I know I'm on blogcation, but this story will be stale in two weeks, and it's bugging me.
Last week, a pilot flying own airplane for fun with a couple of his friends attempted a touch-and-go landing on a glacier north of Vancouver. As he brought the airplane down to test the landing surface, it caught in the deep snow and flipped over. There were no injuries, the party had plenty of survival equipment, and the pilot and his two passengers were winched off the glacier by a rescue helicopter that same night. This would be a happy little Christmas story, were it not for the name of the pilot's employer.
According to the news report the pilot flies for Pacific Coastal Airlines, the same BC company that has suffered two fatal crashes in four months, attracting continuing media and TSB scrutiny, and turning this from a story about good preparation and competent rescue services to one about PCA screwing up again. My question is, who tipped off the press to the pilot's affiliation?
The media presumably finds out through regular channels that a SAR aircraft has been dispatched and three people rescued. How do you get from there to the fact that the pilot is a PCA pilot? The names of the three have not been released. But say the reporter gets a name, anyway, off the record, or perhaps flies by the site in daylight, reads the registration visible on the wing of the overturned aircraft, and looks up the name of the owner of the airplane. Now he's got a name. Maybe it's identical to the distinctive and unusual name of the man who captained the reporter's last flight. So did the reporter call PCA and ask them to confirm it's him? Did the reporter look the name up in the phone book and get some member of the family to confirm that the man was both the accident pilot and a PCA pilot? This is getting far-fetched. I'm not saying the pilot has an unusual name. It could be Smith -- which happens to be the name of the family that runs PCA.
Pacific Coastal VP Spencer Smith is quoted saying “It’s his airplane and he’s welcome to do whatever the heck he wants to do." That's true in a way. It's not illegal to land on a glacier, and I expect the pilot had flown few enough hours in the month that duty time was not an issue. I'll bet Spencer Smith would like to strangle him. Smith told the media the pilot did not wish to speak to them, so it doesn't appear the media received any information from the pilot. The TSB wouldn't release that sort of information: they just give age and licence type. The fact that the pilot held a commercial licence wouldn't be much of a tip off, because a lot of Canadians who have never worked commercially hold commercial licences.
The pilot's friends and co-workers would hear about this pretty quickly, and thus every working pilot on the west coast. But every working pilot on the west coast probably knows who the guy is sleeping with and what bar he was in when he almost got arrested that time in Calgary. But these things don't turn up in the newspapers. The pilot was probably smart enough to tell his employer to give the employer an opportunity to do damage control, but that doesn't add up to the media knowing It seems more likely that someone told the reporter this juicy piece of gossip. I'm sure it was shared at many a table this week, along with the gravy and mashed potatoes, but that's not the same as putting it out where it is going to reflect poorly on the company. It's not like the guy went out and got a DUI. It's more like he tried to turn around in a parking lot and skidded across the ice into a lamppost. Wrong place, wrong time, tough luck.
I know I have reporters reading this blog, and I don't mean to insult them by insinuating that they couldn't find out a thing like where a guy worked. I admit that it does make this story more interesting to know the connection, and the fact that Smith commented on it for the record very legitimately connects the two parts. It just seems that there's an even more interesting part missing if I don't know just how the connection was made.
So New Year's resolutions on the 28th and then I really do take a blogging break.