Note: Originally posted at the Express Tribune.
Exactly 24 hours ago as I write this, a few guys were having breakfast on a plane chatting about their plans for the next two days. Two rows ahead, someone was preparing for an interview. Another might have been thinking about his wife. Or maybe he was disturbed by the nonstop chatter of the children sitting behind him. Yet another soul was snoring peacefully, catching up on her sleep debt.
It’s all speculation, obviously. We’ll never know the truth. No one lived to tell the tale, you see. Because in a matter of minutes, the plane they were sitting on would be forced to change it’s planned flight path. After a few more minutes, the pilot might have been seriously worried. Then the crash, and wreckage smoldering amongst greenery. And in a few hours, the dreadful news that there were no survivors.
Shocking, sad, tragic. This was all three rolled into one – worse, in a way, than the terrorist attacks that unfortunately take place so regularly. The news that a passenger jet had crashed came out of thin air, quite literally. One might expect that most people would be lost for words – and many were. At least for a short while. At least for the first few moments, there was silence – blessed, soothing silence, as everyone tried to gather his or her thoughts together, to gain a measure of composure.
Unfortunately, the pause was deceptive. I’m not interested in repeating what happened afterwards – Cafe Pyala and Five Rupees have done a good job of that already. It was gross and insensitive – to the extent that when my family was watching a group of the usual suspects exchange their ‘expert views’ on how to fly an aircraft and wind currents and the fatigue patterns of commercial airline pilots, I had to leave. My beef, though, is not just with the media – it is with everyone who is trying to analyze the disaster. What riles and saddens me simultaneously is the sight of hundreds of people (not just on TV, but also on radio, Facebook, and Twitter) – all trying to deduce exactly what happened, why it happened, and assiduously working on hundreds of details that couldn’t matter less right now. Those who think we will actually ever find out exactly what happened are kidding themselves, for the record. None of the pundits saw the disaster from their own eyes. There is no way of knowing exactly what the pilots were thinking, or what the wind conditions were like at that fateful instant. The flight recorder will only provide partial information – something the talk shows on television have failed to mention.
Where is the black (actually orange) box? Found it! No we didn’t, gotcha! OH NOES! Black box missing! It must be Rehman Malik’s fault! He hid it under a rock in his garden! No, it’s the goras who were on board! THAT’S why the black box hasn’t been found yet! They were actually BLACKWATER operatives who have just thrown everyone a gigantic FRISBEE! What is the government trying to hide? No wait! Pakistan doesn’t have the technology to open that black thingamajig! Woe is me! (Cue self-flagellation….)
Stop. Please. Everyone who is trying to analyze the crash, please stop. It was an accident. Nobody meant for it to happen. The air traffic controllers do a great job of preventing accidents, day in, day out. The pilots do a great job of flying the airplanes, every single day. Please. Let us have some balance and not point fingers or blame others unnecessarily. Please, don’t look for victims or scapegoats. It was an ACCIDENT!
To illustrate, using some publicly available statistics we see that there were roughly 200,000 flights in Pakistan in 2006, with over 14,000,000 passengers moved. There was one accident, with 45 people killed. Yes, that translates into a 3.16914107 × 10-6 chance that anyone on a plane in Pakistan will die. Put another way, it means that the chance of an aviation fatality in Pakistan in 2006 was 1 in 315,500, statistically speaking. In 2007, 2008, and 2009…it was zero. Here’s a geographical view of accidents in that year. Interestingly, 2006 is the last time Pakistan had an aviation disaster, and the last year for which statistics are publicly available. Don’t look for a conspiracy theory here, for the Civil Aviation Authority apparently only began providing statistics in 2005. My guess is that either someone was lazy after 2007, or the CAA didn’t find it useful. In any case, there is evidence that the CAA is continuously trying to improve safety – see the minutes from a meeting exactly two months ago.
The point is that right now, the details of the crash don’t make a difference. Finding the black box won’t bring back the dead. Blaming the pilot won’t help anyone – and remember, he passed away too, after years of serving well. Think of his family. Nay, think of everyone’s family.
It is a day of mourning. Let us remember the fallen. Let us honor the memories of the departed. Let us learn from this and look at each other in a new light. Let us forgive each other, let us seek forgiveness. Let’s spread some love, help the bereaved. Let’s cook a meal for the son who lost a mother, comfort the mother who lost a son. Let’s be human. Is it too much to ask?
To those who are defending the analysis:
Of course it is important to find out what happened. But that’s not OUR job. It is the job of the CAA, Airblue, and Airbus. It is not the job of a talk show host on television. Neither do we or the TV pundits have the appropriate level of information or competence required for the kind of analysis needed.
I am not suggesting that we should abandon an inquiry into what happened. That is critical, so that future accidents can be avoided. However, there is a time and place for that. And the point of the original article was that at least in the first 24 hours, we should be focusing on those who have departed and on the bereaved, not indulging in ugly blame games.