Aircraft Accidents and SPACE Men

Who was Guy Fawkes and why should the aviation community care?  Guido ‘Guy’ Fawkes was a terrorist who was implicated in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605; the intent was to explode a stockpile of gunpowder under the House of Lords, part of England’s Parliament.  He is also the likeness of the mask used in movies, e.g. V for Vendetta; this likeness is also employed extensively today by self-proclaimed insurgents who are too cowardly to show their face.

Normally I don’t go political, but let me just say: People who wear Guy Fawkes masks do not understand who (or what) Guy Fawkes was.  People who wear Che Guevara T-shirts do not understand who (or what) Che Guevara was.  Either they wear these items to ‘look cool’ or they are desperate to feel akin to a ‘revolutionary’.  I think it’s the ‘looks cool’ thing.

There are those who deal in aviation conspiracies and speculation – two different activities, but, in my opinion, just as damaging.  Am I calling these misguided individuals terrorists?  No, no, no; but I will say they are destructive, especially of the truth, arrogantly erasing the line between fact and fiction.  Terrorists cause damage with intent, while conspiracists cause damage out of ignorance all the while being unaware of the injury they cause.

I call these speculators and conspiracy theorists: SPACE Men, people who find a conspiracy in everything or speculate without the benefit of facts; after all, why let something like the facts get in the way of starting rumors?  I guess this is not politically correct and is certainly cynical, but since in light of recent events, Self-Proclaimed Aviation Conspiracy ‘Experts’ (SPACE) Men are at it again and they are donning a whole new Guy Fawkes mask – Social Media – to cover their tracks.  When is it okay to speculate without the facts?  The short answer would be somewhere between Never and Not Ever.

Look at Malaysia Air MH370 that disappeared over four years ago.  The SPACE men were hard at it – every talking head, aka ‘expert’, who could push their way onto a News set – they speculated where, how and why the plane crashed.  Searchers ran in every direction following up on each theory.  Meanwhile, the victims’ families suffering through this hell, endured a new hope that was quickly dashed.  Half of those ‘crash theories’ were never based in fact, but inexperience and speculation.

Or the 9/11 conspiracies, e.g. Loose Change, (a movie that regularly contradicted itself) divided people more and motivated other ‘experts’, like comedic actor Charlie Sheen, to advise us.  Meanwhile victims’ families suffered the barrage of theories, especially when these Loose Change ‘experts’ crashed their anniversary memorials, hounding the victims’ families with allegations that their family members were not killed by terrorists, but by their own government.  Loose Change ‘experts’ never went to Shanksville, the Pentagon or Ground Zero; they were among the more contemptible conspiracy theorist ‘experts’, but certainly not the only ones.

On Friday, August 10, 2018, a man identified as Richard Russell, a ground service employee, allegedly started, taxied and took off in a Horizon Air (dba Alaska Airlines Regional) Bombardier de Havilland Dash-8-Q400.  I say ‘allegedly’ because, as of this writing, all the facts in the incident’s investigation are not all in, e.g. how or why he commandeered the plane.  Whether he was suicidal or his mental wires were crossed, Richard Russell crashed the Dash-8-Q400, killing himself and destroying the aircraft – that is the only fact we know.

At this point this story must avoid allegation, allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the teams of professionals to get to the bottom of what happened and how it happened.  However, SPACE Men decided otherwise.

On social media, less than twenty-four hours after the Horizon Air event concluded, there were calls to discuss the incident, to get the insight of those who like aviation, but are not necessarily professionally involved in aviation.  These brainstorming events would discuss how the aircraft was stolen; what Richard Russell must have been thinking and just put all that combined inexperience to work so that all the rumors that can be fabricated, will be.

My suggestion to these groups was to first allow the facts – all the facts – to come to light before exploring the unprovable.  It is a slippery slope using non-facts to make judgments about another person’s mental state or allowing one’s pride to interfere with common sense when one is not a subject authority; it is a problem both legally and morally.

NOTE: On Monday morning, August 13, 2018, over forty-eight hours after the event concluded, the Aviation Safety Network reported, “The FBI has recovered the flight data recorder and parts of the cockpit voice recorder of the Horizon Air DHC-8 that crashed after being stolen.”  Let’s be clear, the recorders had not been read yet, just recovered.  Facts are, at this point, unknown and unverified.

These ‘insight’ brainstorming – aka Rumor Building – sessions are destructive, on so many levels.  Despite being counter-productive to the truth, Rumor Building is expensive, career-ending, dangerous, unprofessional and a perversion of the facts.

For example, the first rumor to come out from the Richard Russell event was that the aircraft was stolen by an aircraft mechanic (this is the ‘career-ending’ part).  This conclusion-jumping allegation was soon retracted, but not before the media ran with it.  If left unchecked, rumors like this suggest the mechanic workforce as a whole should be painted as ‘unhinged’, that they are all crazy.  Not possible, you say?  Remember Andreas Lubitz and the pilot competency scare in the wake of Germanwings 9525?  Egypt Air 990?  Or FedEx 705?

The Germanwings 9525’s investigation was flawed and unprofessional; it was carried out in the Media, a whole other group of ‘aviation experts’.  Case evidence became corrupted, destroying the credibility of facts.  When the speculation continued, people blamed first officer, Andreas Lubitz’s family, as if the parents were complicit in his actions; as if his siblings sent him on his self-destructive path.  Passion isn’t logical; it doesn’t react from facts; it just reacts – often violently.  All it needs … is a little push.

The news today is chock full of allegations that stand on the theory of ‘Guilty-until-proven-Innocent’; even when proven false, the allegations stick; facts becoming perverted.  Violent radicals come from any walk of life; become pugnacious for any number of minor reasons; seek ‘justice’ against anyone who disagrees with them, e.g. a congressman gets shot while practicing at a ball field; businesses are destroyed for supporting candidates; people are harassed for selling lunch to Immigration agents; a Senator in the Senate Chamber lies to alter an election.  All these things happened … and not because of facts, but because of rumor.  In today’s world, false allegations continually take on lives of their own; even when proven otherwise, false … rumors … persist.

And the radicals who conduct these illegal actions are often hiding behind a mask – just like the Guy Fawkes mask.  When the mask is removed and their images broadcast, (Berkeley, California, August 5, 2018) the thugs are revealed to be … Nobodies; people acting out of emotion – not facts; not leaders, but followers, who become violent because of rumor.  Social Media is the new Guy Fawkes mask; Nobodies stir up dissension and violence from the safety of their Mom’s basement, sometimes not understanding the vicious nature of their audiences.  This is why Rumor Building is wrong; why self-proclaimed ‘experts’, e.g. SPACE Men, are delusional.

Rumors are expensive.  Rumors have a way of getting to our elected officials, who, again, react from passion … and definitely not logic.  Under the banner of ‘representing their constituents’, e.g. SPACE Men, they demand answers to some of the most bizarre questions.  When I worked for the FAA’s Flight Standards Division, we were required to answer dozens of Congressionals: letters written by a Senator’s or Congressman’s staff, demanding answers for their constituents’ concerns.

Topics included: 1 – Why don’t aircraft engine manufacturers use chicken wire over the jet engine inlet to prevent bird ingestion?  Response: Chicken wire clogs and starves the engine.  2 – Why doesn’t the FAA pressure air operators to design/purchase explosion-proof luggage containers that increase payload weight by 300%?  Response: The priority is to design measures to keep explosives from getting on the aircraft to begin with.  Thousands of dollars are spent researching these ‘issues’; inspectors can’t conduct surveillance duties because they have to follow up and respond to trivial Congressionals.

It has been my experience that SPACE Men are irresponsible and arrogant.  They have just enough basic knowledge to be dangerous; their use of aviation buzz words persuades their naïve followers to believe them; they battle facts with emotion, answer questions with misdirection and they suggest Rumor Building is harmless fun, some good old-fashioned brainstorming.  Then when things go south, they don their Guy Fawkes mask, shrug their shoulders and get lost in the crowd, leaving the true professionals to clean up their mess.

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