Improved cockpit emergency training might have prevented pilots of a ValuJet McDonnell Douglas DC-9 from being overcome by smoke and fumes from a cargo fire, says the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

The verdict follows its probe into the fatal crash of the DC-9 on 11 May, 1996, in Florida. NTSB investigators have concluded that the pilots fought a losing battle to control an aircraft crippled by an intense cargo-hold fire before they were probably incapacitated by smoke or heat. The NTSB believes that the pilots did not use, or were late in putting on, their oxygen masks and smoke goggles.

The NTSB urges the Federal Aviation Administration to emphasise the need for pilots to be trained to don protective equipment at the first indication of an emergency involving smoke, fumes or fire, and to establish a performance standard for the rapid donning of smoke goggles. The FAA recommends "-improved smoke-goggle equipment, improved training, or both".

Finally, the NTSB also advocates evaluation of the potential safety benefits of emergency cockpit vision devices and enhanced breathing systems for passengers.

The Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) says that it wants new crew protective breathing and vision equipment. Bob Massi, vice-chairman of ALPA's accident survival committee, says that such equipment exists. In one recent incident, a captain was unable to don the goggles without removing his reading glasses and could therefore not read the emergency checklist.

US inventor Bertil Werjefelt has long been promoting an anti-smoke emergency vision-enhancement system, which instead of attempting to expel smoke from the cockpit, uses a clear-plastic air-bag which inflates between the pilot and windscreen to give a clear view out of the screen. The FAA, however, quotes an NTSB warning that this device may introduce new hazards.

Source: Flight International