At 23:32 on December 29th, 1972, Eastern Airlines Flight 401 began its descend into Miami International Airport. As the pilots prepared for landing, they lowered the landing gears but the landing gear indicator (a green light that shows that the nose gear is properly lowered and locked in the “down” position) did not illuminate. The captain and first officer remained in the cockpit to troubleshoot the problem. The second officer was sent to the avionics bay beneath the flight deck where he could confirm if the landing gear was indeed down via a small porthole. The crew put the plane on autopilot and shifted their attention to solving the problem at hand. Unknown to the two men in the cockpit, the autopilot had disconnected at some point. The plane crashed. Of the 176 people on board, 101 died. It would later be discovered that the light itself was defect. The landing gear had been down all along.
This is not an isolated event in aviation history. Similar accidents and incidents have happened before and after this event. Another that comes to mind is that involving United Airlines Flight 173. As the aircraft approached Portland International Airport, the landing gear was lowered. During this process, the crew felt an abnormal vibration and a yaw. Similar to Flight 401, the light indicating the successful lowering of the landing gear did not illuminate. They pilot decided to go into a holding pattern over Portland as they tried to troubleshoot the problem. With no one in the cockpit noticing, they ran out of fuel and crashed. 10 people died.
How could this happen? How can 3 trained pilots be so preoccupied by a small light that they forget to fly their plane? Couldn’t they have assigned one member to monitor the flight while the other two did the troubleshooting? How could no one notice that they were running out of fuel? Aren’t pilots in the air for one reason – to fly the plane? That is the primary goal right? Of course other distraction, life threatening even, can show up. However, aren’t they supposed pay the most attention to actually flying the plane? How could they lose focus of the goal?
It turns out, we’re all victims of this phenomena. Trying setting your mind on one thing. Anything. Try studying, starting a business, reading a book, working or working out. You might not be guaranteed to achieve any of the goals you set forth to achieve but one thing that is certain is that there will be hundreds of distractions trying to derail you. A notification from your phone, friends, food, Netflix or even yourself. Distractions will always be there. They might even appear urgent and/or rewarding in spite having the sole purpose of turning your attention away from what matters the most. These distractions are ever with us and more often than not, we know them. I believe that central to being successful, whatever success means to you, is the ability to deal with distraction. It is the ability to fixing one’s gaze on a goal despite the enticing pleasure offered by distractions. Dare I say, the epitome is when one not only learns to deal with the distractions but when they kill them altogether.
All it takes is a few years at living and you soon realise that the landing gear lights don’t always come on. Checking to see what the problem is important because landing a plane with no landing gears is every pilot’s nightmare – it is dangerous. But as you fix the landing gear light indicator, do not forget one thing – you are meant to fly the plane. That is your goal. Your raison d’être. Live accordingly.