Smoke, pilot’s worst nightmare…

Tonight we were at cruising altitude; some scattered thunderstorms were at the sides of our route, dinner was on the way, then we heard the voice on the radio. A pilot was requesting descent to 10.000 ft and immediate diversion to an alternate airport with a 5000 ft runway. The anxiety of the situation was clear on the voice. The controller with a studied professional voice replied with radar vectors to the nearest airport. – Are you declaring an emergency? – Affirmative, was the answer. Then a second pilot voice on same airplane came on the frequency and sounded very familiar. I knew him, we shared the cockpit many times together, a great professional and good friend.
We sent dinner back again and feeling helpless kept full attention on the radio. I know that registration said my First Officer, that’s a CJ3, a Cessna Citation.
What’s the nature of your emergency? –Smoke, we have smoke on the cargo compartment, we don’t have smoke in the cockpit yet, but the warning light is on.
We could hear the rising anxiety of both pilots alternating on the radio. The controller was helpful all the time and started diverting airplanes to other frequencies to take full care of the aircraft on emergency. Our cockpit was silent, following every detail of what was happening to our colleagues, non related conversation stayed completely aside.
I always thought that aviation is an extremely competitive world, but is curious to see when a situation like this develops how strong is the brotherhood of people that belongs to the sky.
We continued following them through approach and tower frequency and did not relax until they were safe on the ground. Then I pushed my mic to say…. – Good, guys….
Having all the engines running and all the systems working, smoke in the cockpit can be an extremely serious emergency and develop in a situation out of control in just a matter of minutes. We practice thousands of times on the sim emergency descents, engine failures, and so on, but there’s no way to simulate the rush and anxiety that smoke creates. Only timely reactions – don your oxygen mask with 100% oxygen, use the smoke goggles, establish communications, initiate an emergency descent, declare an emergency, clearly state your intentions with ATC, use of all internal and external resources available, ventilate the cockpit if possible and a great dose of luck can save this serious situation. In some extreme cases you will have to fly the airplane with your nose almost touching the ADI to see it. We have seen many serious accidents were smoke was the first symptom the crew had of a on board fire, like Swissair 111 or ValuJet 592.
Remember, when smoke appears, don’t sit there just wondering; work your plan as soon as possible.

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