Thursday, November 4, 2010

I don't understand...

As I type this, there is a story making headlines about a Qantas* flight (Airbus A380) that lost an engine over Singapore. No-one on board was injured, and (thus far) there have been no reports of the debris hurting anyone on land. The plane landed safely.

In 1987, I was on a SAA flight (Boeing 747) from Johannesburg to London. Shortly after refueling at Ilha do Sal, one of the Cape Verde islands in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, we lost an engine - same circumstances as the Qantas flight. I was sitting at a window seat over the wing that lost the engine, so not only did I get an earful of the explosion, I saw the damage as well. After dumping the fuel, we landed safely back on the island. No injuries, although a change of pants was in order for a few passengers!

Here's what I don't understand. This happenstance did not hit the news in any way, shape or form! So, what is it about today's occurrence that deems it newsworthy? Is it because, 23 years later, we live in a world so hungry for anything, we're now happy to unquestioningly accept non-news?

Interesting aside: The day we spent on the island while waiting for another plane to come and pick us up was fascinating. Ilha do Sal primarily exists to support its large international airport, used by SAA in the days of apartheid when South Africa was not allowed to fly over Africa. The airport stood out in solitary splendor, with nothing but salt flats all around. Our arrival significantly increased the population that day, and the hospitality we received was truly amazing. We were bussed to the Morabeza Hotel (which, judging by its website has changed a lot!), and were mightily entertained through the day and night. A lobster and crawfish barbeque was hurriedly put together, a local band rushed down to the hotel to entertain us, we danced the night away at the hotel's disco - in all, a very memorable 24 hours. The next day, British Airways sent a jumbo jet to rescue us. Because communication from the island was somewhat primitive - no phones, only shortwave radio to reach the outside world - we had no way of letting friends know what had happened. (The island is almost on the equator; their 10 ft. TV satellite dishes point straight up, a strange sight.)

A friend of mine, Bonnie, was going to pick us up at SFO. She got to the airport, and nobody was able to tell her anything - because we were connecting to a different airline in London to fly to SFO, there was no continuity in terms of knowledge about our arrival. Coincidentally, that same day, a different SAA flight had crashed in the Indian Ocean, killing 159 people. At the airport, Bonnie picked up the paper, and saw a headline that said something like "South African Airways flight crashes; 159 dead." You can imagine what that did to her heart rate...

* So just how does one pronounce Qantas? There's no 'u,' which makes pronunciation of the 'q' a hard 'c', not the usual 'cw' as in "The queen is quite queer." Al Qa'ida has the same problem, and there we use the hard 'c'. Not to mention Iraq, Qatar, Compaq, Nasdaq, and qwerty (as in keyboard). That said, is Qantas pronounced cunt-ass?!?! Wikipedia seems to agree...!

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