Focused Flying April 2013

By Johan Lottering

The end of responsibility

MANY aviators are frankly fed-up with air safety. In an individualistic society like South Africa, responsibility ends with 'adherence to the rules'. Everybody is a safe pilot. As people stray to the brink of disaster, we watch from a respectable or safe distance, to 'just hold my whisky and check this move!'

Many 'powerless' onlookers struggle to come to terms with the limits of their moral responsibility and real or vicarious liability and even applaud those 'Audie Murphy's' or 'real cowboys'. Factors causing unsafe decisions are often rooted in society outside aircraft cockpits. We remain adept and even keen at risk taking, 'the extent of which' being the blurry negotiable part.

Since the fall of Communism in 1991 aircrews previously exposed to armed conflict have flooded into Africa. With their pensions and connections they procured aircraft like the Ilyushin 76 to fly anything, anywhere anytime at the right price. With our South African desensitized attitudes many secretly admire these Vodka sippers. But, books like Friendly Fire, 1976, by C.D.B. Bryan (1936 -2009) are a friendly reminder over 8,000 soldiers had been killed by 'friendly fire' during the Vietnam War. The encompassing conditions are referred to as 'the fog of war' implying a general confusion resulting in errors of identity and location of friends and allies.

This one guy said he'd prefer to die peacefully in his sleep one day, like his granddad… not screaming and shouting like the passengers in his car. Would you prefer to be taken out by friend or foe; or have your respected flying buddy prematurely send on his family to high heaven in their aircraft, instead of some raging motorist or brutal killer? That's a choice none of us should have to make. Yet, in our apathy as passive onlookers, are we not part of the decision making process and circumstances? As if in a dream do we not watch these real life dramas and crises play out before our eyes? Just look at some of the accidents on the data bases…

Around midnight, after a year-end function in 2000, a company director lifts off in his Bell 407 helicopter. The cloud cover is 300 to 500 feet with fog patches en-route to his riverside home. The totally destroyed wreckage containing the shattered remains of him, his wife and another married couple are found around daybreak. They have collided with terrain. Could not one in a crowd seeing them off foresee disaster?

Around 19h40 June 26, 1998 a 27-year old South African pilot and seven passengers die as he loses control of the twin engine turboprop King Air 200 after flying at least four legs and fuel stops over nearly 2000 nm from Luanda in Angola in what must have been a 12 to 14 hour day to succumb to fatigue and disorientation on final approach to land at Abidjan in the Ivory Coast. Could not one of the passengers or a task master figure out that's too much for one youngster?

A friend or colleague with thousands of hours and many years' experience is clearly in a life crisis and heavy on the bottle. He passes his medicals, yet notches up one close call after the other. Do you speak up and intervene? What kind of flying buddy, colleague or friend are you? Who are you - friend or foe?

Johan Lottering - Focused Flying

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