Wednesday, January 27, 2016

It stinks when things fall from the sky

Rajrani Gaud was going about her work at her home in Aamkhoh, a village in Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district, when a huge chunk of ice fell from nowhere and brushed against her shoulder. The ice, as big as a football, first hit the side of the terrace before hitting Gaud. Luckily, it missed her head.

Even as her neighbours took Gaud to a hospital, several versions explaining the ice ball started making the rounds. Did it fall from the space? Later, aviation experts would identify it as blue ice. This was the first instance that someone was injured by blue ice in India.
Blue ice is sewage that has leaked from the aircraft’s toilet, freezes in the high altitude in which the aircraft is flying and then falls. “It is very rare, especially nowadays when aircraft have dry toilets. This must have come from one of the older, smaller aircraft,” says a senior official from an Indian airline, on conditions of anonymity.

Till the 1980s, airlines used a blue deodorising liquid that flushed the waste in a toilet into a storage tank. Many a time, this liquid would leak, forming an ice of human waste on the exterior of the aircraft. With the aircraft often flying at 30,000 ft, the waste would immediately freeze. And when the plane descended, the ice would thaw and fall off.

The airlines, also because the blue liquid would add to the weight, immediately shifted when an alternative came by in the form of dry toilets. A norm in modern aircraft, dry or vacuum toilets were patented by James Kemper in 1975.

But some of the aircraft flying today continue to use the blue juice, the industry jargon for the liquid in the toilet. As a consequence, there have been blue ice incidents recorded across the world.
27/01/16 Prince Mathews Thomas/Business Line

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