Aviation made the major news outlets today with a sad event in flight. On board a trans-Atlantic CAL 777 the captain passed away in flight. This sorrow full event, of course, ignited the swamp gas in the 24 hour news networks and let slip the leashes of their on-call "aviation experts." I, however, now had to watch the coverage in order to attempt to get a few insane tid-bits that may be used in a future cartoon.
Along the twisted path of the news coverage of this event, where the newscasters try to cover in detail things to which they have no access to ANY details, my TV's "Dumb" meter tends to peg. Although FOX News managed to get a real airline pilot on the phone, they get credit for the least dumb, yet dumb anyway, question:
"Do you think they informed the people in the back (passengers) that the captain had died?"
As a former airline captain myself, as well as a long-time FO (First Officer), I could not help but answer that one aloud to my TV...
"Are you f#%kin' nuts?!"
Although I cannot speak for other airline pilots, in a situation like that I personally would turn into Captain Over from the movie "Airplane" calmly pointing out sights of interest out the passenger's windows as other crew members drop like flies. What did the reporter want to hear anyhow? "Oh sure I'd tell the PAX, after all, you can never have enough panic on board." Although there are times when you want to keep your passengers fully informed, when the pilot sitting next to you drops dead probably isn't one of them.
Then there was the CNN reporter who babbled in front of a screen showing Newark and drooled out some nonsense about how the aircraft may have been diverted if there had been a crosswind of over 30 knots because the FO may not have been able to land in any sort of crosswind. He then went on to say that the 777 got to the airport and found "... just 3 miles of visibility." Wooooo... 3 miles viz in a 777... wooooo scary.... much drama.... Shoot, I can recall days when I looked at the destination weather and said "500 and a mile? COOL! It's about time we caught a break." The fact is, for those non-career pilots reading this, that to a professional airline pilot all of those numbers describing ceiling and visibility and winds are simply a part of your day's work. The weather is what it is when you get there and the odds are that if it's good enough to start the approach that's all that really matters. We do not sit in the cockpit and fret about it- we just go in and do our job. The weather reports just give you a heads up before you get there and the odds are that no matter how bad it is, you've probably made approaches in a lot worse. That reporter's never been in a professional pilot's seat, otherwise he'd have known that "3 miles of visibility" is duck soup. Of course he's also probably sweating it out in the hope that he doesn't sound too technical or correct, otherwise CNN management may can him for actually knowing what he's talking about... like they did Miles O'Brien.
Dumbest of the questions came from one of the networks whose acronym name starts with a "C" when the meat puppet looking into the camera asked their expert on-call if he'd ever had a captain die on him. Of course the poor slob on the other end of the phone answered "no" but I wished that question had been asked of me- because I would have gone a bit farther.
Q: "Have you ever had a captain die on you?"
My A: "No, but I've flown with a few that I wished would die sitting next to me."
Then I'd proceed to elaborate until they took me off the air.
You would be amazed at how many people out there actually think that airline FOs (or as it was put over and over again in news reports "co-pilots") cannot fly the freaking airplane. I've had neighbors come up and ask me "How on earth did the "co-pilot" land that thing?" From watching the news networks, it is easy to see why regular people are so ill-informed... okay... stupid. It's because their only source of information is the stupid news media. Thank goodness my neighbors have me to turn to. I simply tell them that the blow-up autopilot in the movie "Airplane" really exists. In fact, it is FAA certified and every 90 days a mechanic has to inflate it and check for leaks. In case of a water landing it can even be used as a flotation device for the captain... just ask Sully.
The bottom line is that the surviving crew of CAL Flight 61 did exactly what they've been trained to do. In every training cycle you fly the sim dozens of times and almost never do an uneventful flight. You are always dealing with multiple and often odd-ball failures- including the death of the other pilot. Sure, the crew did a great job, but professional aviation demands that you do a great job every time you do your job. I was once told that it is the only job in the world where you are expected to do it perfectly every single time, and no one notices- from my experience, that is true.