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Two Years Ago Today: Spanair Flight JK 5022

To err is human, to kill is Microsoft.

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MADRID (Rixstep) — 14:45 20 August 2008. Spanair flight JK 5022, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, takes off from Madrid's Barajas Airport for Las Palmas. The aircraft had recently been flagged for two failures and was delayed because of a third failure with an overheated temperature probe.

A mechanic disconnected the probe because the aircraft's minimal equipment list didn't require it to be in use. The pilots taxied back onto the runway and tried again.

Flight JK 5022 managed to ascend only a few dozen metres before the starboard engine caught fire. The pilot tried to regain control of the plane but found himself outside the landing area.

The tip of the right wing hit the ground and the plane crashed. Burning debris flew about the wreck. Firefighters needed over an hour and a half to put out the fire.

154 of the 172 people onboard perished. And today ELPAÍS.com claims the ultimate failure was the central computer system that should have stopped the plane from taking off in the first place.

That computer system was infected by trojans.

154 Victims

The crash of Spanair flight JK 5022 happened two years ago today. The investigation into the crash is still ongoing but preliminarily reports indicate Spanair's central computers on Palma de Mallorca were infected by trojans. The computers are supposed to prevent takeoffs if planes register three failures in a short period of time. Spanair flight JK 5022 reported the failures but Spanair's central computers couldn't register them - they were crippled by Windows trojans.


Anna-Maija Stephanides was one of two Swedes on flight JK 5022. She's the only one who survived. Anna-Maija suffered serious injuries to her neck, back, and legs and was hospitalised a fortnight in Stockholm. She underwent extensive physical and psychological therapy. Her husband and son, both in the medical profession, have been able to help her.

She was told to 'get back up there' right away like Viper did with Maverick. And she did - but still suffers panic attacks.

Who to Blame

The tragedy of flight JK 5022: certainly there were human errors. But that's what computer fail-safe systems are for. The computer systems are supposed to protect people from unavoidable human error.

The computer systems looked fine on paper: JK 5022 registered three failures in a short time and three reports should have grounded the aircraft.

But the registration system couldn't be used because the computers in question were infected by trojans.

  • Spanair technicians are to blame for using Microsoft's flawed system.
  • Spanair management are to blame for allowing use of Microsoft's flawed system.
  • Microsoft are to blame for selling their flawed system to Spanair in the first place.

Killer Bill has 154 more deaths on his conscience.

Survival Tips

√ Never trust an airplane or any secure system with Microsoft products. No exceptions. Not only are Microsoft products poorly designed and often shabbily implemented, but Microsoft's flagship operating system Windows is the wet dream of virus creators everywhere. Think about it next time you plan your holiday.

√ What computer systems are your favourite airlines using?

$ curl -i sas.som

HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Server: Apache            <-------
Location: http://www.sas.com/
Content-Length: 227
Content-Type: text/html; charset=iso-8859-1

$ curl -i spanair.es

HTTP/1.1 301 Moved Permanently
Server: Microsoft-IIS/6.0 <-------
X-Powered-By: ASP.NET     <-------
pragma: no-cache
Location: http://www.spanair.com/web/es-es/
Content-Length: 0
Content-Type: text/html
Cache-control: Private

√ Go ahead - ask questions. Read up as well. This bit about running Microsoft software on airplanes isn't a trivial matter. Airplane security might not always be what it's supposed to be but with Microsoft in the picture all bets are truly off. Do you want to risk your life and the lives of your loved ones to Killer Bill's megalomania?

Um don't run Windows on critical systems on an airplane?
 - zef
Running Windows for something like this is madness, absolute madness.
 - Henry Wertz
Regardless of law, putting any mission critical system (especially when lives depend on it) on a Windows machine should be chargeable with criminal negligence and in this case manslaughter.
 - Vectormatic

See Also
SvD: Trojan utpekas för Spanair-krasch
ELPAÍS.com: 'Viajábamos dos personas desde Suecia, la otra murió'
ELPAÍS.com: El ordenador de Spanair que anotaba los fallos en los aviones tenía virus
ELPAÍS.com: El informe de la tragedia de Spanair revela dos errores de los pilotos y un fallo técnico
The Register: Trojan-ridden warning system implicated in Spanair crash

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