It’s a somber quiet hello today after the events of the last week. Or The Event, the crash of the German airliner in the French Alps, flying between Spain and Dusseldorf, which now appears to have been a suicide mission on the part of the co-pilot—–and took 150 lives with it. 150 families and loved ones who will be forever affected by it, a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And yes, there have been other, bigger ones, like 9/11 or natural disasters, but this was so unnecessary and is so profoundly shocking. And knowing that there were children, a class of adolescents and babies on the flight makes it even more horrifying.
For the moment, they are still piecing together the puzzle, and as a police detective (specialized in terrorism and aviation) I spoke to in Paris said, it has highlighted security failures in the system: a seemingly fail-safe anti-terrorist system which allowed the cockpit door to remain locked and would eventually open automatically after entry was refused several times—but too late in this instance, a rule which allowed only one pilot to be in the cockpit alone for a brief time (that rule was changed throughout Europe within hours of the crash. American regulations didn’t allow that, but the airline in this case was German, where a pilot could be alone in the cockpit briefly on that type of plane), and no psychological testing required for pilots of that airline. (It seems to be coming to light now in the investigation that the co-pilot had a history of psychological problems, and allegedly had not been cleared for flight that day). All circumstances which allowed the unimaginable, unthinkable to happen, if what they believe now is true, that a person/co-pilot with a history of mental issues crashed the plane into the mountains in order to commit suicide, and took a plane full of innocents with him. Apparently, the pilot (who had left the cockpit for a few moments) fought heroically to re-enter the cockpit, and even tried to break down the cockpit door with an axe, once his co-pilot had denied him re-entry, and was taking the plane down at a rapid rate. The drama ended within minutes and turned into tragedy. It is a haunting event which has touched us all. For anyone who flies, we all take our risks, as you do when you drive down the highway too. A mechanical failure or bad weather can bring a plane down, and today terrorism has become a factor we are all aware of, and was demonstrated so shockingly during 9/11. Similarly people who went to the grocery store to buy a loaf of bread risked and lost their lives when terrorists took over a grocery store in Paris recently, and tragedy struck there too. But to have to worry now about becoming part of a pilot or co-pilot’s suicide is a heavy dose of reality for us all. And it is always a tragedy when lives are lost, or even one life, whatever the circumstances.
Authorities are now looking for fragments of the victims’ bodies to return to their families, using DNA tests to identify even tiny pieces. It is ALL so unthinkable. The death of any loved one or family member, or even a good friend, changes your life forever. The absence of that person leaves a hole and an ache in your heart forever. The terrible ‘why’ it happened, trying to understand why they were struck by an illness, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time, a careless moment behind the wheel of a car, or why they may have been negligent for an instant. And to die in innocence seems such a terrible way to lose someone. And to be the victim of someone else’s suicide, in a circumstance where you are supposed to feel relatively safe and have no control, seems particularly awful. I was in Paris when it happened, and people all over Europe are badly shaken by it, as I am sure they are in the States too. I flew myself 3 days later, and I think the event was on everyone’s mind then as well, both passengers and crew seemed unusually quiet, and I felt that way too. It peels away a layer of safety and trust, and adds one more thing to worry about on the list, along with terrorism, mechanical failure, and bad weather.
The world seems so troubled these days, none of us feel totally safe anymore in our daily lives, wherever we live, whether put at risk by a crazed student on a campus, a shooter in a fast food store, as victims of an elaborate plot, or simply one lone moment of madness, as seems to have happened on the flight from Spain to Germany this week. What is making the world so much more tense, causing people to implode and commit unthinkable acts (like at the Boston Marathon), fall prey to politics which injure others, or take others with them in an act of suicide? We hear about too many of these events. It crosses our minds more often, and we and our loved ones seem so much more at risk in the world today. I think about it each time my children fly, or I do, and probably you do too. And even a life lived more locally is not without risk, if you can be killed at the grocery store by a mad gunman. We can’t hide at home, we can’t imagine danger in every corner, and yet we seem to have regressed to an era in history (like the middle ages) when daily life was dangerous, and the future was never safe or certain, and the weapons of choice now seem to range from homemade bombs to very sophisticated ones and elaborate plots, a handgun or an airplane.
The family of the young co-pilot must be deeply aggrieved too. It is a tragedy for everyone on that plane and everyone they loved and who loved them, and for all of us, to be mourning again people we did not know, and who should not have died on that plane. Laws will be changed as a result, which will prevent exactly that scenario from happening again, but it is somehow a sign of a deep wound somewhere in our civilization that such troubled people have power over us, even when we least suspect it. My deepest sympathy and my prayers go out to all of those affected, and to all of us as well, as we stand by helplessly and mourn innocent people yet again. The tragedies seem to be becoming more shocking and more frequent. May we somehow find a way to heal the wounds in our world, and help each other.