Friday, November 13, 2009

Via 'Wired,' a Very Cool Video Simulation of Sullenberger's Glide Into the Hudson has a very cool 3-D simulation of the amazing flight that landed in the Hudson River last January after losing both engines shortly after takeoff from La Guardia.

It's by Kas Osberbuhr, an engineer at K3 Resources who spent over 200 hours on the simulation, which is synched with the actual cockpit-ATC recordings and the cockpit voice recording. Amazing stuff.

It's worth watching as two new books appear on the subject. One, Chesley B. Sullenberger, the pilot (and former military glider pilot) who safely brought the plane down in the river and saved all 155 lives on board, is "Highest Duty," part dramatic report on the event, part memoir, and part cri de coeur about the sad current state of commercial aviation.

The other is "Fly by Wire: The Geese, the Glide and the 'Miracle' on the Hudson," by William Langewiesche. Though the book -- which was rushed into print -- got good reviews, Langewiesche took the opportunity to basically piss on Sullenberger's accomplishment by arguing Airbus's renowned "fly by wire" technology was the real hero, in that it "cradled them all the way to the water." Some passengers on Flight 1549 are, of course, unhappy. Yes, the Airbus plane had great technology. It also had a pilot with steely nerves, extensive training in gliders and exceptional command of a situation.

So, by the way, this is not the first time around for Langewiesche on hero-debunking. His book "American Ground," which focused on the firefighters and other workers at the hellish World Trade Center site in the aftermath of 9/11, accused firefighters of "shadowy, widespread" looting of the ruins of retail shops on the site. Relatives of dead firemen, and New York Fire Department officials, including some at the scene, said that Langewiesche never bothered to check with them about the charges, or to do basic fact-checking.

Here's a piece by David Carr in the New York Times in 2003 that reports on that controversy over Langewiesche's reporting standards. In it, Langewiesche is accused by a reporter who painstakingly investigated his description of firefighters looting a jeans store of "a reckless disregard for elementary procedures of verification."

Here's an even stronger condemnation of Langewiesche's credibility on the WTC Living History blog.

Earlier this year, furthermore, Langewiesche wrote a long and highly praised article in Vanity Fair magazine about the Oct. 29, 2006, mid-air collision over the Amazon, in which 154 in a Brazilian 737 died while seven in the American business jet that collided with the 737 at 37,000 feet lived, after a harrowing 25-minute ordeal.

In some detail, Langewiesche dramatically recreated the scene on the business jet after the crash, as its occupants contemplated imminent death, before its pilots unexpectedly found a military landing strip to put down in the jungle. He even put words in my mouth on the plane and ascribed motives to me, the only one of the survivors who has been free to talk about the crash.

Did he contact me for comment on these remarkable insights? Nope. Never even made an attempt, as I pointed out in a letter published subsequently in Vanity Fair. Hell, I have talked openly about that event since Day One. Nor did he try to talk to the other survivors.

Narrative license to create a "tangible narrative," he has airily called this don't-check-the-facts-out technique. For about 100 years, journalists have called that something else: "piping" your story -- and it while it's often an expression of amazement, it's never an expression of admiration.


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