So the story is that of the Airbus crashing into the Hudson river. Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger and the crew did a great job in ditching the plane in to the Hudson river, after it struck a flock of birds. All 150 people onboard survived, with about 80 of them needing medical attention for minor injuries. So yeah – it’s a remarkable story, and no doubt, it’s a freak accident which fortunately ended OK, thanks to the skill and training of the pilot and the crew of the plane, not to mention the good design of planes so that when they land in water, they should float. All round pats on the back, lads, well done (or in US speaky “great job”), everyone get down the pub for a booze up.
But I have some problems:
1) For starters – I simply hate (and I very rarely use the word hate) – but I hate the fact that this is being reported as “a flock of birds hit the plane” – that’s right, they’re blaming this on the birds. The correct way to report this is “the plane hit a flock of birds”. Which of the two objects – the flock of birds, or the aeroplane – has a natural right to be flying in the air? Hmm. Answer is clear to me, but in case it’s not, it’s the birds. So although arguably the birds were the cause of the accident, it is only because the plane hit them, and not the other way around. A minor point, perhaps, but important nonetheless.
2) Captain C.B. Sully Sullenberger is being hailed as a hero. He’s not a hero. The man did his job. The plane did what it was designed to do. I’m not questioning that he’s a very skillful man, and that his years of training and dedication to his trade have paid off in the lives of 150 people, but let’s get some perspective. He did his job, he did it well, but he is not a hero. Within a couple of days of this happening, 118,000 people have joined a Facebook group dedicated to him, with a lot of those saying he deserves the highest US civilian honour available, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. If that medal, the highest possible honour that can be given to a civilian, is given to a man who simply did his job, then I’d wager there’s little value in that medal. A hero need only be someone who acts courageously, but really in order to be a hero, you have to acta courageously beyond your usual zone of comfort. Police officers and fire officer who do their daily job in extreme conditions aren’t heroes. They just do their job. This is no different. Show me a person who, for example, stops a mugging, saves a person from being hit by a bus, or even just makes some kind of sacrifice without regard for their own, and I’ll call them a hero.
3) The event is being described as a miracle. No. It’s not. Let’s consider the most common definition of a miracle:
“an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause.”
OK, so some definitions of a miracle might be similar to:
“a wonder; marvel, a wonderful or surpassing example of some quality”
So in the latter context, you might describe the situation as a kind of miracle. But in my book it doesn’t exactly speak volumes or heap praise on either the designers of the aircraft or the training processes that pilots go through. By saying it’s a wonder that no-one died, it’s a miracle, you may as well as say it was a fluke, that you’re surprised people didn’t die, in fact, I’d even go so far as to say it’s an insult to the Captain. It suggests that we’d normally expect people to die. Why should we expect that?
Bah. But the most important point.
4) It seems everyone has very quickly forgotten the story of the Captain who successfully crash landed a Boeing 777 at Heathrow in January 2008, barely a year ago. In a similar event, Captain Peter Burkill successfully crash landed a plane at Heathrow after an engine was affected by ice in the fuel. Everyone survived. But what many people seem to have forgotten is how he was then the subject of a total character assassination, vilified for things he had done in his earlier life. Now, rumour has it that this resulted in the complete breakdown of his marriage, the loss of his house and kids, and he is now so traumatised by the whole event that he hasn’t flown since. Unfortunately, I can’t substantiate that and I can’t remember where I heard or read it.
But if it’s true, for “Sully’s” sake, I hope he doesn’t get the hero treatment.