Aircraft Accidents and Public Interest

An interesting study was conducted by three representatives of the University of Oxford in the UK; they were examining how aircraft crashes in different parts of the world are tracked by websites like Wikipedia. The results showed disparity in attention based upon, e.g. crash location, victims’ nation, and even death tolls. I found the findings to be ambiguous, not for anything other than the research parameters, which seemed to take too much and not enough into consideration.
For my part I only use Wikipedia as a reference; half the time I don’t trust the accuracy of the information. I may check an accident in Wikipedia for the date or any available information without having to waste time sifting through a local news report. But the information is dependent on the integrity of the source(s), which I have found often to be biased.
But I have noticed differences in interest in my time involved in accident investigations. To stress my point let’s use two accidents that occurred within eight months of each other in 2003. Two US Air regional carriers, both Beech 1900D aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff under similar circumstances and – it turns out – from similar causes: elevator maintenance.
Air Midwest 5481 received a heavy dose of attention partly because of the time it spent by itself in the news. The tragedy took 21 lives and drew attention because of the futile attempts of the crew to fight an aircraft that was doomed from the retraction of the gear. Attention was almost absolute and the later findings did much to boost awareness as well.
Colgan Air’s Beech 1900D crashed eight months later. Two people died – both pilots – and the attention was non-existent; it was only reported in local newspapers. Just like the NTSB’s cynical view of ‘nobody cares if only pilots are killed’, the media took the same approach.
But to the same end, I notice that now, in our growing media progressive world, the banality of the reports splashing on the aviation news services, some that don’t even fit the DoT definition of ‘accident’. Though interesting in a ‘so what happened today’ kind of way, these reports instead push the mantra that flying is dangerous, often by those who understand it the least.
It’s one thing for a news reporter to stare with a deer-in-the-headlights look into the camera as she reports that a tire ‘exploded’ on landing, but then to add to the injury by inviting aviation experts to bemoan the aviation industry is going down the tubes because of an air turn back or an engine shut down. For instance, today’s news: “an emergency landing after a fuel leak”; “plane blows two tires on landing”; and “plane returns because of engine issue.” We’re destroying our own industry by making mountains out of molehills; none of these cases rise to the level of accident, and barely to the level of incident. Yet we treat the news as if the passengers arrived kissing the ground and finding religion.
As Pogo once said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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