Thursday, March 26, 2015

I'll Drink to Him

By now you've heard about Germanwings flight 9525 that crashed into the French Alps, killing 150 people on board. And you've probably heard this morning's news ~ that the crash wasn't an accident. That the young co-pilot asked for control of the aircraft and locked the pilot-in-command out when he stepped out of the cockpit. Then, for reasons we may never know, that young second-in-command flew the aircraft and those 149 other people into the ground. 

Here in the US, when one of the pilots steps out of the cockpit, a member of the flight crew has to step in. No cockpit ever only has one person in it. That way, if the pilot in control has a medical emergency ~ or is suicidal ~ there is someone inside to open the cockpit door for the other pilot. Europe has (had, because you'd better believe they will now) no regulation to that effect. Pilots can leave one person in the cockpit without breaking regs. That nuance fed this situation. 

It was a hard morning here at Casa de Pobble when we read this news. Aviation tragedies are always tough in the homes of commercial pilots, if it's the same industry or not. There's a sense of losing some of one's own.

And to discover it was an intentional act committed by a professional pilot... sigh. That makes it personal in some way.

Pilots are guilty until proven innocent when lives are lost. The default is "pilot error" never "equipment failure." And even when equipment failure is discovered, the question "well, did they panic when it failed?" gets asked. We want someone to blame.

When it turns out to be entirely pilot error ~ not even error, but intent ~ the pilots I know take it personally. That one pilot has stained them all. Has put an asterisk next to every pilot's name.

This morning, though, this morning Lithus and I lifted our coffee mugs to another pilot. Not the SIC who took control and flew his aircraft into the ground. But to the pilot in command. 

According to the latest reports, the pilot in command (PIC), who didn't break regs by leaving the cockpit, can be heard over an intercom trying to get the SIC to open the door. Then he can be heard knocking on the door. Then he can be heard trying to break the door down. He, a man who more than most understood that nothing and no one could get through that door, kept trying. 

If the reports are correct, and I hope they are, he didn't break the trust of his passengers and crew. He fought for control of his aircraft as hard as if he had been sitting in the cockpit, fighting an equipment failure. He didn't quit. He didn't stop. He didn't fail.

So I ask you, dear friends of Pobble, to remember that pilot. Who didn't break trust and went down with his ship trying to save lives, even knowing it was futile. Because those really are the men and women in our skies, even if we don't think about them much.

Those are Pobble Thoughts. That and a buck fifty will get you coffee.