Aircraft Accidents and Compensating for Inexperience

I recently got into a word-for-word disagreement with a friend of mine; we come at accident investigation from a different direction – not like compass headings 90°-to-270°, but more like 30°-to-60°. The disagreement involved books written to document the ‘facts’ behind well-known accidents, how certain authors were much more believable based on … hmm, I’m not sure. And that’s what disturbed me about the discussion.
I have on many occasions been very critical of the NTSB and some of its investigators, that their attention to detail was lacking and their lack of experience deserved more attention. These are people, investigators, who are first on the scene (after the human remains have been removed) and begin digging through the wreckage for clues. Now for all their lack of industry experience, none of them have been hired in because they are without time working with metal – or these days, composites – or because they’re really good writers who know when to use an Oxford comma. They bring to the table, in varying degrees of knowledge, an ability to eventually get to the root of problems that caused accidents. And if they can’t draw from experience, then they rely on the team of experts they lead at the accident scene, each being from a different part of industry.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about conspiracy theorists. To clarify, not all people who write opinions are conspiracy theorists. But at the same time, people who write about accidents fall under two categories: the ones that live it and the ones that quote the ones that live it. I am one of the ones that lived it; I don’t have to ask anybody else to explain it to me so that I can get it right. Now I may have my opinions about accidents I didn’t work, e.g. MH370 or TWA800, but those opinions will stay mine; I will never try to sell a book to voice them.
Some people feel that they need to add to the confusion; their opinion(s) will rise above the noise made by so-called experts on-site because … well, I’m not sure why these people are called to write, what amount to, hardcover opinion pieces. The only reason I can think of is to make money off people who are too gullible to appreciate the truth; people that think these writers are experts because the writers say they are.
But they are not. And people are being taken in by these writers every single day.
I read a book two years ago; it dealt with safety and procedural problems within the airline industry. The book was authored by someone who had spent a total of, maybe several months working in flight scheduling, a part of the industry (not associated with my specialty: maintenance) before continuing as a newspaper contributor for several decades. I read the book prior to appearing with the same writer in an aviation school seminar, my book being fiction and the writer’s being non-fiction.
The writing in the book was all second-hand information; a lot of ‘he said, she said’, but nothing qualifying as original thought or original ‘it happened to me’. Accusations and allegations flew indiscriminately like a drive by shooting, again, all based on hearsay. Furthermore, the book was littered with quotations; some were not even complete quotes, but selected words cherry-picked specifically to make the writer’s point. One thing I’ve learned about quotes, especially those cherry-picked – or bookended by ellipses – is that they are not to be trusted as reliable. That is not to say that quoting Charles Dickens isn’t worthwhile, but the placing of quotation marks to distort the meaning of the quote is wrong.
At the aviation school seminar, I was making a point to a student’s question about Repair Stations and contract maintenance, this writer took possession of the microphone to dispel my opinion; the writer began by saying, “In the real world …” before mocking my answer to the student’s question, which was aimed at my background. Now you may say, “But Stephen you just used an incomplete quote with an ellipse.” Yeah, I did. But I don’t think I needed any more than that to get the point across that this writer didn’t know the subject matter that he/she spoke to. Besides, I was sitting right there when the quote was made, so it wasn’t hearsay.
Everybody has an opinion; hey, I’m an Italian New Yorker, no one understands that better than me. However, I prefer to keep my opinions to myself, especially in a politically charged year such as this. But more importantly, my opinions are based on my first-hand experience; whether I’m talking to my sons about auto repair or a classroom full of aircraft mechanics about an accident, you can bet I’m speaking from personal knowledge or else I make it clear that I’m not; I will even say, “Let’s look at the regulations or the policy.”
To do otherwise is a special type of dishonest; to push one’s self off as an expert where one has no expertise is deceptive, but more than that it’s dangerous. The fans of aviation, e.g. enthusiasts, planespotters, aviation educators and students; those who are truly looking for information is why I write … it definitely isn’t for the money. I respect them because we share the same interests and I know what it means to get it right. Deceptive writers, those pawning themselves off as ‘experts’, I can’t do anything about what they do. They just seem to me to be snake oil salespeople, bottling water in hard-or soft-covered bottles marked: Dr. Experience.

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