Aviation geeks have to mature to respond to a crisis

On Friday evening, whatsapp groups and social media started buzzing with news about runway excursion at Calicut. A quick check on the television, and the news channels were busy with news about Sushant Singh Rajput. Soon whatsapp started flooding with details – name of the captain and first officer, photos, videos and further details. 

Air India Express’ Boeing B737-800 operating as IX-1344 from Dubai to Kozhikode had crashed. The aircraft slid down the end of the runway. The state had been receiving heavy rains on the day of the accident and the latest METAR indicated rain during the landing.

No sooner than this first wave of messages passed, the next wave came on Twitter. Armchair experts started doling out the sequence of events, what went wrong, why it went wrong and what could & should have been done. 

Most of these details were based on a flight tracking website – FlightRadar24’s data for IX1344 which showed one go-around while attempting to land on Runway 28 and subsequent attempt on Runway 10 which ended up in the unfortunate crash. 

No sooner had this first wave of messages hit, the next wave started mostly on social media – armchair experts started doling out advice, commentary of things which led to the crash. This wave of messages had started coming in even while the rescue operation was still on and passengers of the ill fated flight were not even rescued and in hospital!

The flight radar based analysis experts commented on how the aircraft made more than one go-arounds, was fast on approach, was high on approach, should not have landed, used the wrong runway for landing, permission should have been denied for landing and more. How ironic can things be? Flightradar tweeted that they do not have granular data about the last few seconds of the flight since coverage was not available at Kozhikode! The flight tracking website has been on the forefront in the past to track accidents and has also shared data with relevant authorities. 

The third wave of messages started hitting with photos of the Captain along with details about his family, Indian Air Force background and more. This was when it was confirmed that unfortunately the captain is no more. This, I feel is such an insensitive way of handling things with photos being sent out – definitely without the permission of the family. By this time, another theory was doing the rounds. An issue with the landing gear, aircraft circled above to burn fuel being the core message. 

The waves of theories stopped around midnight with the armchair experts probably not finding more details to tweet with focus shifting on table-top runways being dangerous and how there are challenges with runway’s like these. Details started emerging about notices being sent in the past, licencing issues and more. 

Overnight, senior officials from Air India, other agencies of government and the Minister himself had made their way to Kozhikode at the accident site. By midday today, the fourth wave started. This involved tales about touchdown being way ahead of what is the touchdown zone. From a decorated test pilot cannot make any mistake to how the pilots landed wrongly, stories became tales within 24 hours. 

Over 24 hours later, social media is unfortunately abuzz with more tales than facts and speculation based analysis and facts. While the three waves of information saw a lot of data being thrown around, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and Flight Data Recorder (FDR) were recovered early this morning. It will take some time to retrieve information from these two, analyse and come to a conclusion. 

The last deadly crash in India was in 2010 at Mangalore, when another B737-800 of the same airline crashed. A committee was constituted comprising expert Pilots, engineers, bureaucrats and representatives of the airline. This also involved support from Boeing and various other arms of the government including the airport operator Airports Authority of India. 

Ten years later, with social media at new highs, many more news channels in the country and trigger happy twitter users – we should have avoided speculation. The speculation spree was akin to some media outlets reaching in front of Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s house while he was captured in Pakistan.

While there have been two groups on social media – one taking on the other! While there also was some resentment towards the media, a look at multiple journalists on twitter shows that the majority have shown a measured response and have stayed away from speculation. 

While we pray and hope that any such incident or accident does not take place anywhere, if and when it does again, I can only hope that the responses are with a lot of thought, informative & knowledgeable and not conclusive or full of pinning blame. There are multiple factors which lead to a crash and they include – men, machine, weather & situation. We will know what led to this crash in a few months’ time. I am afraid that we would see a plethora of posts then to claim that the conclusion is what someone had done within hours of the crash! Till the report is out, here’s wishing a speedy recovery to all the injured and courage and prayers for the departed souls.

 

 

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