Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pilot Error

I’m consumed with the vanishing of Malaysian Flight 370. It’s been one week, and there’s still no sign of the Boeing 777 or the 239 people aboard, and I haven’t watched so much CNN since 9/11. I can’t stop, even if the news is redundant or reduced to flat-out conjecture. I'm now tuning into Erin Burnett for updates instead of tuning in because she looks like Erin Burnett.

I’m hyper-afraid of flying, which has put a serious wrinkle in my vacation plans, and I think that fear comes from the fact that I can’t digest the idea that hundreds of thousands of planes take off and land everyday around the world, and nothing EVER goes wrong. How is that possible? How can the sheer statistics of what I said even add up? There’s (maybe) a few dozen aviation “situations” in America every year out of 64 million total flights, and it’s always “Pilot Error,” because commercial aviation is a business.

We’ve all heard the Flight 370 stories and shuffled through the conspiracy theories. Despite really clever Twitter pleas like: "Youve been missing a week, get back here 370," the plane and passengers are still MIA. The Malaysians have no doubt made clumsy work of the crisis, but this is not an everyday deal. I was watching THE PROFIT last Friday when the crawl came across about the missing flight, and my first guess was terrorism, my hope really. Then came the story about the two kids riding with stolen passports, and I was convinced. I wanted it to be terrorism because that would reinforce the fact that planes don’t behave they are behaved upon.

The saga has gone all over the grid. Countries jockeying for position while also trying to keep their full search-and-rescue capabilities off the world stage. The US has repeatedly stated that the plane is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean, and that’s where I believe it is. They have refused to label this a "terrorist attack," even when the Malaysian PM has called it such, and our approach has been organized and careful. The Brian Recovery Plan: Get these other countries out of the way and let America run the show.

So what did happen? Like I said, my first theory was terrorism. I thought the kids with the stolen passports got into the cockpit, killed the pilots, took control of the plane, and turned off the transponders. The plan was to fly-bomb some land target i.e. 9/11 with a full compliment of humanity, but they got lost over the Indian Ocean with no ground communication, ran out of gas, and crashed into the dark waters at night. But why would any terrorist turn a plane around and drive it back over the country-controlled airspace of the country it was stealing it from, like the reported radar track indicates? What terrorist group would have the whole world watching their work and NOT take claim for it? This story is the Super Bowl for terrorist groups. Only one junior-varsity group made some half-baked claim, and the Malaysian PM said, "shut up, you didn't do it."

My second theory was the pilots were paid off by some dodgy regime to steal the plane, kill the transponders, and secretly land it somewhere while the kids with the bad passports covered the passengers and cabin, all working together. So two pilots, one with three kids and huge community ties, agreed to have 240 people slaughtered and never be able to see said family again, just for a few million dollars from a ragged regime, who are probably gonna blow your head off when they get the plane? And of course, the plane went right back over the country that this pilot was stealing it from, because whatever situation played out, the radar shows the plane went back over Malaysia. Both theories are very Tom Clancy, but not how the real world works. After watching every clip of coverage, I've settled on a mundane conclusion in comparison.

I think shortly after crossing into Vietnam airspace and signing off with a final “good night,” something went wrong with the plane’s steering mechanism, or a freak electrical fire, or something with the lithium batteries below. The pilots may’ve put out a mayday call that went nowhere between airspaces. Maybe they couldn't put a call out. The plane then moved up and down through altitudes, as the radar indicates, crossing back into Malaysia to attempt a landing, that's why they went back. For whatever reason, the captain(s) couldn't land it and made the strategic decision to switch off the electrics, explaining the transponders going dark, and tried to steer the broken plane manually, if that’s even a thing nowadays. The electric may've blown before that. We only know about the transponders because that's the only component that communicates with ground. The idea was to steady the big bird and find a landing place, rocking up and down from 45,000 to 25,000 feet and back again, trying like hell.

This may’ve gone on for hours, maybe just minutes, until the plane got shot out to sea, pitched too high or fell too fast, began to break apart and plummeted into the Indian Ocean, sank to the bottom, exactly where the Americans think it is. Everyone was dead before the plane even hit, counting our friends with the funny passports. Later they'll say if the pilot hit the x-y-z button, the plane would've leveled right back out and been controllable or something, and we'll all say OK and feel good about flying again. In the end, the crash of Flight 370 will be officially filed as Pilot Error. Make the public feel safe enough to keep coughing up six hundred bucks for a coach ticket from Boston to Hartford.

Whatever happened up there, imagine the absurd fear those passengers must’ve felt when that flight was compromised, however it may’ve been done. I cannot dream a more helpless, skin-chilling way to leave the world, falling from the dark sky in the cabin of a crumbled jet. I’ve had more than my share of nightmares about this since 370 went poof in the night. Who lives their life ever thinking that’s how it’s going to end? Dying in a plane crash is statistically less likely than winning the lotto five times.

In due time, they'll get together and paint a PR ending on this story and make the public feel warm and fuzzy about flying again: Pilot Error. Why not? They're dead. But you won't see that last part in the official report.

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Brian Huba

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