Friday, February 13, 2015

Up in the Air on Risk

For my birthday, my husband borrowed a small plane, hired a pilot and flew us to New Orleans for the weekend.

Very cool.

But we flew the same weekend a family (Dad (the pilot), Mom, three girls) crashed their small plane into the woods in Kentucky.

Only their youngest daughter, aged 7, survived, walking a mile through woods, at night, barefoot in winter temperatures, with a broken wrist, to knock on someone’s door. (In news reports, police officers, getting teary, say that if she had walked in any other direction that night, she might not have survived either.)

On our trip, our pilot told us there were some weather conditions he would be flying around, so the flight would be bumpy.  Regular, old turbulence is not dangerous, though it can feel so, especially in a small plane. You are in a minivan-sized vehicle, surrounded by windows. It feels like you are in a roller-coaster car that could fall off its invisible track at any moment.

Small-plane crashes are most often blamed on pilot error and inexperience. Our pilot, a professional, has thousands of hours of flight time, is certified every which way, including instrument-rated, meaning he can fly in weather conditions when he cannot see, and is a certified flight instructor. But according to news reports, the dad was an instruments-rated certified flight instructor, too.

And then there are all the psychological tricks my mind plays regarding risk. That little girl and her family are seared into my brain. And having our little plane buck like a horse felt dangerous even when I knew it wasn’t.

If we were ever truly aware of all risk, we’d never climb into a car or leave the house, let alone go on a trip for fun.

Eliminating risk is impossible; calculating it scary.

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