Members of the African Union (AU) at the crash site hold flowers in memory of the victims REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Does The Ethiopian Air Disaster Signal Doomed Future of Air Travel?

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Ever since the Dana Air Flight 992 nightmare, that happened on June 3, 2012 in my hometown of Lagos, Nigeria, my radar has been on alert for incidences of that nature, but even before then, there was the Air France Flight 447 crash back in June 2009. The flight took off from Rio de Janeiro and was headed for Paris when miscommunication between the operational system and the pilots caused the aircraft to stall. Normal functions were never resumed, and the plane plummeted in the darkness, and into the Atlantic Ocean.

The personal connection to this tragedy was the fact that Air France was my preferred air carrier for sporadic trips to Nigeria. British Airways or Virgin were the two popular choices back then, but for some reason, while planning the journey home in 2002, the pricing for Air France was considerably cheaper, and so my brother and I decided to go for it.

The night of our flight from Newark to Lagos was frigid and icy, which was a typical late December forecast, and we were grounded for almost an hour as the plane went through the process of deicing.

Once we were airborne, the instructions were to remain in our seats with our belts tightly fastened because flying through the storm system was going to be a bumpy ride. Sure enough the turbulence wasn’t a joke, and the darkness outside gave the cabin an eeriness that chilled, and the only thing that provided relief was the close proximity to my brother who tried but failed to hide his fright.

Interestingly enough, I never once contemplated the worst as the plane was thrown about like a ragged doll with all of us holding on for dear life, and that might’ve been blissful naivety or the accrued experience of a seasoned traveller who remembers walking out of British Caledonian with a bag filled with toys and play cards.

There was the confidence that the journey ahead was going to begin and end without issue because the modern age dictated that epic advancements over centuries of air travel, had produced the level of progression that was only going to get better.

The best was yet to come.

But more than a decade later, I’m certain that if that same harrowing scenario of being stuck on a plane during a blizzard while waiting to emerge from the raging turbulence, played out with the same intensity on a future trip, there would be the panic attack that would take my breath away.

It appears that we’ve taken massive steps backwards, and the consequences of this pathed regression has been vividly evidenced with the most recent air disaster involving Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, that fell from the sky about 6 minutes after takeoff, and plunged into a farm area near the airport in Addis Ababa before exploding into a fiery inferno.

The news of the crash came in fast and furiously on the Sunday morning of March 10, 2019, and the incoming images confirmed that all of the 157 passengers who represented more than 40 countries, including Ethiopia, United States, Canada, France, Britain, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Nepal, Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, India, Israel, and China and Slovakia — perished with no survivors in sight.

The flight that took off from Bole International Airport was under the controls of a seasoned young pilot, who was more than capable of commandeering the brand new jetliner to its final destination of Nairobi. But for reasons that still don’t add up, altitude was never maintained after takeoff, and the situation escalated from bad to worse very quickly, as the pilot desperately tried to regain control of a plane that was dangerously rejecting his basic commands.

The only thing to do was to head right back to the airport, in an attempt to avoid what was on the horizon. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough time to dodge the unfathomable, as the plane hit the ground with enough force to reduce it and its occupants to smithereens.

We never want to imagine what that kind of impact can do to the human body, and even our wildest imagine can’t accurately summon the finality of such a demise.

As the breaking news was updated throughout the day, the severity of the event was verified through the released manifest that showcased the best of the best in areas of humanitarian service and global agencies that are dedicated to the overall health of our planet. There are also renowned scholars, members of the health sector, future lawyers, travel enthusiasts, etc.

Leaders of countries that were affected by the tragedy, like Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Theresa May, and the newly re-elected Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari, among others, were quick to release statements that reflected the sheer grief of the climate with words of support to the bereaved.

President Trump opted to remain silent, despite the fact that 8 Americans were killed, with one of them leaving behind a career of service in the military. His allegiance to White supremacy doesn’t allow for empathy and human decency when it comes to the travails of “shithole” countries that experience what can only be classified as an international tragedy.

And that state of mind could be transferred to Western media, specifically news organizations in the States, that briefly highlighted some of the noteworthy victims before concentrating more on the forward planning of Boeing, the company that manufactured the ill-fated 737 Max 8, the same model of doomed Lion Air Flight 610, that plunged into the Java Sea off Indonesia in October, which resulted in the death of 189 passengers.

Canada was the first out of the bunch to ground the models that have proven to be problematic with deadly consequences, and then other countries followed suit. But the U.S. remained defiant in its quest to continue the business of hauling passengers to and fro without the responsibility of separating potentially defective machines.

Trump’s only acknowledgement of the Ethiopian air crash came in the form of a tweet (what else is new), where he expressed his views on the “complexities of airplanes.”

As much as I hate to admit it, Trump may actually have a point with his summation of the aviation industry, and how the sophisticated tools that are birthed from numerous updates, can be doing more harm than good. Especially when there is a strong indication that pilots are being woefully left in the dark, with the expectation to “wing it” (no pun intended) when trouble arises, several feet above ground.

The experienced pilot of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302, found himself powerless when it came to issuing directives, and the battered black box that was found at the crash site is now being examined by experts at the French air accident investigation authority, also know as BEA.

The American outfit, The National Transportation Safety Board that houses Boeing, is sending 3 representatives to help with the investigation, that should hopefully unearth what went violently wrong during the two notable flights, that were flown with the 737 Max 8 planes.

In the meantime, all that remains is the dented wasteland of debris, where anguished family members roam in pained disbelief, as they struggle to reconcile the unbearable loss of loved ones, who have disappeared to the great unknown without a trace.

Mainstream media also failed to allot the hours of packaged footage that would’ve been approved if the accident had struck prominent airlines like Air France, British Airways, or any of the others in that realm.

The disarming casualness that follows this heart-wrenching devastation doesn’t suit the agonized temperament of the grieving faculty and students that Nigerian-born Canadian professor Pius Adesanmi interacted with at Carelton University or the gutted colleagues of the U.N. workers who didn’t arrive for the next-day summit or the stunned friends of the Georgetown University law student, Cedric Asiavugwa, or every single individual attached to this horror, who still can’t comprehend how a plane can inexplicably fall from the sky.

We used to believe that air travel was the safest mode of travel, but in 2019, after the latest slew of tragic occurrences, it’s difficult to own that long-standing declaration without reservations.

We have to do better. A lot better.

We can’t tolerate this level of recklessness because no human being deserves to meet their end with the certainty that the ones they leave behind will be deprived of the dignity of their burial.

We also can’t tolerate the nonchalance of the media when it comes to the uneven coverage that’s awarded to news items from parts of the world that aren’t deemed worthy of the extended and thorough treatment that is assigned to Westernized nations.

When it comes to unspeakable calamities of this magnitude — all lives matter.


Images of woe:

Biographies of the victims:

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