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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Crash Landing

Stuck at Heathrow airport last Thursday for long hours, as a result of the crash landing of the British Airways B-777 aircraft (most flights were cancelled or delayed as a result), I had plenty of time to think again about London and its third-world-like infrastructure and services. The daily delays and closures on the London Underground, the percentage of lugguage lost at Heathrow airport, the outrageous prices one has to pay for almost everything and get mediocre service in return. And the list goes on. So it didn't come as a surprise to me that it took the authorities more than a day to get the runway cleared and operational again.

But instead of ranting again about London, I will say a few words about that landing. It was a very close call, a chilly reminder of how binary air accidents are. The plane lost power on both engines at an altitude of 600 feet. After the on-board computer failed to boost power to the engines, the co-pilot, who was in command of the aircraft, took control and managed to glide it safely past a highway and bring it down on the grass. If the power loss would have happened a minute earlier, or if the co-pilot wouldn't have reacted so quickly to take control of the aircraft, then most probably everyone on board would have died. As is usually the case, it was either zero or one. Why bother with those safety demonstrations? Either you get out alive or you don't. There's almost no in-between.

I did smile, though, when I heard today the name of the hero co-pilot: John Coward. Only in Britain.

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