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[PUBLIC] Lost Over the Atlantic... - The Cover Story
October 2013
 
 
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Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 10:51 am
[PUBLIC] Lost Over the Atlantic...

At 0214 GMT this morning, Air France 447 disappeared. The last transmission from F-GZCP came from its emergency systems, indicating the electrical system had failed. Its only been a few hours now, but the Brazilian Air Force hasn't located any wreckage in the vast Atlantic, and even with a full load, the A330 would've run out of fuel over an hour ago.

Ever since I started flying on a regular basis, I developed a much keener interest in air disasters. Its somewhat academic -- as a passenger, there is rarely anything you can do about your plane tumbling from the sky, or sliding off a runway, or exploding in the air, but I find that knowing what the experience of the passengers was in the moments before a disaster help keep me calm, or at least detached, during those rare moments when the plane I'm on does something unexpected.

AF447 represents perhaps the most mysterious, and to me the scariest, scenario; total and instant contact lost with the aircraft. Of course, in this case, we have one clue -- a piece of equipment, of its own accord, spoke up to give us a single fact from after disaster struck the doomed flight. Whether the electrical system failed alone, and the aircraft became uncontrollable, as 233-ton aircraft without electrical power are wont to do, or if the sensors had registered a power failure because the aircraft was in the process of breaking up whilst still aloft, we can't know at this point. What we do know is that the plane was gliding through some turbulent weather near a storm system when it went silent, suboptimal, but by no means a threat to the craft.

If the fuselage was intact at the time of power failure, the interior would've been plunged abruptly into darkness, the clouds outside obscuring what little light the moon might have provided. Punctuated by flashes of blinding lightning outside, the emergency exit lights would've illuminated the floor path, providing the only points of reference in the pitch black of the cabin, and then only to those seated on the aisle. First-class passengers seated at the front of the aircraft, nearest the flight deck, might've heard through the cockpit door the deep electronic buzz of power failure alarm, and for a few moments, the aircraft would fly on.

A few seconds later, the turbulence would overwhelm the aircraft, and the nose would drop. Depending on the orientation and winds at the time, the plane would yaw heavily either to port or starboard, and begin to drop. To the passengers aboard, a sickening falling sensation would begin, then be gradually interrupted by the strangeness of a greatly weakened gravity shifting its vector all around them. When the aircraft listed about 40 degrees one way or the other, the overhead bins would be forced open by heavier pieces of luggage, and they would come flying out, hitting passengers on whatever side of the aircraft was "down". Any semblance of control would start to disintegrate as the surprised cries of passengers echoed down the otherwise eerily silent compartment. The panic would last nearly three minutes, before the plane finally emerged from the cloud cover only a few hundred feet over the ocean, and dropping at hundreds of miles per hour as the captain and first officer would be pulling on their harnessing in unison, trying to by sheer force lift the control surfaces and level the aircraft. If they still had their eyes open despite the exertion, they might, for a moment, see the surface of the raging Atlantic just before the plane impact the waves, and disintegrated on their crests and troughs.

So yeah, that's what I think about when I read these stories. I think you have to take it with a certain amount of acceptance -- I am much more likely to be killed in an automobile accident in my car or a rental than I am to be lost in an aircraft accident. I think the terrifying part of an aircraft accident is both the lack of control, but more than that, the possibility to know what's going to happen for minutes at a time, and not being able to do anything about it. Not even being able to act, because the very forces of basic physics are holding you inert, unable to even scrawl a note on a safety information card because you can't find the leverage to pull it from the seat-back pocket. I think that's why we really seem to fear aircraft accidents so much more than deadlier but less dramatic fates -- its not just suddenly over, it can be terribly slow, and give you time to contemplate your mortality with the realization that you have only minutes to do so, and nothing else to do.

Tags: , ,
Current Location: Atlanta, GA
Current Mood: contemplative contemplative

11CommentReplyShare

londo
londo
A fool who should know better
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 04:05 pm (UTC)

And you say you can't write horror.


ReplyThread
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)

Its more parroting back the timeline of such an event. I left out the more depressing parts -- such as the probability of at least some of the passengers and crew in the tail section surviving the initial impact, and what's likely to happen to them -- but I don't much like thinking about that.


ReplyThread Parent
londo
londo
A fool who should know better
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)

You can call it parroting, I call it good use of language and pacing.


ReplyThread Parent
petercooperjr
petercooperjr
Peter Cooper Jr.
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 05:11 pm (UTC)

bronzite is in general an amazing storyteller.


ReplyThread Parent
londo
londo
A fool who should know better
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)

I recently wrote a larp with him and he seemed pretty down on his writing skills, and so I found this particularly worthy of note.


ReplyThread Parent
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)

Well, compared to the rest of the talent in the room, I was not exactly the first choice for producing copy.


ReplyThread Parent
sirroxton
sirroxton
Adam Augusta
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)

This.

bronzite, can I just thank you for not posting this in the evening?


ReplyThread Parent
bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Tue, Jun. 2nd, 2009 11:56 am (UTC)

No worries. If I posted it in the evening it would've been a different story -- we now know about the pressurization loss onboard.


ReplyThread Parent

bronzite
bronzite
Robert Bronzite
Tue, Jun. 2nd, 2009 02:11 pm (UTC)

Yeah, yeah I have.

On the plus side, I once earned a hug from shadowravyn for making reference to those particular details during brunch one day.


ReplyThread Parent
aralna
aralna
Amanda
Mon, Jun. 1st, 2009 11:49 pm (UTC)

I find it interesting that thinking about this reassures you.


ReplyThread