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It’s somewhat like the broken off half of my seat belt on the Avianca flight from Miami to Barranquilla, Colombia April 9, 2005. With seats full, the cabin crew didn’t want to know it was useless and that there was a problem. With good weather and a smooth landing anticipated, I wasn’t worried. The response or lack of acknowledgement of the problem was fascinating, though. [Years earlier I had flown into San Jose de Guaviari, Colombia on an old DC-3, and my wife and I only found one workable seat belt (the others badly rusted), where we placed our young son.]
Lead Us to the Real
The Copa airlines Boeing 737 Flight 201 that broke up high up over the Panama jun-gle in 1992, spilling passengers all over the jungle, did so because of an illu-sion. The pilots did not become aware of what was really happening until it was already too late. Deviating around a storm during a flight at night to Cali, Colombia, they, or the autopilot, received data from a faulty, intermittent attitude indicator. The aircraft, flying through clouds at night, banked too far, beyond the point of any possible recovery. In a dive it broke up completely, scattering debris, passengers and crew all over the jungle. It took only about 2 minutes for this to happen. To avoid such a situation, it is essential that the data be verified in a timely manner and that the correct facts be recognized. Those controlling the flight must be aware, profession-ally cross checking instruments. They must have the will to do so rather than lackadaisically assuming that all is well. Not to do so can have horrendous consequences.
Thomas Merton said: “We make ourselves real by telling the truth,” and said Joe Zarantonello, in the January 28, 2005 issue of the National Catholic Reporter, “by being able to distinguish the truth from propaganda.”
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In Vietnam, was it really impossible to find truth and reject propaganda? A will to do so was required. Was that so impossible? Charlie Clements, an Air Force academy graduate who was flying C-130s back then, was able to do so. He refused to fly any more missions. (He is the author of "Witness to War.")
In Vietnam the consequences of not seeking and telling the truth were horrendous. In Iraq it is also the same.
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Note: This reflection was written with members of the San Antonio Theosophical Society lodge in mind. A part of the closing ceremony at the lodge includes the phrase: “From the unreal, lead us to the real.”
Additional Notes: I taught in the Specialized English Section at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center at Lackland AF Base, Texas, and sometimes showed a video about the Copa Flight 201 crash to my foreign military students. (I’d taught there, in the Specialized, General English, Instructor Development Sections and overseas in the Congo, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia since 1968 and retired July 28, ’06.)
The Boeing 737 has two independent attitude indicators, which should be monitored when the aircraft is banking and turning with no visual ground references especially, to see if they agree. If they do not agree, with one malfunctioning, the pilot or copilot needs to switch on a 3rd attitude indicator, which has a battery power supply, to see which attitude indicator it agrees with. They need to be monitored when the flight computer/auto pilot is flying the plane during such a maneuver, and the malfunction needs to be caught in time, with not much time to do so in this case, before the plane rolls over too far, beyond recovery. (In this case the crew would not have noticed the G forces until it was already too late.) … The pilot who flew the 737 I was on coming back from Panama in December ’05 told me the upgraded system can now alert the pilot that the 2 indicators disagree.
A version of this article was published in La Voz de Esperanza. See: http://www.esperanzacenter.org/