Was the In-Flight Death of a Commercial Pilot Foreseeable? Preventable?
By Ken K. Gourdin
Some months ago, The Salt Lake Tribune published a story on an American Airlines pilot and West Jordan, Utah, resident who died midflight. For the story, see here (last accessed August 10, 2016): http://www.sltrib.com/home/3032666-155/utah-based-american-airlines-pilot-had-heart. Another poster claimed that thin air and compromised cabin pressure contributed to the pilot’s heart problems, and said he hoped that “research and development of procedures” could prevent such things from happening in the future. I replied:
As much control as we’d like to think we wield over our own circumstances and destiny, it isn’t always so. Some things really are unforeseen, and are unforeseeable. I’m not sure how sure I am about the things you proclaim are “no doubt.” I’m not sure how sure anyone can be about them. And you think “research and development of procedures” can prevent death from happening in the future? If so, I (along with many others, “no doubt” ;-D) will be keenly interested to see how that turns out.
And I hope those of you who claim that it’s transparently obvious that this pilot should have been grounded are consistent in your willingness to accept such arbitrary restraints imposed by third parties when it is your ox that’s being gored.
Another poster brought up the old joke about the driver who died peacefully in his sleep—unlike his terrified, screaming passengers. I replied:
Well, you know. That’s what first officers are for (at least, it’s one of the things they’re for). And we’re all gonna die, sooner or later. Does it matter what we’re doing when we die? In the grand scheme of things, maybe not. Can we all go out on our own terms? That’s probably not realistic, either. But those of us who can go out doing something we want to do, were meant to do, were born to do, love to do, I’m all for it.
Another poster told me that double-bypass heart surgery, which, apparently, this pilot had undergone, is enough to ground him, and asked me what I would say, contrary to my contentions that (1) I’m glad this pilot died doing what he wanted to do; and (2) some things are unforeseen and are unforeseeable, if the plane had gone down. I replied:
If the plane had gone down, I would say … that it had a lousy copilot. [Cue rimshot!] I won’t argue with you about whether this pilot should have been grounded: you seem to speak (write) authoritatively on the subject, so I’ll certainly defer to you. In that case, the only question I have is, if he should have been grounded, why wasn’t he? Perhaps you should contact the FAA about this apparent blatant, egregious violation of airline safety rules (or lobby to have them changed, since, if I’m to believe your theory, this airline would have had to be thoroughly boneheaded).
Another poster said that he doesn’t want people who perform critical roles such as that of airline pilot dying on the job. I replied:
I agree with you, but the reality is that the only way to completely prevent such things is to, say, take the bus (but buses don’t have co-pilots). It’s a great way to see America, but I hope you have a lot of time on your hands: You’re going to need it.