Rebirth of Faith - In Yana & The Other Girls
Every once in a while, something happens somewhere, that puts faith back in your cynical self. And for the truest believers, it is a moment of divine intervention - a sign to the non-believing masses - that faith in the priests' words and the scriptures can one day save your life.
Such a moment occurred to me a few weeks back, on the morning of January 16, 2009, India time, to be precise, as I was wiping sleep away in the first waking moments of that day.
(For those of you thinking that I am about to launch a new religion with these lines, or that these are excerpts from a discourse that may have a title like 'Philosophical Underpinnings at the End of the First Decade of the Third Millennium', I confess it's neither. In fact, I want to talk about Yana Gupta, and why it is so important to listen to what she says.)
On that Friday morning, with my eyes fixed in a blink-less gaze at the TV screen, as I increased the volume to take in every detail, a flurry of incomplete questions raced through my mind: Was it true? Could it really? But everybody said it's impossible...
The first images of Flight 1549 in the Hudson River, with passengers lined up on its wings, were enough to wipe away my early morning grogginess.
You've read it ... you've heard it... and the curious few have seen it as well. There's no such thing as a successful water landing.
The Economist, a few years back, did a satirical preflight announcement for the imaginary Veritas Airways, describing what a truly honest airline would tell its passengers. Among other things, it asked the passengers to not worry about the seat bottom floatation device or the inflatable life jackets. Both would need the miracle of a successful ditching to ever come in use. Why miracle? The number of successful water landings by wide body aircrafts - zero.
In Fight Club, the late 1990s movie, the characters played by Brad Pitt and Edward Norton ponder on the real reason behind flight safety procedures
Tyler Durden: You know why they put oxygen masks on planes?
Narrator: So you can breathe
Tyler Durden: Oxygen gets you high. In a catastrophic emergency, you're taking giant panicked breaths. Suddenly you become euphoric, docile. You accept your fate. It's all right here. Emergency water landing - 600 miles an hour. Blank faces, calm as Hindu cows.
Narrator: That's, um... That's an interesting theory.
No, not just a theory - because you've probably seen it too - the spectacular footage of the ill fated water landing of the Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961, where the aircraft disintegrates seconds after touching water, killing most on board.
Water landings are supposed to be so unlikely, that the US civil aviation regulator, the FAA, does not require pilots to be trained for them - says Slate Magazine, in a 1999 article.
As passengers, think about it. When was the last time you bothered to pick your heads up from your newspapers or unplugged your earpieces to look at the flight attendants doing the preflight safety drill? Most frequent flyers probably have those lines memorised better than the national anthem. You're arrogant too. One glance at the just-out-of-internship pretty-young-attendant and you get that momentary urge to show her how to demonstrate better with the loose seat belt and that oxygen mask. But, after flying tens of thousands of base miles every year, you have learned to filter out the entire performance.
And yet, on that Friday morning, it happened on the Hudson. Impossible! The only word that kept coming back to me. And every time it did, my eyes were glued back to the images on the screen. There was the aircraft, fuselage intact, bobbing out of water, passengers lined up on the wings, being rescued by the ferries. The anchors kept saying that everyone had survived - no serious injuries either.
I pause - a few moments of deep reflection and soul searching follow. Could you really ever know when the next helicopter pilot would have the whim to land his chopper in the middle of a busy runway. Would every pilot have the same presence of mind as Capt. Kohli did, when he braked his craft to a halt just a few meters from disaster? And, if someone as skilled as Capt Sullenberger did manage to make the perfect water landing, would I be the one idiot passenger who ran to the wrong exit and jeopardized the evacuation?
It was finally time to make my resolution for 2009 - better late than never, as they say. From my next flight, I shall carefully observe Yana Gupta on the screen in front of me, or whoever the attendant on duty may be. (No! No! Not that kind of observation). I will carefully listen to them; tighten my seat belt; look out for the nearest emergency exit - which could be behind me; program myself - to put on my oxygen mask first before helping anyone else. And after the announcement, I shall pick up the booklet from the seat pocket and carefully study the layout of the cabin, and all the animated emergency procedures. That done, I shall politely put my mobile phone on silent.
Give me a break! Everyone knows that mobiles operate on frequencies that are totally different from the ones used by air-traffic-control. A mobile interfering with the aircraft's communication systems - about as likely as two satellites colliding in space.
Now, what's that on the front page? Two satellites just collided in space.