Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Living is Trusting

I've never built a bridge, or drilled into the root of a tooth, or gone looking for a diseased kidney inside a human being. Heck, I've never even driven a bus or grown a peach or rolled my own sushi. I trust other people to do these things for me. And I assume...I trust...they are doing them in accordance with the safest proven methods available. I drive across bridges. I let dentists and doctors drill and cut at will. I get on the bus, eat the peach, savor the sushi. It rarely occurs to me that I shouldn't trust people to do - with great expertise and success - what they've been hired to do. Like fly an airplane. Today I read the voice recorder transcript from Flight 3407 - you know, the plane that fell from the sky over Buffalo, NY three months ago. Every person on the plane died. Until the National Transportation Safety Board began meeting this week to discuss the findings from the crash, I think we all believed ice on the wings created an unmanageable, act of God situation as the plane made its final approach to Buffalo-Niagara. Stop reading here if you are afraid of flying. Continental 3407 was on final approach. Announcements had been made, the flight was almost over. Here's the transcript...those of you who fly regularly can recite it from memory:
Ladies and gentlemen in preparation for landing in Buffalo please be certain your seatback is straight up and your seatbelt is fastened. Please pass any remaining service items and unwanted reading materials to us as we pass through the cabin. Please turn off all portable electronic devices and stow them until we have reached the gate.
It was 10:09:15 PM. Isn't this the moment most of us secretly breathe a sigh of relief? We're home. We're about to land. We start thinking about what's waiting for us at baggage claim or home or the office. We look out the window and see the lights of our destination. In the cockpit, that's exactly what was happening that night. The 47-year old pilot and 24-year old first officer were chatting about planes they'd flown, ways around airline hiring systems, and whether or not their ears were popping. Then, at 10:12:05 PM the young first officer says this:
I've never seen icing conditions. I've never de-iced. I've never seen any— I've never experienced any of that. I don't want to have to experience that and make those kinds of calls. You know I'dve freaked out. I'dve have like seen this much ice and thought oh my gosh we were going to crash.
The captain quickly lets his FO know that he knows what he's doing 10:13:01 PM:
But I— first couple of times I saw the amount of ice that that Saab would would pick up and keep on truckin'....saw it out on the spinner. Ice comin' out about that far - my eyes about that big around. I'm going gosh. I mean Florida man— barely a little you know out of Pensacola.
For the next three and a half minutes they chat about finding the sweet spot in a seat adjustment, descent checklists, and approach checklists. Then that stick shaking sound begins - the sound that I've learned this week means the plane is about to stall - at 10:16:06 PM. Ten seconds later the pilot says, "Jesus Christ," and makes a grunting sound followed by, "..ther bear." Perhaps this was the moment in which there was a pull on the stick that should have been a push. My husband, who holds a sport pilot's license, crash landed an ultralight several years ago after an engine failure on take off. You push, so the nose goes down, he tells me. This keeps you from stalling. You do not pull. Everyone knows this. At 10:16: 51 PM the pilot of Continental flight 3407 said, "We're down." At 10:16:52 PM his first officer said, "We're..." and she screamed.
Continental Flight 3407, February 12, 2009
My husband will not be piloting the plane that brings him home from California on Friday. Nor will anyone I know be flying the planes that bring my son home from Germany two days later. We will decidedly place our trust in complete strangers. We don't know how well they've been trained, how they voted in the last election, whether they had a good night's sleep, or when they last called their mothers to say "I love you." Yet we put our lives in their hands. Whether they're flying our planes, drawing plans for our bridges, or chopping our raw fish. It's a puzzle to me why such a trusting bunch can't make a world of peace.

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