Monday, February 25, 2008

Whiskey Romeo Zulu

One good thing about upgrading to HD on the satellite receiver, more channels of stuff to either ignore or go wow with. One such wow channel is World if they keep showing movies like Whiskey Romeo Zulu.

Does not sound like an exciting title, but it does pack a wallop. It all centers around a pilot, T, who flies for LAPA out of Argentina. On one flight which he is the Captain, a fire warning light for the APU illuminates. So him and his co-pilot go through the checklist to declare an emergency, set transponder to 7700, and land the plane. On the ground T is berated for wasting company money on a false alarm. We learn in four months there have been 100 such alarms and 96 were false. Next T is advised to write any future maintenance issues on a napkin instead of the log and pass these napkins to Maint.

The name itself derives from a LAPA 737-200 LV-WRZ that crashed on take-off and burst into flames in 1999, killing 65 and injuring 17. Enrique Pinyero is not only the director and star of this film, he was the pilot named T.

As this is happening to T, Argentine investigators are nosing around LAPA. One pilot, under oath, says he has been taking his time off because its a safety thing. So the prosecutor says the pilot's own files indicate he is owed six years leave. Then there are efforts to stop the investigation like the lead prosecutor unlocking his car and out pours hundreds of fishing floats along with a note on the windshield warning he maybe found floating in a river.

T is torn and conflicted. Other pilots start to stay away from him. His snapping point happens when he is scheduled to fly at night a 737 that has two in-op artificial horizons and one in-op gyro. Camera lingers on an artificial horizon that is banked 80 degrees to the left as the plane sits on the apron. So T down checks the 737 since the MEL says the plane can not fly at night. LAPA instead sends another pilot to fly the 737 and T finds himself grounded for the rest of the month.

The purpose of the film is to show the culture inside LAPA that lead to the crash of Whiskey Romeo Zulu. T is a pilot who sees everything in black&white - there is the safe way and the risky way. LAPA even manages to get the medical board to ground T for six months due to psychological issues. Which prompted one of the funny black humour scenes of the movie.

T - 'I am such an idiot.'
G - 'Could you be more specific.'
T - 'I did exactly what they wanted me to do.'
G - 'What is that?'
T - 'I argued with the psychologist.'
G - 'Yeah that is idiotic.'

As to what happened to 737-200 WRZ, it took off in a rush. The pilot had not had any vacation in two years. And as he accelerated for take-off, a warning buzzer went off and the pilot was yelling 'what is that?' Instead of declaring an abort, he pressed on. WRZ never completely cleared, went across a road, and hit a midden heap. It turns out the pilot nor co-pilot noticed the flaps were still set at 0 and not the approved setting for take-off. Digression, flaps and slats on a jet's wing increase its area which lowers the stall speed and makes it more manageable. Without the flaps down, WRZ required a higher take-off speed which it never truly attained and as the pilot pulled back on the yoke, he lost the little airspeed he had and as you hear in the cockpit voice recording, the stick shaker is going off indicating a stall. So the plane fell out of the sky and crashed, killing all those people.

Stick around for the credits since they put on one side actual interviews with people involved in this tragedy. The one interview I find truly appalling is the one with Deutche of LAPA. He kept saying their maintenance was always 100% and I did not detect one bit honest contriteness. Anyone with a dose of common sense knows there is no such thing as 100% in the real world, that there will always be gremlins.

The only downside of this movie is, it was made in Argentina and its in Spanish so for all us Yanquis there are subtitles. But please don't let that put you off; its a very good film that does not go for over the top spectacles, in fact its almost too low-key in its approach. Since this movie has won some awards, I guess Pinyero got it right.

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