Saturday, May 22, 2010

Flying is a modern-day lottery: The 158 people who were killed in the Air India Express plane crash in Mangalore Lost the Lottery! Sigh!

Flying as a modern-day lottery: The 158 people who were killed and the eight who survived in the Air India Express plane crash in Mangalore Lost the Lottery! Sigh!

by forensic blogger Danny Bloom, with apologies to CNN reporter Richard Quest!

CYBERSPACE -- May 22, 2010

Flying is safe, very safe, according to industry statistics. But don't
ask the people who died on the ill-fated Air India Express jet that crashed about

You might remember the news of the ill-fated flight of a Swissair jet
flying from New York to Geneva back in the 1990s, and also the news
reports about LAPA Flight 3142 that failed to take flight in
Argentina. Twelve years have passed since that Swissair flight, airline reservations are
still strong, the flying public hardly blinks and the sky's the limit.
Nothing changes much in the world of aviation and flying safety. It's
a gamble, every flight is a gamble but statistically, you stand to
win. The numbers are on the side of the living.

But there's a funny thing about the way plane crashes are reported in
the news media -- and the way the news is received and digested.

After any major crash, after the bold headlines and day-after
analyses, reality returns to the normality that is life.

People who are neurotically afraid to fly (let's call them "fearful
flyers") feel justified in thinking the way they do. They often clip
out front-page newspaper stories and put them in a mental scrapbook.
"See," they tell everyone who listens, " flying is not safe, never
was, never will be. How much more evidence do you need?"

Psychiatrists report this all the time. After every major crash that
makes international headlines, the fearful flyers among us (and there
are many; 30 million in the US, maybe three million in Taiwan) say: "I
told you so."

And they add, just so we won't forget: "I am not neurotic. You think
flying is safe? Go ahead and fly, sucker!"

People who are not afraid to fly have another survival mechanism, call
it a defense mechanism. They see the news on TV and read the stories
in the press and say: "Too bad, a real tragedy. But it was just fate,
an ill-fated flight. The planes I fly on will never crash. I am
indestructible, I am a realist."

And they will fly, again and again. Because flying is safe and
statistically you've got a better chance of arriving on time and in
perfect condition (minus the jet lag, of course, or the boozy
hangover) than the poor blokes in urban traffic jams below. Every Web
site devoted to fear of flying will tell you so. And statistics don't

There's a third group who find plane crashes reassuring. These are the
people who put their faith in God or Buddha or Allah.

"See, " they say to anyone who will listen, "God works in mysterious
ways. When your time comes, your time comes. God is just calling you
back early. The pearly gates await you. You have nothing to fear but
fear itself. Trust in the Lord and the Kingdom of Heaven shall be

It works, too. Every group finds something in plane crashes, food for
thought, fuel for fiery arguments. And they are all right.

And then there are the plane spotters, those devilish plane buffs who
stand near runway approaches at major airports around the world and
take comfort in watching the slow, graceful approaches of jetliners
and prop planes as they jockey for landing rights and runway reunions.
There are lots of them out there, every day, everywhere. Fascinated by
all kinds of aircraft, they come armed with cameras and a sense of
mission. Plane crashes don't stop them, grizzly TV images don't stop
them, even typhoons don't stop them.

The final word on plane crashes? There is no final word. The world
returns to normal, very quickly, and everyone retreats to their
private vision of heaven and hell. The bell rings. Classes resume in
the School of Hard Landings and nobody's the wiser.

Except insurance companies. They learn the most from these things.

In Paris, there will be a thorough investigation, a report, assigning
of blame. Funerals for the dead, psychiatric counselling for the

But nothing will change. Pilots will still attempt to land their
magnificent flying machines in stormy weather, corporations will still
put emphasis on the bottom line, passengers will still put their trust
in God, amazing technology that enables them to be god-like for a few
hours in the air, and fate.

Flying is safe, very safe, according to industry statistics. But don't
ask the survivors of Flight 447 about statistics. They lost the

After every accident, there is hand-wringing, assigning of blame,
officials who humbly take responsibility and resign. Newspapers
dutifully print obituaries, TV news segments will show us the grieving
families, over and over again.

It doesn't matter if it's TWA Flight 800 over Long Island or the
Lockerbie explosion over Scotland or even the KAL 007 shootdown over
the Sea of Japan or Air France Flight 447.

Planes fly, planes explode, planes crash. Every flight is a race
against time, against lift and stall, against the elements. Is flying
safe? Sure.

One wonders if anything has been learned. Flying is still a lottery in
which most of us come out as winners. But for some modern travelers,
the flying is over; they lost the lottery and died unspeakable deaths.

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