Friday, December 9, 2011

The Popular Mechanics article on Flight 447 is enthralling

If you haven't yet had a chance to go read the Popular Mechanics article about Air France flight 447 then stop what you are doing right now, go sit down for 5 minutes, and read the article.

It is chock full of insight after insight after insight. Here's just one, picked almost at random:

While Bonin's behavior is irrational, it is not inexplicable. Intense psychological stress tends to shut down the part of the brain responsible for innovative, creative thought. Instead, we tend to revert to the familiar and the well-rehearsed. Though pilots are required to practice hand-flying their aircraft during all phases of flight as part of recurrent training, in their daily routine they do most of their hand-flying at low altitude—while taking off, landing, and maneuvering. It's not surprising, then, that amid the frightening disorientation of the thunderstorm, Bonin reverted to flying the plane as if it had been close to the ground, even though this response was totally ill-suited to the situation.

Although, as the article points out, there were multiple technical issues in play (weather, location, time of day, fatigue, etc.), in the end it boils down to human factors: training, experience, and, most of all, communication:

The men are utterly failing to engage in an important process known as crew resource management, or CRM. They are failing, essentially, to cooperate. It is not clear to either one of them who is responsible for what, and who is doing what.

Every sentence in this article is a nugget, with observations about human behavior, suggestions of areas for study and improvement, and, in the end, a realization that people are flawed and make mistakes, and what we need to do most of all is to think, talk, and help each other:

when trouble suddenly springs up and the computer decides that it can no longer cope—on a dark night, perhaps, in turbulence, far from land—the humans might find themselves with a very incomplete notion of what's going on. They'll wonder: What instruments are reliable, and which can't be trusted? What's the most pressing threat? What's going on?

Don't miss this incredible recap of the tragedy of Flight 447.

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