Thursday, December 08, 2016

Fifty shades of grey

While others are just sailing the seven seas of booze and visiting places that make my heart (yes, I do have one!) go wild, I am sitting here in the freezing fog and once more pointing my verbal gun at my sorrows … ;)

It has been a shit few days if you allow me some colourful language. For the first time in what has felt like half a century I found my way out to the airport this week. I arrived there in half sunshine, half fog, expecting the latter to clear, given it was hardly lunchtime still. That grey old bastard had other plans though, but being as optimistic as only I can be out there, I was not yet ready to give up. Meeting a few old friends can make waiting time exciting time too.

That time became longer and longer and to be frankly honest, my friends were about everything I could see. Hats off to those flight crews who made it down in one piece and hats off to those who made the right decision not to force things when maybe they could have and caused trouble in doing so. Flying must have been a nightmare that day and so was taking pictures.

F-GLZR, Air France, A340-300

On the way back I met another old friend of mine and we had a chat over a coffee about what we had just seen - or more essentially, about what we could hardly see in the mist out there. If you have any doubts about that grey rectangle above, this was as bad as things got and let me tell you, it was not only dull, it was windy, moist and freezing!

The next day things did not get better. In fact, they got dramatically worse. This time the talk about courageous flying with hardly any visibility was not the talk of disappointed planespotters, this time death had struck. Over dinner I found out about a homebased Piper PA-34 aircraft that as it would turn out to be crash-landed within the airport boundaries. They say pilots don't die, they just fly away and don't come back. But what exactly can you say if he actually comes back but does not make it from the airport fence to the terminal?

HB-LSD, Piper PA-34, crashed at BSL, 7 Dec 2016

I spent considerable time trying to gather information to have some basic imagination about events. Said information includes straightforward things as maps, weather, radar tracks, but also tougher stuff such as an airband radio transcript from right when the accident happened. To the trained ear, airband radio is nothing special unless there are non-standard proceedings or for those who like it, particular language accents. This time I was listening to a record knowing that one of the voices would suddenly drop out for all the bad reasons. I have listened to the same record again since, but the first go was a really tough one.

Crashes do happen and I do not have any illusions about that whatsoever. It is the particular context that made me slow down just a bit now in this case. Having been just a few hundred metres from the crash site not only the day before, but on so many other occasions, some wild thoughts came across me. What if this had happened on a sunny Sunday afternoon with so and so many people watching live? These are a kind of thoughts that comes up naturally, but should still not lead to knee-jerk reactions. I can definitely assure you that I will be back at the Belvédère, even if there is proof now that the sky may fall down on you.

A night and a day have passed since and the sky has cleared, at least for a few hours. The authorities have done their job and got their evidence on the spot which appeared to look as messy as messy can be. Where exactly on the scale of messiness this will, only they will know for now. As for everyone else, it seems appropriate to take a deep breath and look into the future. Time is moving on and I sincerely hope that the blue skies of today were only the start. I did not go without some more grey though, owing to one of those aircraft that had to avoid the crash site last night and got diverted as far away as Liège in Belgium:

A7-AFV, Qatar Airways Cargo, A330-200F

That basically should have been grey as their aircraft are very grey, but for some reason, this fella decided to show me the belly only …


Gerry mcL said...

Very well written, Joel. I noticed it was foggy at Basel, but assumed, probably like you, that pilots would make the correct decisions on a day like that. However, it would seem that they are only human, after all.

Joel Vogt said...

Indeed! Also, it is an unfortunate fact that in aviation the slightest error can cause a disaster. Quod erat demonstrandum ...