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.