HORROR IN THE COCKPIT
We know so little about that crash in the French Alps. Yet what few details have come out suggest scenarios we can hardly bear to contemplate. In fact, it seems that a lot of future aviation may be at stake.
I first heard about the accident in a strange way. My granddaughter, whose husband is currently getting his MBA in Barcelona, e-mailed me Tuesday morning: “Mike’s professor’s family was on that plane that crashed today. His school is cancelled Friday.”
I stared at her e-mail. What plane? I wondered. What crash?
Only by backing up my e-mails did I find it—news that hours earlier a plane from Barcelona to Dusseldorf had gone down, with no survivors expected. Even the earliest reports were baffling: no pilot had radioed the tower; no distress call was ever received.
Years ago I wrote a book about airplane sabotage, a techno-thriller called “Scatterpath.” What made it fascinating to me were the revelations made by the NTSB investigator with whom I worked closely for three years. Among them was the explanation that U.S. pilots are given assertiveness training so that no co-pilot would be dominated by his superior . . . that everyone in the cockpit would feel free to speak up in case of impending disaster. In fact, the Korean plane crash in San Francisco was made worse by the fear of an Asian co-pilot (maybe two) to warn his “superior” that the plane was coming in too low. As we all learned, the plane hit a sea wall before it crash-landed.
Today’s revelations were startling at first—then chilling. One of the two pilots, having left the cockpit at top cruising altitude, couldn’t get back in. The voice recorder revealed that even after he knocked politely, then harder, then tried to break the door down, no answer came from inside. No voice was heard. Was the remaining pilot incapacitated? Had he locked the door accidentally? Was he unable to admit the man on the outside?
Was this truly an accident?
But tonight an expert pilot interviewed on television assured the public that all pilots have a code to punch for re-entering the cockpit. Only by continuous, energetic override from the inside, he said, could the outsider be kept out.
As of Wednesday night, this is all we know: no pilot radioed the tower. The second pilot tried and seemingly failed to get back inside his cockpit. With a probable “code” available for readmission . . . what actually happened to keep him out?
As a writer, I couldn’t have dreamed up such a set of bizarre circumstances—a scenario that ended so badly.
Now we all want to know: who WERE these two pilots? And what motivated one of them to refuse admittance to the other? Was the inside man really trying to bring down a plane?
Shortly we will probably know a great deal more than we do now. Thank heavens for “black boxes.” Which, as most of you know, are really orange.
“Scatterpath” is available on my website: Maralys.com