Between the networks' slanted news coverage of anything Bush-related and their overall tendancy to sensationalize, I generally don't consider their news programs to be worth much more than a bucket of warm spit. Dawn watches TV news but I usually tune out and get my news from newspapers and the internet. I do, however, perk up when the news programs cover aviation. More times than not, they get it outragously wrong, and tonight ABC's World News Tonight made me stomping mad in the process.
The segment was regarding Pinnacle Airlines flight 3701, a CRJ-200 that crashed on a repositioning flight after apparently flaming out and stalling at it's maximum certified altitude. I'm can't say I'm a huge fan of Pinnacle. Their low pay and hard crew usage tend to attract very low-time applicants, who then upgrade to Captain in a short length of time due to the airline's rapid growth. Still, the ABC news segment was a pure hatchet job, bordering on libelous in it's treatment of the deceased crew members.
First off, they made a mountain out of a molehill regarding the crew's transmission to ATC that they were "just having a little fun" by climbing to FL410. It was in response to a curious controller who was surprised to see them that high; the crew was just giving an informal reply when they said "Yeah, we don't have any passengers on board so we decided to have a little fun up here." It's fun in the same sense as you might take a different route to work tomorrow for "a little fun." The plane was certified to FL410 and had the published performance to cruise there for the weight they were at; it's pretty hard to call that reckless, although that's exactly what ABC news was implying.
While they were playing the ATC tapes, they showed a "simulation" of a CRJ climbing at an improbably high angle, like 60 degrees up, then flames shooting from the engines, sending it into an equally steep dive. Were I a member of the general public, at this point I'd be wondering just what kind of cowboys are flying those little planes. I'd be even more convinced after the anchorman said that "the crew lied" by transmitting that they had an engine failure when they infact had a dual flameout. Yeah, don't suppose they could've merely been confused or unsure, or paying a little more attention to getting their engines back than exactly what they said to ATC.
Cue the anchorman's most sincere look and concerned voice as he wonders outloud whether "pilots flying small jets, which are becoming increasingly common, are getting enough training." Yeah, thanks, dude. Nevermind that the CRJ has a better safety record than the B737. Or that FAA training requirements for "small jets" are essentially identical to the "big jets" they replaced (ie DC-9's).
I'm not trying to hold the crew blameless here. It sounds like it probably was crew error, rather than mechanical failure, that lead to this accident, and the NTSB will eventually tell us what those errors were. But the ABC news report clearly sensationalized the negligence aspect in dubious areas, making the crew seem carefree and reckless. Worse yet, they implyed that all the other crews of "small jets" are similarly inclined, admirable safety record notwithstanding. My estimation of ABC News just went down a few more notches.
Update: Yellowbird has linked me to the CVR transcript, which sheds some more light on this accident. You can find my response in the comments for this thread. A correction: ABC appears to have been correct regarding the crew fibbing to ATC about the nature of their emergency. I still believe, however, that the segment was fundamentally misleading.
Further update: Glenn Calvin, who has a lot of experience on the CRJ-200 at Skywest, has posted his thoughts on Flagship 3701. Go check it out.