Flight safety is again the hot topic on everyone’s lips. It wasn’t enough having already a tragic year in terms of air crashes, and 2014 ending with the major AirAsia accident, but reading the news yesterday morning about the seven-year-old girl being the sole survivor of a fatal plane crash on Friday night in Kentucky. Unfortunately the aviation year of 2015 didn’t seem to start so well either. The poor girl, losing both of her parents, her sister and her cousin in the crash, got out of the wreckage and walked to the nearest house, knocked on the door and explained what had happened. Everyone thinks her surviving is a miracle, and I am sure it really is.
For about two years I have been watching a TV program called Air Crash Investigation quite intensively. Most of my friends think I’m insane and keep asking how I can watch that show. I’ll tell you why: I feel the program is not only interesting, but also useful and sort of educational. Of course at first I was absolutely horrified by the amount of air crashes I didn’t know existed. But the more I watched the show, the more I realized that a good pilot can really perform miracles and bring a crippled plane safely to the ground, no matter how bad the situation might seem. Unfortunately we only hear about the worst accidents, as the media attention seems to concentrate on the ones where the amount of victims is greater than the amount of survivors.
After major disasters, like the both Malaysian Airlines, Air Algerie and AirAsia incidents, even the most experienced traveler might be a little suspicious and doubt if flying is still safe. Especially when it feels like high fatality accidents keep following each other, like in 2009, when three big accidents occurred in only 1.5 months time. In Air France, Yemenia Airway and Caspian Airlines crashes no less than 548 lives were lost, but one miracle took place also then: a 12-year-old girl as a sole survivor of the Yemenia Airway crash.
How could a TV series help and encourage, when the headlines keep telling news about aviation accidents and close call situations? In case you’re not familiar with the program, it’s about any kind of problems occurred on flights that have lead into an accident investigation. Passengers, eyewitnesses, investigators and other aviation experts are describing in details what happened during the flight, how did the investigation proceed and what were the causes of the accident.
As mentioned earlier, it was quite a relief to realize that not all aircraft incidents automatically lead to certain death. I used to think that if anything unexpected occurs during a flight, there would be absolutely no chances to survive. Thanks to the Air Crash Investigation, I learned quickly that’s not even close to the truth. After hearing an aviation expert telling enough times that turbulence is nothing extraordinary and unusual, that it’s comparable with little holes and bumps on the road when driving a car, and in every single flight an aircraft faces some level of turbulence, you won’t be as scared of a shaky or bumpy plane ride. I didn’t realize to be afraid of dying even during the worst flight of my life a few months ago.
Even if it’s highly unlikely ever being involved in a plane crash, the program has taught me to respect every single stage of the flight, starting from the baggage restrictions, expertise of the crew, safety instructions (could you honestly say you are following and reading the safety instructions before the take off on every single flight?) and even the option of choosing your seat: I always sit at the rear of the plane whenever possible! And the more I respect the facts mentioned above, the more I reprehend those idiots who get wasted on a plane and brawl with the flight attendants endangering the safety and comfort of every single passenger and crew member on board.
The biggest personal lesson I have learned from the program is the importance of the actual investigation. After the Malaysian Airlines flight disappeared in March, I was following quite intensively the search of the plane, especially during the first 30 days. A friend of mine was wondering why I was so interested whether the plane was found or not. The plane had been lost for a month already and all the hope was gone, he said. Well, that’s one way of looking at it. But if the wreckage and the black boxes won’t be found and the cause of the accident never become clear, how could anyone make sure the accident never happens again? How can the flight safety be improved? The cause of the problem needs to be found, otherwise it can never be fixed.
But what is the most common problem on board that leads to an air crash? Nowadays airplanes are huge and complex computers. Therefore I was very surprised to find out that a technical failure is not the most common reason for accidents. When doing my own little investigation, I came across an interesting website called PlaneCrashInfo.com. The website is listing detailed information about the air crashes worldwide, but also presenting aviation accident and safety related statistics. Even if the statistics say the most common cause of a fatal air crash is a pilot error, it’s important to remember that the captain is also the one person, the hero, who will be honored and celebrated after bringing a crippled plane back to the ground saving the lives on board, despite the problems. This happened also in 2009 in New York, when US Airways flight struck a flock of geese during the take off. The both engines were disabled, but the pilot managed to ditch the plane in the Hudson River and all 155 people on board survived without severe injuries.
As stated, the chances of being involved in an air crash are highly unlikely, and flying still is one of the safest ways to travel. I have also heard a saying which claims the most dangerous part of a flying trip is actually the journey to and from the airport rather than the flight itself. The statistics based on the PlaneCrashInfo air crash database (accidents occurred between 1993–2012) tell that when travelling with one of the world’s 39 safest airlines, the odds to die in a plane crash are one in 19.8 million. Even if you chose an airline whose accident rates would be among the worst 39 in the whole world, the odds would still be one in 2 million (source: http://planecrashinfo.com/cause.htm).
Again it’s great to be a Finn, as our national airline Finnair is the world’s third safest airline according to JACDEC (Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre)!
Even though 2014 was a tragic year in terms of air crashes (32 accidents causing 1,183 lost lives in total according to PlaceCrashInfo.com), it doesn’t mean us travelers should get depressed, avoid flying and therefore miss many wonderful experiences and adventures. The numbers may seem huge, but they still are minimal when compared to the amount of all annual flights and passengers worldwide. Of course in a perfect world the amount of air crashes would be a nice and round zero, and I really hope we would get there one day. Until then, I can only try to describe with words how much I respect the people doing the extremely valuable work, day after day, helping all of us to be able to travel safer.
Last but not least, I want to express my warmest sympathies and honor to all air crash victims, their families and loved ones.
How about you!? Do you still feel flying is a safe way to travel? Have the recent incidents changed your opinion about flying? Do you have an actual fear of flying? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences. If you’d like to tell your story but feel uncomfortable commenting on the post in public, you can also tell about your thoughts by email.
I wish you all extremely safe flights for 2015!