Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who is Onboard?

Patrick Smith at has ranted on a subject I have ranted on before. There are at minimum two people working in an airline cockpit. Both are pilots. Why do the media pretend there is only one? This isn't a new thing. Ernest Gann started out as a copilot in the ... 1920s? (I'm busy ranting, book is in another room, not looking it up). The correct terminology is not impenetrable airline jargon that has to be dumbed down for the media-consuming proles. As Smith points out, it's largely a matter of adding an -s to a word they are already using. If they boldly go a step further and refer to one of the pilots as the captain and the other as the first officer, even if the public has never heard these terms before, surely they'll figure out that the captain is in charge and the FO is the next in charge. Or does too many Gilligan's Island reruns make everyone assume that anything akin to a First Mate is a bumbling moron? Actually, wasn't Gilligan smarter than the Skipper? Just more accident prone.

The general public knows there are two pilots on board. They see them board. Even in extreme situations they grasp this fact. I recall an article about an airplane that crashed in an urban area. Members of the public ran to help, bravely going on board the aircraft even as it started to to burn, and one of the rescuers looked at the people they had removed from the wreckage and saw that there was only one wearing a white shirt and epaulettes. "Pilots always come in pairs!" he noted, or something similar. They dared to go back on board for the second pilot.

I'm trying to find that article to get the exact wording. I thought it was the King Air that crashed on approach to Vancouver. Radio audio with some photos here. It hit a busy roadway, only clipping a couple of vehicles because a stoplight caused a gap in traffic, but the witness quoted here makes it clear that passengers weren't able to rescue the pilots because the fire was too far advanced in the cockpit. The TSB report linked above mentions confusion over how many passengers and pilots were on board, so unless there was a uniformed pilot among the passengers, this is not the story I recall. Professional rescuers extracted the pilots, but unfortunately both died of "thermal injuries." Ugh. Who knew there was a clinically remote way to say "burned to death."

Interesting that some members of the public were distressed badly enough by the proximity to the crash to require treatment by paramedics, while others were willing to run on board a burning airplane. I commend them for saving lives, but I think my safety training would side with my animal flight-from-fire response and I would instead render assistance that didn't involve entering a confined space probably containing live wires and fumes from ruptured fuel tanks. I guess we don't know what we would do until it needs doing.

This started out as sympathy for a rant but took a macabre turn. It suggests, though, that you merely knowing that there are two pilots on board your commercial passenger flight does not just satisfy our petty need for you to get the words right, but could actually make a life or death difference to the flight crew. The local paper got it right, referring to "pilots" throughout and calling them the captain and first officer. The national one has some exciting photographs and a video of some smoke taken by an excited car driver (not worth watching unless you really like smoke), but implies throughout the article that there was only one pilot on board.

There were two of them. The captain was named Luc Fortin and the first officer was Matt Robic. I didn't know them, but chances are I have met one or the other on my travels and it is certain that someone reading this blog does. My apologies that what started out as a hunt for a story about passengers who could count to two rescuing a pilot turned into revisiting a story that touches you painfully. The TSB suggests aircraft like this have a G-switch to isolate the battery in the event of a crash, and that might have saved them.


majroj said...

My sincere sympathies for you and the pilots' significant others, Av. It still takes special and brave people to pilot safely and repetitively.

That G switch sounds good if there is no possible way for it to initiate before a real crump, or at least be readily overridden in an aircraft suddenly and accidentally without electricity (so maybe no servos to "push the plug back in" or no lights?).

In safetying crashed but largely intact aircraft we were taught "batteries LAST" because if we did them first, fuel valves could stay open and gravity drain fuel, electrically driven hatches could not be opened at least far enough to admit air and be forced open further and would hence require cutting (taking a good ten to fifteen minutes on some planes) and in some planes if a certain engine or built-in APU was still running, they required battery electricity to turn them off so they'd quit sending current into the plane's system from their generators.
But, I wax technical, and probably very outdated, again...

Ed Davies said...

My somewhat similar rant

Aaron Wood said...

I get asked very often: "So are you the pilot or is he the pilot?"