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Miracle, shmiracle

2009-01-16

As far as I am aware, modern passenger aircraft are designed to stay in one piece, and to float for as long as possible, should the pilot have to ditch the plane on water. This maximizes the chances of survival for those onboard, because it gives them precious minutes to deploy escape slides (which are, not coincidentally, designed to act as life rafts), and to get onto them and away from the airframe.

In concert with this, commercial airline pilots are trained to ditch the plane with the best chances of keeping it in one piece, and afloat. Cabin crew are trained to evacuate the passengers as swiftly and as safely as possible, in the event of an on-water landing, and there is much equipment on board the plane to help them do this.

Emergency services in places close to major airports, such as New York’s LaGuardia Airport, are trained and equipped to respond to such events with all due haste, because time is of the essence, and lives are at stake, when people are in the water.

And ordinary people, close to the scene of a catastrophe with fellow humans at risk, will often selflessly rush to their aid.

With all that in mind, look what happened when US Air flight 1549 lost a critical amount of power on departure today: the pilot ditched the plane properly; the plane stayed in one piece and afloat; the crew got all the passengers and themselves out with floatation devices; the emergency services (and other handy river traffic) arrived within minutes; and everyone was saved.

Hooray for planning and design and professionalism and experience!

Hooray for monkey brains and trial-and-error and simple heroism!

Medals and drinks all round!

So when I hear Matt Frei, on BBC World News America, repeatedly referring to the rescue of all passengers and crew aboard US Air flight 1549 as “miraculous” and “a miracle”, I don’t just find it annoying. I consider it an insult to the many, many people, both at the scene and at the drawing board, who between them actually saved all those lives today.

The people on board the plane, who were probably praying their collective asses off, can clearly be excused for such thinking, but not a professional journalist at an objective distance; I’m disappointed that Frei doesn’t seem to know this.

Referring to it as “a miracle” suggests that, somehow, divine intervention was still a necessary part of such an extraordinary, but wholly human, event. Maybe it’s just me, but I find that such language demeans the efforts of all the professional, maybe heroic, but definitely unmiraculous, people involved.

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