Aircraft Accidents and Pride in Workmanship

To begin with, just let me say: I have full confidence in Repair Stations; I believe that they do their job – in most cases – with integrity and safety. They prospered – and continue to prosper – at a time when the industry needed them most.
But there is one thing that I miss about the old days; the days when the aircraft were maintained by that airline’s mechanics. I worked for a cargo airline in Omaha, NE, with two flights departing within ten minutes of each other. I can remember pushing the aircraft back, for instance, knowing they had received the best of care during the day long layover. On the nights the wind was out of the north – mostly every night in Omaha – I would stand outside while the ramp crew put the equipment ‘to bed’. With passenger service being all but done for the day, I anticipate the distant roar of my airliners throttling up their engines. Within moments there would be the first jet banking into the turn followed minutes later by the second. Without trying to be corny, there was a swell of pride there watching the plane … my plane … flying off.
Every night, when I walked into the mechanic’s office after the launch, I would research the inbound aircraft tail numbers for the morning arrivals. Once verified, I looked up the maintenance history, noting necessary troubleshooting, time sensitive repairs or drop dead deferrals for what aircraft were coming in. I next called up the parts people in the hub base and ordered parts that would fix the jet(s) or help the troubleshooting along. Only then did I go home.
There was a matter of pride in what I did; I had a stake in those aircraft. They provided job security, a means to care for my family, and gave me purpose. I was proud to work them, even looking forward to the next day’s repairs.
And that’s the one thing about working in a repair station that isn’t captured. During my accident investigation career, I’d seen it over and over again, a lack of pride. What were my airplanes became just another airplane to an outside mechanic. There didn’t seem to be any urgency; the aircraft was repaired when it got repaired – not a moment sooner. And that lack of pride translated into missed timeframes; a lack of resolve interpreted into a shortage of confidence in the flight crews.
It’s been years since I turned a wrench on the line. I’m convinced that those issues have had time to work themselves out. But the days of pride in workmanship will never be the same.

Aircraft Accidents and Conspiracy Theorists III

TWA 800: Again, simply put, a scandal of this size would be unsustainable. The ability to keep an entire naval vessel quiet about shooting down an airliner would be on a scale of impossible. Imagine the logistics of keeping several hundred naval personnel, plus those that are part of their battle group and the officers up the chain privy to the shootdown. Now to assure their silence, what would the government have to do to them, their families, their neighbors and friends who would have some knowledge of the naval person and the ship they were assigned to.
The next question would be: Why? Many conspiracy theorists don’t look beyond the headlines in their head and ask the question of why. What would the US government gain by murdering its civilians? A hostile government could gain by it, but there was no proof in it, so why would this be necessary; to what end would it lead?
So there are those who feel that a missile was sent aloft to take out the B747. Was it a mistake or intentional? The conspiracy theorists really don’t elaborate. So we would look at two previous attacks on commercial aircraft: one a B747 and the other an A300.
On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes mistook Iran Air 655, an Airbus A300-B2, as a hostile aircraft and launched a missile, taking the airliner out and killing all onboard. It was nearly impossible to hide the event – I suppose an attempt could have been made – so much so that within hours the whole world knew.
On September 1, 1983, a Russian Sukhoi Su15 Interceptor fired on KAL 007, a B747, again, killing all onboard. These attacks are not easy to conceal; they happen out in the open.
So what does the conspiracy theorist gain by dragging out an investigation? But again it’s the fantastic damage these people do that makes these head trips so cruel. Again, imagine finding out that your government that you pay taxes to, vote for leaders, defend in all arguments; what if you found out it murdered your son or daughter? It puts the victims’ families through such a whirlwind of unending propaganda, each designed – not to finding the truth – but to keep the story alive, the controversy alive, just to feed an ego or two.
Then there’s the damage to the investigation itself. So many resources dedicated to the disproving of all the theorists, not one that deals with actual events. All this time and effort is wasted pursuing conspiracy theories that the true cause becomes muddied, the investigators badgered for ‘hiding the truth’. Eventually, when the results of good investigation do come out, the quality of the end product of the investigation report is tainted; the investigators spend less time improving safety than defending the evidence.
This is true evil of conspiracy theorists. And when these conspiracy theories come out, ask yourself: what qualifies these fools to speak out; what evidence do they possess; what experience do they have?
And why do they keep yelling over everybody?
“If you have the facts, argue the facts; if you have the law, argue the law; if you have neither, bang the table.”
George Will

Aircraft Accidents and Conspiracy Theorists II

Here’s something I don’t often readily admit to: in my past I worked for the government for almost two decades. In some circuits that is paramount to being a zombie, or even worse … a used car salesman.
Although I am being glib, having worked for the government gives me insight into how the different branches of the government work together … they don’t. Imagine what happens when several species of shark swim together; they keep a respectful distance, eyeing each other, gauging each other. But let one call attention to itself, keep the kill to itself or worse … start to bleed; the other species will engage in a feeding frenzy.
The branches of government are like this; they rarely, if ever, work hand-in-hand with each other as is portrayed in spy movies or novels. In July 1999, several branches of government, e.g. the NTSB representing the Department of Transportation, pleaded to President Clinton to be the lead division on the JFK Jr. accident. Trivial disagreements, including vanity, prevent government divisions from working together.
That’s why the conspiracy theories surrounding 9/11 boggle the mind. To imagine a plot that the Federal government, the most dysfunctional organization in the world, designed the 9/11 attacks has as much chance of being cultivated as taking a casual stroll to the Moon through the vacuum of space. But conspiracy theorists will have us believe that an aggressive take-over of four airliners was conceived of within the first eight months of President Bush the younger’s first term in office; that the military, the FAA, the CIA, and the FBI somehow made a joint effort to design this fantastic plot.
I took part in the 9/11 investigations: I was at Ground Zero, the Pentagon, Shanksville, PA, and the little known collection place: Fresh Kills in Staten Island. I can give some validity to what was reported: hijackers crashed the four airliners on 9/11/2001.
Flight 93: Conspiracy movies like ‘Loose Change’ suggest that Flight 93 landed in either Cincinnati or Cleveland where the plane was parked. The passengers were herded off the plane and were never heard from again. However, I stood at the crater; I heard the cockpit voice recorder; I collected evidence with the FBI; and I saw parts, e.g. a 757 landing gear and flaps traceable to N591UA.
Ground Zero: Again ‘experts’ calling themselves ‘engineers’ insist timed charges were used during the collapse as seen from footage where windows blew out when the towers fell. But the floors pancaked down upon the floor below, the air escaped sideways, blowing out the windows. Again, the traceable aircraft parts were found from the hijacked airliners.
The Pentagon: Conspiracy theorists in one sentence say the Pentagon was hit by a missile, not a B757. In the next statement they point to parking lot light posts knocked over by the aircraft’s wings, laying towards the building – not away by an explosion. They contradict themselves from one sentence to the next.
Beyond the lack of respect these conspiracy theorists show towards the victims, these fools go out of their way to inflict emotional distress on victims’ families by pedaling their idiocy on these family and friends attending memorial events. Their propaganda tears at the very fabric of healing and national support, further adding to the tragedy by suggesting the dead were not victims of radicals, but of their own government’s desperate attempt to use the deaths as a power grab.
This is also dangerous. It divides a people against a common enemy and points their anger at imaginary governmental cohesion. It lowers necessary attention of threats from hostile nations. As time goes on, complacency replaces memory and we don’t feel the urgency to remain alert. Conspiracy theories misdirect attention from threats; they dull scrutiny of dangerous circumstances; they deaden the nerves at a time we should be alert, watchful and protective of our loved ones.

Aircraft Accidents and Conspiracy Theorists I

Last week I was inquiring after an author. I haven’t read said author’s book, but I’ve been assured the book is well-researched and accurate. However, when I inquired about the author’s qualifications – and having provided mine – I was met with several unnecessarily deprecating remarks, such as:
“Shame with all that talent then that you haven’t cracked MH370.”
The lead-in to this quote stated by this troubled Twitter-follower of said author was that the author I was inquiring after was the last word on all things aviation. The MH370 investigation? I should bow to said author’s convictions about the probable cause of the accident; that my years in accident investigation were irrelevant when compared to said author’s unequalled experience and knowledge.
I can smell a conspiracy theorist a mile away; this twitterer who I quoted (not necessarily the author, though that’s still up to debate) reeks of conspiracy theorist because, for one, they speak in absolutes: the said author [absolutely] solved the MH370 accident from the comfort of an office, end-of-story.
Conspiracy theorists, whether they are bloviating about the grassy knoll or spending hours proving demolitions caused the collapse of Building Seven, live in a world of theory, not fact; of opinion, not truth; of hearsay, not evidence. As much as I disagree with many things the NTSB does, one thing they do consistently right is they work to clarify by facts, not obscure with intuition. Conspiracies that harp on ‘Blaming THEM’ or finding ‘Government’ to be at the bottom of all that goes wrong are not only cruel, but dangerous. To me, a conspiracy theorist is the most dangerous person around because they speak from ignorance and emotion; they refuse two-way conversation; they won’t listen to factual information; and they take away resources from those looking for the actual cause of an accident.
What facts can we take from the MH370 investigation? Little to none; those are the only FACTS. I personally know at least five people who were boots-on-the-ground involved in MH370; they know it intimately, yet each one has a different theory – based on first-hand facts – what happened to the aircraft.
Every week a new ‘expert’ has stated that they know where the airliner went down or can predict with the utmost certainty when they will find the wreckage. Truth is they’re spitballing; they have nothing to lose and everything to gain, e.g. being considered an ‘expert’ for as long as the story runs.
So why is this dangerous? All these ‘experts’ have wasted valuable time and resources chasing theories. Instead of analyzing the few facts available and coming up with one or two likely possibilities, the search crews instead search thousands of miles of ocean looking for an airliner that may be in many unrecognizable pieces across a landscape that looks like an underwater version of the Rocky Mountains. So they’ve lost valuable time. The results: finding MH370 is now like finding a needle in a haystack in a warehouse full of haystacks on a New York City block full of warehouses full of haystacks. That is accurate.
The investigation should have included law enforcement at the first hint that the B777 was intentionally crashed. Evidence pulled off the Captain’s hard drive would have been better analyzed by people, e.g. as the US’s FBI did in 9/11, who look at terrorist activities regularly. Law enforcement knows how to collect evidence without corrupting it; how to interview associates with productive questions; how to read true intentions from misdirection. For instance, if the Captain wanted the crash site to remain secret, do you think he would have left evidence on his computer of where he put the plane down? Maybe, maybe not; the fact is: we’ll never know.
But why is it cruel? I’ve had the honor to meet with many victims’ family members from other accidents. One common theme I got from them is the not knowing what happened. Imagine how every week for over two years some new ‘expert’ opens that bleeding wound with an empty hope of finding their loved ones; how each week for over two years these people are paraded in front of the cameras, their emotions awkwardly displayed for public consumption over and over and over again. I can’t think of anything crueler.
Next week we’ll look at 9/11 conspiracy theorists.
NOTE: Let me impart on future non-fiction, ‘fact-based’ conspiracy authors some advice an FAA lawyer once gave me: ‘Be careful what you call fact. Even some hints of opinion can be interpreted as fact-reporting and will be used against you in a lawsuit. Don’t slander an airline, a manufacturer or a real person.’ Your conspiracy theorist followers will treat you as if you have the plague and no one will stand by you.
It is why I write fiction; Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.” My books feature fictional characters, non-existent airlines and made-up airliners. My stories deal with issues that affect the whole industry. I can pass on my experience in accident investigation without hurting anyone.