The Horrible Crash That Prompted the “Sterile Cockpit Rule”

On the morning of Sept. 11, 1974, while conducting an instrument approach in dense ground fog into Douglas Municipal Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, Eastern Airlines Flight 212 crashed more than three miles short of the runway, killing 72 of the 82 people on board. The first officer, one flight attendant, and 13 passengers survived the initial impact, with three of the survivors ultimately succumbing to burn injuries. The NTSB investigation determined that the crash was due to the flight crew’s lack of altitude awareness at critical points during the approach. The cockpit voice recorder revealed that the captain and first officer were discussing politics and the stock market during the final five minutes of the flight, when all attention should have been focused on making either a safe landing or a safe missed approach. As a result, all airline pilots are now banned from small talk during take-off and landing. The strictly-enforced “Sterile Cockpit rule” means pilots are barely allowed to talk to each other if their aircraft is flying below 10,000 feet. They must focus entirely on their essential operational activities and avoid non-essential conversations.