Friday, January 16, 2009

Flight 1549: That Was No 'Miracle;' That Was Skill and Courage

Of course, the "miracle" workers are at it again. That is, the media keep referring to the spectacular crash-landing and brilliant rescue of passengers and crew from US Airways Flight 1549 yesterday as a "miracle."

Can we please grow up and get off our knees and stop invoking the supernatural, media? The stirring rescue of 155 on board that Airbus A320 half-submerged in the Hudson River off 48th Street yesterday occurred not through divine intervention but through a combination of skill, courage, comportment and preparedness.

And we should be proud, again, of New York in a crisis.

Here is what happened. Knowing the plane was not going anywhere but down, the captain, C.B. Sullenberger, 58, with consummate skill and steadiness, glided that baby onto the river as if it were on pontoons.

In the cabin, flight attendants steadily directed passengers toward the exits. Passengers got out calmly. The captain made two passes through the cabin to make sure that everyone was out, and then he left the literally sinking ship.

Outside, boats of all kinds from the Hudson River waterfront were already nudging up against the airplane. Rescue operations, some of them very harrowing, began immediately. New York's legendary maritime navy swarmed the scene and performed brilliantly -- just as it had, remember, during 9/11.

All 155 on board the plane were saved.

This was not a miracle. This was another magnificent performance by people who do not cave. This was New York at its finest, again.

The miracle theme, repeated incessantly in the media today, was also picked up by New York's Governor David ("Hey, It's a Miracle I Got This Job") Paterson, who has been prattling on about the "Miracle on the Hudson."

Get a grip, people. I've been in a bad airplane crash, and surviving it was no miracle. In my case, it was due to luck, dumb luck, coupled with great skill by pilots who managed to wrestle down an airplane that seemed doomed.

Here is my problem with this "miracle" baloney.

Horrible things happened all over yesterday. Innocent children died in Gaza. There were hideous car accidents all over. People lost their homes and went into the cold due to Wall Street thievery.

Somehow, divine intervention is never cited for the horrors.

When I got home after I went down on a plane in the Amazon two years ago, the television crews trooped to the house like trick-or-treaters (or, as one of my neighbors said, "as if you were a serial killer"). Especially the local ones, they kept asking me about some "miracle."

Here's what I told one of them, who looked crestfallen to have his angle kicked away.

"No, I don't believe in miracles. I believe in good luck and bad luck. If this was a miracle, what do you call what happened to those 154 people who died in a mid-air collision that I walked away from?"

I happened to TiVo that interview on TV that night. The anchorwoman introduced it by saying, "Now we have an amazing story about a local man who doesn't believe in miracles."

And the caption on the screen beneath my face reiterated the point: "Doesn't Believe in Miracles," it said.

That is correct.



Bob Barbanes said...

Hey Joe, what about the SIC? Was Sully in the plane alone? How do we know that the SIC didn't "assume command" and land the plane? Don't be so quick to ladle out those "hero" comments, buddy. Remember your own flight/near-death-experience? The PILOT IN COMMAND didn't *stay* in command.

Hey, just sayin'. It happens.

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My goal was to point out that pilot(s), flight attendants, passengers and rescue crews all appear to have performed admirably.

Langewiesche's "reporting" in Vanity Fair on the scene in the Legacy cockpit is highly suspect. He didn't speak with any of the survivors or even try to contact any of us. But your point is still well-taken. -- Joe

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