Posted by: harrisonjones | October 22, 2012

Today may be all we have

In the aftermath of a tragic airline accident, the number of human interest stories always equals the number of souls on board. Irony, coincidence, circumstance, and misfortune are all factors in why a passenger or crewmember happens to be on an ill fated flight. When Ernie Gann coined the phrase, “Fate is the Hunter,” I wonder if he knew the book title would resonate forevermore with the aviation community. We’ve all heard the stories of how a last minute ticket change placed an unlucky passenger on a doomed flight, or how a traffic jam saved someone else from making a flight that ended in disaster.  

In April of 2009, Isabelle Bonin supported her husband as he endured the stress of checking out on a new airplane. First Officer Pierre Bonin survived the gauntlet of a lengthy ground school, an intense simulator course, and finally the initial operating experience of flying the Airbus A-330. Fully qualified, he began flying the line in May and enjoyed the fruits of his labor, serving as first officer on international flights from his domicile in Paris.  

Late in the month, Pierre’s schedule had him flying a trip with a two day layover in Rio de Janeiro. It seemed like the perfect time to take advantage of the free flying privileges of airline employees, and he invited Isabelle to accompany him on the trip. A wonderful opportunity and what could possibly go wrong? Fate would not be kind to Isabelle and Pierre on the return flight from Rio to Paris. On the night of May, 31 Air France Flight 447, with Pierre at the controls, would plunge into the Atlantic with no survivors. The flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder revealed that the tragedy developed and unfolded over a period of several minutes. One can only wonder if Pierre thought about the fact that his wife, Isabelle, was sitting behind him in the cabin as he fought to control the airplane, descending at 10,000 feet per minute. A horror compounded by fate. 

It is not uncommon for crewmembers to bring wives or husbands along with them when they have a nice layover. My wife, Diane, the lovely and charming, beautiful and talented lady that endures me, has accompanied me many times. It was always my hope that she would sympathize with how hard I worked on my trips, but somehow I never achieved that goal. Whining didn’t work either. She’s a very perceptive woman.  

Let’s hope that Isabelle and Pierre enjoyed a wonderful two days in Rio, and I hope that somewhere in the hereafter, they are together once again. Today may be all we have.        

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Responses

  1. Well said sir. FedEx doesn’t have the accommodations that you had at Delta. But I certainly sympathize with Pierre and Isabelle. Great piece of work and thanks for putting a human face on this tragedy.

    As an aside, I don’t buy that three experienced pilots couldn’t get that airplane out of its stall. I also don’t believe that the co-pilot held the control stick full aft from the moment the aircraft departed controlled flight to impact, minutes later. I just don’t concur with the accident investigation. But I do find it is easy to believe that Airbus would blame a blocked pitot tube and pilot error and say nothing about the fly by wire or the controlling computer. When I got married ten years ago, I told my wife that that all accident investigations start and usually end with the prevailing theory that it was caused by pilot error. They assume that the airplane is in perfect condition when the pilot got into the seat.

    Sorry about the black helicopter conspiracy theory. Love your blog and your positive thoughts about Isabelle and Pierre.

    • Rob, the accident report certainly leaves many unanswered questions. I’ve convinced myself that if the airplane had been equipped with inter-connected yokes and cable operated controls, the entire affair would have been a non event. On the other hand, I love most of the automation on the newer Boeings. I have never flown an Airbus, and to be honest, I’m pretty happy about that. As pilots, we always look at accident reports from a unique perspective and realize how many mitigating factors there can be. The second officer on our L1011 crash in Dallas was a classmate and I knew the captain and first officer from training. It was painful to see them blamed in the news reports and by the time all the facts came out, the headlines were long over. Everyone involved in an accident investigation (The airline, the manufacturer, FAA, NTSB, ALPA, and the various lawyers) has an agenda and an aggressive CYA attitude. It’s always a tedious process to watch. As far as I know, the only solution offered so far has been to replace the pitot tubes with a different design. Thanks for your comment, Rob, fly safe.

  2. I agree with you. I prefer to fly a Boeing product. I have never flown the Airbus but several friends have said good things about the jets. I may have come across too harshly yesterday. I do trust the individuals who work on the NTSB. I think they have the best of intentions. But when the lawyers for each company get involved it can easily spin out of control and the findings can be slanted to exonerate the company from legal responsibility.

    That is fine because I know it, you know it and everyone else who flies knows how the game will go down. I am sorry about your classmate and friends in the L1011 crash. That is tough and I hate it for everyone.

    I appreciate your willingness to speak the truth about aviation. You are a beacon in the night. Thank You.

    • Rob, I agree the NTSB is the most objective organization and usually comes to a good conclusion.

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