Aircraft Accident Experts

The Malaysian Airlines flight 370 story began over six months ago, March 8, 2014. Two weeks after the airliner went missing I was trying to avoid the disaster’s 3-ring circus coverage; I chose instead to follow the politics of what was going on. I turned on my favorite political commentary show which always showcased intelligent analysis. I was disappointed to find that the topic slid from what was happening in Washington to the MH370 accident. I was disappointed when I heard the commentators giving their opinions on where the plane was. What was more egregious was that the panel coordinator even asked their opinions on the subject, as if this were within their domain to make a call on.
Why would I navigate away from the razor-sharp aeronautical scrutiny of each of the major newscasts from the aircraft accident ‘experts’? For the simple reason that these ‘experts’ are not who they claim they are; they are a special kind of fool, one who can turn on tears while donning an air of experience that make the bigger fools – the newscasters – drool, while those who truly understand roll their eyes in frustration. Former political appointees fill the networks’ technical expert slots like customers on a fast food line.
I know political appointees who truly are experts in their field; they’ve turned wrenches or manned the controls, rose from the ranks to places of respect among their peers. However, they are more the exception than the rule. A political appointee is not necessarily chosen because of their knowledge, but because someone liked them enough to nominate them. They bring with them just enough awareness to stick to their adviser’s playbook and not to go too far off script. But I’ve attended enough NTSB hearings; I’ve heard these self-proclaimed ‘experts’ pose a question that has nothing to do with the tragedy being investigated; worried more about their wardrobe or if they are well-lit enough, than the facts of the aircraft accident being discussed.
But what makes a tragedy even more so is the total discounting of the victims’ families. What do I mean? If you recall the coverage of MH370, the ‘experts’ were throwing theories around as if their opinion was fact; gold-embossed truths based solely on their position – or former position – as an aviation ‘expert’ (in name or title only), e.g. Secretary, Administrator or Chairman. Think about that, your loved one is believed dead, someone you spent a lifetime married to or raising, disappears without a trace. Now upon the anguish of strings of false hopes and dead ends, some fool is vying for air time just so he/she can be counted as the most adroit fool of the lot.
I’ve met these family members. I was at Shanksville, Ground Zero and several other aircraft accident sites; I’ve paused in my searches so as not to remind these families of our purpose during the solemnity of a prayer service at the crash site. These family members have come to my office; I’ve heard their stories, listened silently as the tears flowed, often stood helpless as they tried to understand what happened. And for my honesty they would thank me, an honor I never felt I deserved, for truly the honor was for me to do what I could.
These siblings, parents, children and grandparents of flight MH370 are frightened; they hang on the word of anyone who will give them hope – not to be lied to; not to be deceived – but to be leveled with, compassionately, even at the cost of the truth. Instead they become the later victim, the pity targets whose torment is stretched to the point of breaking … and then some. How cruel!
Turn on your television; pick any commercial where a celebrity touts the virtues of a product. One comes to mind: a celebrity goes on and on ad nauseum about his/her new car, how the suspension is this or the mileage is that because of the new technology. How many would go out and buy that car? It is hawked by a person who wouldn’t know a suspension if they tripped over it; could not comprehend the concept of fuel-saving technology except for some guy said to read it off the cue card.
The panel coordinator in the first paragraph and his/her commentator panelists just made me realize how far we’ve come to simultaneously shoot for ratings while indifferently crushing an innocent surviving relative of an aircraft accident. The commentators are experts in their political field; viewers hung on these experts’ words with respect and faith. But in that moment – though I believe unintentionally – they were the celebrity selling a car; they became the tragedy, the fool. Because when you carry that much clout, it becomes your strength; a power over a willing and vulnerable audience wanting to be told it’s all okay. But it’s true: with great power comes great responsibility. Sometimes responsibility means knowing when to shut up.

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