I don’t actually have any brilliant insight here, but just figured I’d share my thoughts.
The world is always caught off guard when airliners go down. Safe air travel is something we take for granted nowadays. And air travel has indeed become very safe — you’re basically safer in an airplane than in your living room nowadays.
While statistically the past year has been among the safest in history as far as aviation goes, it sure doesn’t feel like it, between the Malaysia 777 which disappeared, the Malaysia 777 which went down, and the Germanwings A320 which went down on Tuesday.
I have a hard time watching the media coverage of plane crashes, given the immediate need for answers. Don’t get me wrong, I get why they do it — people have questions, and that’s what the media is playing to. Viewers want speculation, and not just “experts” saying “it’s too soon to know anything.” But in the minutes and hours following a crash, there’s not much information.
I just caught up on the press conference from the French prosecutor regarding Germanwings 9525, and it’s amazing how quick and decisive this investigation has been, especially after the MH370 mystery which is still looming.
Here’s what we do know about the Germanwings crash:
- Before the captain left the cockpit he gave a briefing about the approach, during which the first officer’s answers were all curt
- The first officer refused to let the captain back in after he left the cockpit, even though he was banging on the door — the first officer didn’t say a single word after the captain left the cockpit
- The crash was a voluntary action on the part of the first officer — he let the plane descend and lose altitude
- The first officer didn’t seem to be in a state of panic based on his breathing, which seemed normal
- The prosecutor can’t use the word “suicide” to describe someone that takes down a plane with 150 people behind him; the case is being prosecuted as murder
I won’t speculate on the motive, or anything, since I’m sure we’ll get more information on that soon.
Below is a video about the Airbus A320 reinforced cockpit door procedure, which helps explain why the captain couldn’t access the cockpit. The big benefit of the reinforced cockpit door is that it means no one can enter the cockpit against the will of whoever is inside of it, whether they’re “good” or “bad.”
So when we find out that a horrible accident like this was caused by voluntary human behavior, is that reassuring or not? On one hand it is reassuring to know that airplanes don’t just fall out of the sky and that they do “work” properly, though on the other hand it’s terrifying to think how volatile the human mind can be.
When we get on a plane we put our lives in the hands of complete strangers, hoping that they’re mentally “with it.” And that’s something we have to do, and something that isn’t limited to flying — the same is true when we take trains, buses, etc.
One thing that I think is interesting to note is how cockpit protocol differs in the US vs. elsewhere. For US airlines, you always have two people in the cockpit. Before a pilot can leave the flight deck, a flight attendant has to enter the cockpit.
I don’t know of anywhere outside the US where this is a procedure. I don’t think that procedure is in place on US airlines because they’re trying to prevent pilots from crashing planes, but it’s probably mainly in the event the pilots are incapacitated, and also to “streamline” the procedure, given the “cart blocking” which is required when pilots have to use the lavatory.
But I’m also not sure that’s a solution, really. Ultimately if a pilot wants to crash a plane, they can. No one can stop them.
The aviation industry is extremely safety conscious, and the one good thing is that whenever something goes wrong, procedures are changed to prevent a similar thing from happening in the future. As we learn more about what happened here, I’m curious what will be done to prevent a similar incident in the future.
Again, my thoughts are with the families and friends of those that were onboard the Germanwings flight. I can’t even imagine how horrible this must be for them…