Why I love plane crash documentaries

Plane crash documentaries. I cannot remember exactly when I gained this obsession. Am not sure if someone introduced me to such documentaries or it was just a random suggestion that popped up on my YouTube account and got me interested. I think it all happened about 3 years ago when I was still in the UK. What I do remember is that between the time I finished my AS exams and the time I went home for my summer vacation in 2016, I watched a couple of such documentaries. Surprisingly, I was not scared of flying that summer despite having watched those documentaries. 

I have met very few people with a similar interest. I have probably met about 2 or 3 and have been told of at least one other person who is into such films. With such scarcity of people with such an interest, it is not surprising that the reaction I get when I tell them about my obsession is nothing short of what I would consider priceless. More so, if they find me watching. The frequently asked question after a short ‘what is wrong with you’ facial expression is, “do you like seeing people die?” So from the very start, let me state that I do not enjoy watching people die in a plane crash or indeed any other way for that matter. There are though, other things that have made me more interested in plane crash documentaries and which have been the driving force behind all this.

First, I love planes. If I had a choice, I would choose an airliner for my home. Probably a Boeing 747-8. The Airbus A380 would work just fine as well. I think there are 2 greatest human inventions of all time-burgers and airplanes. Well, am kidding on that one. But honestly, the ability to fly is one of mankind’s greatest achievements. It has shrunk the world in that we could now travel to opposite sides of the globe in a matter of hours. By doing so, it has shown just how massive our ‘pale blue dot’ planet is. Decades after man first flew, we are still fascinated that we can actually fly. A plane, whatever size is just a wonder to look at. Its human ingenious at its best! The question still remains though, how would one’s love planes lead to watching plane crash documentaries. Wouldn’t the most logical thing to do be plane sighting? Well, here is the thing for me. It will take a few more sentences to bring the point across, but bare with me. You’ve probably heard of facts like you are more likely to die on your way to the airport than in a plane crash. Or the funny one, you are more likely to die by putting on your pants/trouser/jeans [pick your favourite] than die in a plane crash. These statistics are of course Mathematically and indeed statistically true. We also know for a fact as well that planes do crash. So the question for me is how is it that one of man’s greatest invention-the safest mode of transport, would still experience such catastrophic incidences? What goes wrong at such times? Once you start asking such questions, you find the answers in reading plane crash reports or if you are brave enough, watching plane crash documentaries. 

One other thing that got hooked me up is how small issues, if ignored can cause havoc. One example would suffice here. Air France flight 447 crashed on 1st June, 2009 when it was flying from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Paris, France. According to the official report, this airliner crashed due to (temporal) inconsistencies in airspeed measurements which could have been likely caused by the aircraft’s pitot tube being obstructed by ice crystals. For those not familiar with what a pitot tube is, it is simply a measurement device that is used to measure fluid flow velocity. In plane, it is usually located somewhere beneath the aircraft towards the front of the aircraft. It is somewhere below the cockpit, not far from the landing gear. By measuring the speed of the air, it is able to calculate how fast the plane is going. In the case of flight 447, this tiny tiny tubes, or at least one of them got frozen because as you know, its freezing up there. The higher the cooler it gets, remember that from preschool? Or is it high school? Anyway, back to flight 447. What was the result a frozen pitot tube? Everyone on board died. For course it can be argued that no one is to blame because those pipes just froze due to the weather, not human influence. My point here is that a whole plane, carrying 228 passengers and crew was brought down by something no larger than your average sausage. I sometimes think to myself, how often do I tolerate bad habits in the name of them being very small. Do I even have an understanding of how much damage it can do to me or someone else in the long run? What things in my life do I overlook without paying attention to the effect they have on my life? Plane crash documentaries remind me of this more often than not. Small things matter big time. 

The majority of plane crash documentaries are a result of human error, not technical or structural problems. Most times, it is not one independent action, rather a series of events which ultimately bring disaster. The worst air crash disaster, involving 2 Boeing 747s, happened on 27th March, 1977. These two jumbo jets collided on a runway on the island of Tenerife, Spain. The cause? Not one thing. Among many things, bad weather, a terrorist incidence that happened at a separate airport where these 2 plane were actually supposed to fly to, last minute refueling, technical fault and dare I say an impatient pilot. I believe, none of the events or behaviors could have caused the loss of 583 lives on its own. However, the culminations of all these little independent events, brought the darkest day in aviation history. I draw some lessons from this as well. Just like one small thing can cause havoc, two small things can bring disaster. Our actions and reactions can often be the line separating life and death. Had the Dutch pilot at Tenerife had some little bit of patience, to just wait for an extra 20 seconds, the incidence at Tenerife could not have been as we know it now. 

Oddly enough, am writing this paragraph on my way from Amsterdam Schiphol to Birmingham. People ask me, with all these documentaries I watch, aren’t I scared of flying? Well, well. Am I? The short answer is no. I wouldn’t be writing this had I been scared of flying. There are incidences like now (cause we are experiencing some mild turbulence at the moment) when there are a few hints of fear here and there but it is not enough to cause a heartache. I already mentioned how unlikely it is to be involved in a plane crash. As I have watched and read about plane crashes however, I have also come to realise that life is indeed not in our hands. We can fly in the most advanced plane, live safest city, never engage in war and always lock the door at night, but we are still never immune to the sting of death. I have read about old planes crumbling down in the same way modern, technologically advanced airliners, just like the more recent Boeing 737 max drop out of the sky. What watching plane crash documentaries has done to me is enabled me to see that life is fragile and ultimately not in our hands. I could wake up tomorrow, take a flight to go somewhere and never reach my destination. But I could also go to bed tonight, feeling all perfect and in good health and yet not wake up tomorrow morning. What watching plane crashes has taught me is that the next hour is not guaranteed and I have to live today as if it were my last. My life could be required of me anytime. 

The last thing I would like to mention about watching plane crash documentaries is the investigation that goes on after the accident has happened. In my opinion, there is no other type of accident which is investigated as thoroughly as flying-related accidents. I love to see how the cause of the accident is determined from the debris and how the pieces are put together to draw a conclusion. I also enjoy seeing how the data collected from the data recorders are used to paint a picture of how the last few minutes or seconds of a flight were. Most importantly, when the cause of the accident is found, often times after months or years of investigation, it is satisfying to see how the lessons learnt from the terrible accident are implemented to make the next flights safer. It brings to life the advice given to all of us at some point. That of learning from our mistakes and being wise enough to not repeat them again. I do get some heartache when I see people not appreciating these safety measures. Like seriously, if you are going to flight, put on that seat belt and put it rightly. People have been injured because they were not stripped to there their seats. When that flight attendant is point to the nearest exit, PAY ATTENTION!! People have literally died due to suffocation all because they did not find the nearest exit door. Often time, going to the furthest exit door, causing congestion and losing out on precious time. 

This hobby, as I like to think of it has shaped and continues to shape my character in certain ways. As soon as you start learning about planes, you realise that everything is in the detail, detail and detail. A slight change of course in the direction of a plane would lead a plane to a totally different location than planned. Too little fuel has led to plane crashes. Too much fuel has as well. No wonder pilots are trained to be meticulous in everything they do. A small variation in how stuff should be done is not acceptable. One famous air accident involves the pilot being sucked out of the cockpit at high altitude because the cockpit window blew away. This was all because the people replacing these windows put a slightly different size of screw. The difference in the screws was so small, that if you held the screws against each other, you would barely notice the difference. A few times, this love for detail and order reflects in my life. A silly example is how I love to make my tea: tea bag in first, then boiling water then drink whilst it’s still hot. Of course I will forgive you if you put in the water first, but I love it if it’s done the other way. I will not go into other aspects of my life where I appreciate detail and order. Needless to say, there are quite a few. 

A couple of times, I get to explain to people almost everything I have said above. Then they ask me, why aren’t I studying to become a pilot or anything related to planes and flying. I will just give a shorthand answer here; I love planes, flying and plane crash documentaries as a hobby. In future, I might entertain the idea of becoming a plane crash investigator. For now, I have many air crash reports I need to read. 

Am not by any encouraging people to now delve into watching these films. Some scenes in these documentaries can be unpleasant and horrifying. For nervous flyers, I would say never watch them at all unless you really have/want to. To everyone else, the same applies. Only watch such films if are into that kind of stuff, otherwise it’s not worth it. For those who do, there are some many valuable life lessons that can be drawn from horrendous times as these. It only requires a little bit of time and a good dose of having this weird interest. 

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