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September 5, 2000
A bird in the sky...
A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally it becomes a part of what everybody knows.
Just a bird in the sky is how I defined an airplane in one of my kindergarten classes. Little did I know that some 16-17 years down the line I would actually be comparing it to a bird.
As one saw the wreckage of the plane on the fateful morning of July 17, 2000, the tail of the aircraft the only part intact, it seemed as if it had its own story to tell. The navy blue and the orange colours on the aircraft's tail seemed to blend with the background of the setting sun.
More than a month into the Patna air-crash and a lot has been said and written about it.
It was supposed to be a normal day, but the news bulletin woke me up with a jolt.
A Boeing 737 had crashed, I heard in my sleep.
I awoke with a jolt wishing what I had heard was just a bad dream. But it was not. As I stared at the television right in front of me there was pin-drop silence in the room. Which plane? Alliance Air, I learnt. There was no information available on the identity of the pilots and the crew at that moment.
Fingers were crossed, prayers were said for those in the plane. But when one saw the remains of the plane, engulfed in fire, one knew there would be no survivors. Prayers, nevertheless, continued.
The plane was making a 360-degree turn when it suddenly lost height, hit a tree and crashed into a building killing several people on the ground and almost all on board. Only seven (now five) survived.
What followed thereafter was a mockery of our crisis management system, if there is anything of that description in India. The fire tenders had no foam, it was local people who helped in extinguishing the raging fire and risked their lives in helping the survivors.
Thousands of people gathered at the crash site, curious onlookers just watching the tragedy unfold -- like a new episode of a soap opera. None of the onlookers had any compassion, any sensitivity.
And even before the screams of the victims had died down, authorities were struggling to satiate hordes of journalists hungry for little crumbs of news.
"Pilot error" was the immediate reaction of the authorities. They had to pass the blame onto someone.
Unwilling to assume responsibility, unable to admit mistakes, unmindful of operational inadequacies, they were in a hurry to find a scapegoat. Let's blame the pilot... he is not there to defend himself.
Not that they did not know that an air-crash is always a combination of several events -- bad weather, mechanical fault, technical error, human error...
I for one fail to understand as to how a highly experienced pilot, with nearly 5000 hours of experience and his co-pilot with 4000 flying hours to his credit could have possibly made an error. They would surely have the basic expertise and skills to fly the mammoth bird. They would surely know how to make a simple turn.
Blaming the pilot even before the investigations had started was wrong.
The pilots were criticised for going public with their views. But what else were they supposed to do when everybody was trying to pin the blame on them.
Don't the people have a right to know? What is the right to freedom of speech all about?
Our basic problem is our attitude.
The engineers say there was nothing wrong ... 30-year-old aircraft fly all over world.
Just like human beings, machines too have a life span. Like our body starts to ache as age catches up, a machine begins to under-perform as it grows old.
So, can the pilots alone be blamed? They probably did what they thought right at that moment. One should respect them for that.
If one thought lessons were learnt after the hijack, think again. The initiative was again taken by the media which was our only source of information.
There was chaos and confusion at the airline office. An inquiry has been ordered. But we all know the fate of inquiries in India, don't we?
Indian Airlines is operating an ageing fleet. But where is the money going to come from to buy new planes? Our ground equipment is outdated. But where are the resources for an overhaul? Our airports are surrounded by hutment colonies. But where is the political will to rehabilitate them?
The inquiry may provide some answers. But will it provide a solution? Will somebody be punished? Will somebody own up responsibility? Will something be done to make sure more lives are not lost in air-crashes?
Is anybody listening?
Pallavi is a twenty-year-old graduate in psychology. The Patna air-crash has had a deep impact on her.
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