Science Uncategorized

Fear of Flying: Deciphering Plane Crashes

I have written about my fear of flying before, so it won’t surprise you that I’m consumed with this most recent plane crash.

I spent a number of hours trying to determine what happened to Malaysia Air flight #370. Since I have no understanding of how planes stay in the air (and to be honest, I had to look up Vietnam’s geographical relationship to China to determine how far out over the water the plane might have been), I can understand why you might shake your head and wonder why I, who clearly know nothing about why planes disappear, spent so much of my valuable time thinking about this — and now blogging about it. I can understand your point of view.

I hate flying. Hate it. Fear it. So when one of these things happens, I need to solve it. Fix it. Ensure that it won’t happen to me when I’m up in the air. Or worse, to look for the warning signs to add to the other warning signs I already pay attention to when I leave the ground. And since this particular flight clearly went down when they were at cruising altitude — which is the only time FOFP (Fear of Flying People) are the least bit calm —it’s all the more important that I figure it out. And frankly, my angst won’t wait for the experts to figure it out. It took months — months, I tell you — for them to find the Air France flight that went down in the Atlantic a few years ago.

So I called my sister, who is just as afraid of flying as I am. We FOFP stick together. She flies a lot; more than I do, for sure. She was flying back from Japan once, and the pilot got on the loudspeaker an hour or so out of New York and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, it looks like we might have some bad weather flying into Kennedy, and since we are going to be low on fuel, I will decide shortly whether to divert to Philly or not.” She was in the first row of first class. She took her seatbelt off (a foolish thing to do in bad weather), stood up, turned around, and said to the passengers behind her, “All in favor of going to Philadelphia instead of risking Kennedy, raise your hand.” She raised her hand fast and furious, as did the other passengers. She turned to the attendant and said, “Please tell the pilot the ayes have it, and we look forward to visiting the Liberty Bell.” She is one of the funniest people I know, by the way, but she was not kidding this time. The pilot got on a few minutes later and said, “Despite the ayes in first class, we will be landing at Kennedy Airport shortly.”

Back to the story. I called my sister because FOFP call each other for support, and because my other friends hang up or don’t take my call when there has been a crash, knowing that the conversation will be about the crash and nothing else. My options become limited during the days following a crash.

“Oh my God, can you believe it?”

“No, I think it might have been mechanical.”

“I was thinking maybe North Vietnam shot it down? Or maybe Korea? How far was Korea?”

“No, I don’t think that was it, but there was no radar following it, and the pilot didn’t turn on the distress beacon, so there wasn’t much time.”

“What do you mean they were not on radar? Are you f—ing kidding me?”

“No, sometimes you are not in radar contact, and they weren’t. They were supposed to call in.”

“When I’m in the air on a plane, I want to be on radar every single minute. Who should I write? The FAA?!”

And so it went for a number of minutes. I pointed out to her that while each of us has our strengths and weaknesses, neither of us have any expertise in this area, and we are wasting our time on this.

“You’re right. ‘Bye,” she said, and hung up.

A few minutes later, the following text arrived.

i have a new theory – two people on the plane were on it with stolen passports – I now believe it was a terrorist attack. I am surprised cnn has not called either one of us for an interview. good news is that they just discounted turbulence as a possible source of the crash.

This has gone on for most of the morning, but now I’m going to stop. I’m going to try for the next few days not to make this my mission. I’m going to hope for the sake of every soul on board that it was swift and painless, and I will take a moment by the sea to say a prayer for them all. I will focus on the people lost, not the crash itself.

In all seriousness, Godspeed to them all.

One reply on “Fear of Flying: Deciphering Plane Crashes”

My husband and I are not FOFP, particularly, but we too are spending a lot of our waking hours musing over what happened to flight 370. Anyone who flies should be concerned, if not actually panicked. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that passengers with stolen passports were on that flight, given how seldom passports are checked against the INTERPOL stolen passport database. Scary indeed, and maybe this tragedy will cause adoption of tighter security measures on non-US airlines. Until we know what happened to the plane and its precious cargo, conspiracy theories will naturally persist. If it was terrorism, why has no group claimed responsibility? If it wasn’t a bomb or missile, why didn’t the crew have time to send a distress call? Maybe we’ll never know.

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