the crew of the chartered Midwest Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-81 carrying Presidential candidate Barack Obama to divert to St.Louis with flight control problems.After take off from Chicago Midway airport, the crew had disconnected the autopilot while controllers vectored the aircraft around thunderstorms. The aircraft’s pitch increased without control input by the crew and reached 20-25 degrees before control could be regained using pitch trim and nose down elevator inputs. The crew reported pitch control pressure needed to keep the MD-81 level was higher than normal and declared an emergency before diverting to St. Louis. To see Aviation Week's report from the time click here.
After making a safe landing, investigations quickly revealed the evacuation slide inside the tail cone had inflated in flight. A post flight inspection found the slide deflated in and outside its cover, the slide cover being overturned aft of its normal position. The slide inflation cylinder was empty and lying within the slide cover. The slide cover and base, hinges, forward tie-down straps, deployment lanyard assembly and floor mounting hardware were undamaged. A bracket securing the walkway railings to an overhead structural support had fractured. The NTSB adds that the unsecured railing and the inflated slide may have impinged a set of elevator cables, thereby causing the control problems.
Exhibit A: What the slide should have looked like in the tail and (below), Exhibit B - what was found after the slide deployed (both images NTSB).
The investigators note “the slide needs to rotate by about 90 degrees before its inflation cylinder is activated. The slide cover also released from its hinges at a similar angle. A properly secured slide cover therefore would not have allowed the slide to rotate sufficient to activate the inflation cylinder and fully extend.”
So was this a genuine mishap or is Oliver Stone already writing the screen play? The final report is not due out until later this year, so perhaps the conspiracy theorists still have plenty of time to write their version of the coming cover-up.