January 16, 2009

The Captain and the Magician

With the world celebrating the calm heroism of Capt. Chelsey Sullenberger who piloted his powerless jetliner into a safe landing in the Hudson River near Times Square, I wanted to recall the 1991 story of a less admirable captain of a sinking ship and the magician who took command after he fled. From People:

On Saturday evening, Aug. 3, [1991] as a 50-mph gale buffeted their ship, passengers aboard the Greek cruise liner Oceanos gamely made their way to the main lounge for the evening's entertainment. No sooner had they settled in than the lights went out. The 492-foot ship, suddenly without power, tossed in high seas off South Africa's aptly named Wild Coast. For 361 weekend tourists, one of the most harrowing nights of their lives had just begun. The Oceanos was sinking.

Disgracefully, many of the 184 crew members clambered aboard the lifeboats ahead of some of the passengers and paddled to the safety of tankers and trawlers that had drawn nearby. At daybreak on Sunday, South African Air Force helicopters joined the rescue operation. But to the astonishment and anger of the 217 passengers still aboard, Capt. Yannis Avranias grabbed the second chopper off the ship. With no one clearly in charge, an unlikely hero emerged among the remaining crew: Robin Boltman, 31, the ship's magician.

Giving the performance of his career, Boltman entertained and calmed passengers throughout the pitch-black night. In the morning he ascended to the bridge and maintained radio contact with rescuers. Finally, at 11:30 A.M., after all other passengers and crew had been removed to safety, Boltman was lifted from the ship by a helicopter. At 1:45 P.M. the luxury liner nosed into the Indian Ocean and disappeared under the waves. [More]

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

48 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Avranas" not Arvanias

derek sutton said...

Wow, a site I googled is telling me that Boltman was also on the Achille Lauro disaster. If anybody has a cruise coming up, you might want to steer clear of this guys bookings!

H. said...

Hooray for the two heroes, who illustrate that there's still some valor left in the world. I wonder what's happened to the Greeks in the last couple of thousand years. All readers must note the ethnicities of the heroes and villains ....

dearieme said...

I love American names like Chelsey Sullenberger Ill.

koos said...

I must say I was impressed with his accurate landing. Getting those 2 engines to hit the water at the same time is probably not easy. I vividly remember the Ethiopian Airlines water landing when their hijacked liner ran out of fuel and hit the shallow sea. On landing the one wing was much lower so when it hit the water the plane was jerked to one side and disintegrated. Most people drowned.

Obviously, judging by the high accident rates of African airlines, the Air America pilots have better training and probably natural skill than say Ethiopian Airline pilots. But I wonder to what extent the stability of the airframe was not due to it being an Airbus rather than a Boeing. Our prof. for aeroplane design and uni here in Germany is a former Airbus engineer, and they do seem to be technologically very advanced.

Svigor said...

His surname's Boltman, plus a magician to boot? Definitely pings my Jewdar. Credit where it's due...

Anonymous said...

I think we would all be interested to know the ethnic make up of the crew.

I wonder if anyone knows.

albertosaurus said...

I believe the tradition of the captain going down with the ship stems from salvage laws. If the captin or any ship officer is still on board then the ship couldn't be claimed for salvage. Hence the ship owners required the captain to stay on board so as to protect their investment.

Change the salvage laws and captain should be free to "bugger out" ASAP with no stigma.

FR said...

I hate to rain on this parade, but may I ask why this man is being called a "hero", rather than a pilot who executed his duties very well? Pilots are trained to make emergency landings. It's part of their job responsibilities and he did a great job of carrying them out. That's terrific, but it's not "heroism".

gene berman said...

albertosaurus:

I won't dispute that salvage law may have been the origin of an owner requiring that the captain stay with the ship to enforce a property claim but would suggest (even without specific knowledge) that the custom is older and was a characteristic of military (naval) practice. It only makes sense that the highest (and responsible authority) should be last to leave.

gene berman said...

And, by the way, this guy is most definitely one of those with "the right stuff."

kurt9 said...

My understanding is that the Ethiopian Airlines plane would have made it down just fine and that the pilots were doing the right thing. But a hijacker grabbed the controls just before the plane was about to "land" in the water and that this caused one of the wings to dip into the water and the plane to cartwheel and break into several pieces.

Even then, I understand that most of the passengers still made it but drowned because they inflated their life-vests while still inside the plane and were not able to submerge enough to make it out the doors.

You can find Youtube videos of this plane crash.

Anonymous said...

His surname's Boltman, plus a magician to boot? Definitely pings my Jewdar.

No.

Svigor said...

Wow, a site I googled is telling me that Boltman was also on the Achille Lauro disaster

Ah-HA!!! I spoke too soon! I should've known!

:P

They should've known better than to name a boat after Achilles.

Anonymous said...

Anybody ever read Lord Jim?

Anonymous said...

Koos, the Ethiopian pilots had to land their plane while fighting hijackers in the cockpit. The difficulty rating of that attempt goes way up, and is no basis for comparing the training and innate skill of "our" pilots and "theirs."

As for the accident rate of African airlines in general, maintenance, air traffic control and missiles have got to be large factors.

Keyser Söze said...

Blaming the Air Ethiopia pilot for the crash because American pilots have "better training and probably natural skills" is shameful and ignorant. As has been pointed out, the pilot was actually being attacked by the hijackers at the time of the crash, and it is due to him that not everyone died on that plane. To suggest otherwise is contemptible bigotry.

Sam Adams said...

Here is a Fox News article with some interesting new details on the event. But perhaps the most interesting thing in the article is a paragraph containing an absurd snippet of Obamania:

"NBC said "Today" show host Matt Lauer would interview Sullenberger from Washington on Monday, a day before Barack Obama is inaugurated."

Why the hell is it necessary in this particular article to tell us that Monday is the "day before Barack Obama is inaugurated"?

Dramatic New Details Released About Moments Before Jet's Crash Landing in Hudson River

I didn't check the rest of their website but maybe now according to the Fox News stylebook all calendar dates in any story are referenced in relation to Obama's term as president. Sort of like A.D. and B.C.

On a related note I heard that ESPN is going to be doing inauguration coverage for the first time ever.

Anonymous said...

For computational ease, should the Age of Obama start with a zero year?

Kent

tommy said...

I hate to rain on this parade, but may I ask why this man is being called a "hero", rather than a pilot who executed his duties very well? Pilots are trained to make emergency landings. It's part of their job responsibilities and he did a great job of carrying them out. That's terrific, but it's not "heroism".

I would rather the press play up Sullenberger as a hero than the dubious cast of characters ordinarily lauded as heroes. He made a difficult landing that no commercial airline pilot could be truly prepared to make, he remained calm and level-headed throughout the ordeal, and he was the last man off the plane. If nothing else, he is an excellent pilot and an honorable man.

"NBC said "Today" show host Matt Lauer would interview Sullenberger from Washington on Monday, a day before Barack Obama is inaugurated."

My youngest brother's English teacher is demonstrating her commitment to her profession by calling in sick so that she can watch the inauguration on television. I'm also informed they will be broadcasting the inauguration over the speakers of the school. I can guarantee they didn't do that during Bush's inauguration.

Given my little brother's daily encounters with public school teachers who talk on their cell phones and browse the internet handling their personal business during class time, nothing should surprise me from the lazy, bitchy, ignorant, liberal do-nothings who pretend to educate kids these days. Still I find the blatant political propaganda in the public schools these days rather astonishing. My brother has no trouble naming teachers who openly and routinely make their contempt for Bush know to their students.

Even the mediocre, gently liberal teachers I recall in junior high and high school sound like Sullenbergers of education compared to the latest batch of scoundrels fresh from the teachers' colleges.

Dennis Mangan said...

"Obviously, judging by the high accident rates of African airlines, the Air America pilots have better training and probably natural skill than say Ethiopian Airline pilots."

That's a hatefact!

headache said...

"South African Air Force helicopters joined the rescue operation. "

OT, but its kinda ironic that with South Africa now having become a Democracy (with hope and change) and all that, the air force has hardly any (white) pilots left, and the black AA pilots are crashing the choppers so much that they are mostly grounded nowadays.

koos said...

"As for the accident rate of African airlines in general, maintenance, air traffic control and missiles have got to be large factors."

Wrong, its skill. Ask any former Rhodesian Air Force or South African Air Force pilots how many planes have been downed by blacks through plain stupidity. There is a reason why most Europeans who fly to Africa fly with Emirates, Air France, British Airways and NOT Ethiopian Airways, Nigerian Airways, Ghana Airways, Air Zimbabwe or even the AA-plagued new South African Airways.

koos said...

Keyser Söze,

Nice attempt at trying to shame me. But it won’t cut because it doesn’t tie with reality. Ask African whites and wealthy African blacks WHICH airlines they fly on to Africa! You don’t even have to bother asking WHY.
Just to help the logic a little over that inner PC hurdle: African airline flights are cheaper than the European or ME variety.

koos said...

Dennis Mangan sed:
"That's a hatefact!"

Thanks, that's what I needed to hear! That’s the point of Steve’s site; otherwise we could just hang around one of the myriad PC sites. I'm becoming a little astonished to what extent the PC police has already infiltrated Steve's blog. At this rate this site will not be worth visiting within 6 months or so.

Henry Canaday said...

By my very crude calculation, the pilot had less than 90 seconds from the time the engines cut over the Bronx until the plane would be on the ground (or water). Apart from the landing itself, think how fast a lot of information had to be processed, choices surveyed and the correct (or at least a workable) plan selected.

Engines cut...tick, tick... call LaGuardia...ask permission...check distance, chances...tick, tick...what's that other airport in New Jersey?...tick, tick... can I make it on the first try?... maybe, maybe not...better head down the Hudson...tick, tick.

koos said...

kurt9, thanks for pointing out the hijacker interference. I was not aware of that.

Anonymous said...

Henry Canaday,
Yea, even though whenever the MSM hype something its a reason to be sceptical, this time I have to give this pilot the thumbs up. Really well done.

David Davenport said...

But I wonder to what extent the stability of the airframe was not due to it being an Airbus rather than a Boeing.

How 'bout the A400's FADEC software? Superior German engineering, yes indeed.

A400 = much-delayed Airbus military transport.

Anonymous said...

I kind of doubt that FADEC (Full Authority Digital Engine Control) had much to do with anything since both engines were out.

Nonetheless analog FADEC was invented in England, and digital FADEC was in use in US aircraft about two decades before anywhere else. It simply means that a computer controls the engine, as opposed to mechanical linkages.

The really interesting aspect of the captains decision was to land in the Hudson rather than try and stretch for Teterboro, which has a long 7000 foot runway. The trouble was that, with buildings and neighborhoods all around, and a full fuel load, even a slight miscalculation would have had disastrous results. Plus with no engines, there is no reverse thrust, which does most of the braking. Still, not an easy call as you don't ever get to practice your water landings before you do one for real. Consider that the force of the water was enough to tear off the left engine.

Take a look at how close and tempting Teterboro must have been:

http://tinyurl.com/7ywwt3

He crossed over the GW bridge and landed down at the bottom of the map - look for the ferry lines.

The heroism was in the decision making and doing something he had never done before - all in the space of three minutes.

Truth said...

Actually, there have been 28 USSR air crashes since 1970 vs. 9 in Sub-Saharan Africa.


http://www.airsafe.com/events/method.
htm

Steve Sailer said...

Speaking of ex-Soviet airlines, when in 1994 I got stranded in Shannon, Ireland because the crew of my Aer Lingus 747 flight was too drunk to fly (Ireland had upset Italy the night before in the World Cup and many a pint glass was drained on the olde sod that night), I had a chance to take an Aeroflot flight back to the U.S.

No way.

(This was right after the Russian airliner crashed because the pilot let his little boy fly the plane.)

I waited around an extra day for the Irish pilots to sober up.

Danindc said...

The quick (and correct)decision making is why IMHO Sully is a hero. In fact, he thinks so quickly he could be a qb in the nfl. What's his 40 time and can he take a hit?

Anonymous said...

Truth,
As usual you are being disingenuous. There were far more flights n the USSR, which was built on the notion of air transport, than there were/are in Africa, where aeroplanes are a rarity. But you knew that. You are just manipulating statistics to make the brothas look better, as usual.

Anonymous said...

David Davenport,
First Airbus is mainly French, not German. As for the A400. The problem there are the engines. The engine consortium is run by Rolls-Royce, which I believe is a British company.

Anyway, the A400 will eventually be a fine aircraft, outclassing everything in its spectrum.

Anonymous said...

Hurray for magic!

However according to Deuteronomy 18:11 ("beware of witches, wizards, and necromancers") both the Captain and the Magician would be rewarded with eternal damnation for their heroism.

Given Clarke's Law, airplanes and other modern technology are a form of magic(k) - and would be regarded as such by the authors of the Old Testament.

Truth said...

"As usual you are being disingenuous. There were far more flights n the USSR, which was built on the notion of air transport, than there were/are in Africa, where aeroplanes are a rarity."

You may be right, but again, I cited statistics to illustrate my point, did you? Don't be lazy, if you are going to make a point, come up with something to back it up. It's totally unproductive to debate with someone who is armed only with platitudes he's pulled out of his ass.

Svigor said...

You may be right, but again, I cited statistics to illustrate my point, did you? Don't be lazy, if you are going to make a point, come up with something to back it up. It's totally unproductive to debate with someone who is armed only with platitudes he's pulled out of his ass.

Given this attitude, are we to imply that your handle is like a reverse nickname?

David Davenport said...

As for the A400. The problem there are the engines. The engine consortium is run by Rolls-Royce, which I believe is a British company.


Engine snags threaten to delay transport aircraft programme

By: Keith Campbell

8th August 2008


THE Airbus Military A400M transport aircraft programme, in which South Africa is a partner, is threatened with a further delay. South Africa's work share on the A400M is expected to be worth €750-million over the next 20 years. The first complete A400M was rolled out at the final assembly line, near Seville in Spain, on June 26 this year, and it is hoped that the aircraft will make its first flight at the end of October. The South African Air Force has eight A400Ms on order, and deliveries are currently scheduled to start in 2010.

But, not for the first time, the planned power plant for the aircraft is causing concern. The A400M will be powered by four Europrop International TP400-D6 turboprop engines, each of which will generate 8 203 kW of power (11 000 shaft horse power in old terminology). Europrop is jointly owned by ITP of Spain, MTU Aero Engines of Germany, Rolls-Royce of Britain, and Snecma of France, and its head office is in Munich. ...

http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/engine-snags-threaten-to-delay-transport-aircraft-programme-2008-08-08

FADEC software -> Full Authority Digital Engine Control. MTU responsible for A400 software. --DD

Truth said...

Svig; I think you've lost me again, chief. Remember, when you respond to me, you have to remove 15% of the intended intellect out of your post so that I can understand it.

Anonymous said...

Any of you who have The Aspirin Age gathering dust on your shelves, pull it down and read about the Morro Castle disaster in 1930. A luxury liner en route from New York to Havana caught fire. The crew then behaved exactly like the crew in the magician story. Lifeboats rated for 70 passengers cast off with 30 crew and no passengers. This is what people doing a job tend to be like. It takes either very special people, or a lot of training and self-discipline, to act differently.

Truth said...

Is the consensus here that there is no genetic, race based aspect to cowardice...just checking.

Anonymous said...

Truth: Svig; I think you've lost me again, chief. Remember, when you respond to me, you have to remove 15% of the intended intellect out of your post so that I can understand it.

Only 15%?

Truth said...

"Only 15%"

I don't know, what is 100-85?

Anonymous said...

Truth, the only reason I bother responding is because I'm waiting for a routine to finish on my computer, my coffee is empty and I have some free time on my hands.

You are a cheapskate. At least use the right link when trying to distract people. And please don’t be so lazy next time you throw more of your random numbers on the web. Your link points to “Method for Computing Airliner Fatal Event Rates“, not accident data.

Using YOUR source, summarising Sub-Saharan Africa [you guys sure know when to include those Egyptians aka African Civilizations and when not to]:

Using grade school math:

FLE: 3.97
Flights: 3.35 M
FLE/M. Flights: 1.19

Summarized from [Fatal Events and Fatal Event Rates of Airlines in Africa and the Middle East Since 1970, http://www.airsafe.com/events/regions/afmid.htm]

Notice that includes South African Airways which was run by whites until about 2000 and had a European level accident rate, so you get the benefit of the doubt.

[I’m sure the actual number is much higher since record taking is an underdeveloped art in most of Africa. In places like Angola planes were routinely shot down, crashed, mechanically failed and you only heard an anecdote.]


Now for Aeroflot:
“It was also the national airline of the Soviet Union and was once the largest airline in the world….In 1976 Aeroflot carried more than 100 million passengers for the first time.”

[http://www.super70s.com/super70s/Tech/Aviation/Airlines/Aeroflot.asp]

So, let’s be generous and assume passenger flights levelled off in 1970 and stayed constant since. Let’s assume the average plane was the equivalent of a Boeing 737, i.e. 100 passengers per flight. That comes to:

FLE: 22.8
Flights: 38 M
FLE/M. Flights: 0.60

Summarized from [Fatal Events and Fatal Event Rates of Airlines in Europe Since 1970,
http://www.airsafe.com/events/regions/europe.htm]


More grade school math:
0.6 is less than 1.19.

In fact by a factor 2.

And I was generous getting there.

Anonymous said...

The computer did most of the work, and the rest was luck.

If my car engine explodes on route and the car gets wrapped around an oak but I saunter away in one piece, am I really a "hero"? If things had gone one inch farther in either direction, I would be a corpse. Or a pedestrian would be a corpse and there would be an investigation.

So much depends on microscopic chance, just dumb luck. Hindsight self-congratulation feels good but is dumb. ("I made so many decisions in only a split-second.") Smarter to breathe a sigh of relief that you dodged the bullet, and not puff yourself up as the second coming of Patton.

If he were that good, he would have DODGED the damn geese.

Truth said...

Very nice, you used statistics, you also make some judgements that seem illogical. First of all, you assume that each flight had 100 passengers. I know little about airlines, yet I would assume that the four sub-Saharan African airlines Air Afrique, Air Zimbabwe, Air Ethiopia and Kenya Airways probably had much smaller flights than those of Aeroflot, therefore this would mean that the Russian numbers of flights (which were not given here) are lower than you hav assumed.

These four African Airlines (not including South Africa) had roughly 1.4 million flights in 38 years and 6 crashes. For comparison sake:

Air Taiwan 900,000 flights 10 crashes

Indian Air 2.5 m flights 12 crashes

Korean Air 1.3 million flights 7 crashes

Turkish Air 2 m - 9 crashes

Air Cubana 330,000 flights 8 crashes

TAM Brazil 600,000 flights- 6 crashes

VASP Brazil 1.8m 6 crashes

Air Egypt 750,000 7 crashes

Royal Air Jordan 340,000 - c crashes.

It seems from the numbers that there is no great difference between African Airlines and those of any other third world region. It would also seem that 28 crashes in 38 years, as well as the highest deaths per crash rate (by far) in the world makes flying Aeroflot a very risky proposition.

Anonymous said...

Truth, you are not a serious person. First of all, why do you not respond to my pointing out your clear obfuscation tactic of just throwing an arbitrary link and a number on the web? Now you use absolute numbers instead of accidents per flights. It’s obvious why you do that because in Africa there are very few flights so the crashes in absolute numbers seem similar to other regions. Except the other regions have large turnovers. Accidents are generally related to the volume of something done.

Anyway, in my stats Air Zimbabwe was actually Air Rhodesia for 10 years from 1970-1980, so that is also a bonus for you because Air Rhodesia planes were often flown by experienced RAF pilots and well maintained. In addition I offered you the bonus of stagnant Aeroflot passenger numbers, stagnation from 1970 onwards is actually unrealistic. They will have been much higher in reality. African airlines use standard issue planes, because Africa does not have an aircraft producing industry. So they use mostly Russian planes from the Cold War days when many African countries were in bed with Moscow, and older 737’s and 727’s which were development aid gifts from Europe and the US (you can verify this if you bother to look at an Air Zimbabwe pic). So it was very realistic to assume 737, which is similar to many average older Russian transport planes, as standard. I was generous but all you can say is that I "also make some judgements that seem illogical". Since you are being such a stubborn and rude person I am going to update the numbers WITHOUT those generous boni using YOUR source. Thus:

Aeroflot existed since 1921. It reached 100 million flights in 1970. Thus a growth rate of 100M/(1970-1923) = 2.13 M/annum
Thus by 2008 that would have been 100M + 2.13*(2008-1970)=180M PAX

Flights: 180M /100 passengers x (2008-1970) = 68.4MFlights.
Accidents (FLE): 22.8
Accident/MFlights: 22.8/68.4M=0.33


Africa WITHOUT South African Airlines (because most pilots and critical technicians are still white) and Air Rhodesia (this is still being generous because Air Zimbabwe has almost stop operating since Mugabe chased the whites out in 2000):

Flights: 3.35M-1.6M(South Africa)-0.6M*(2/3)[1980-2000] = 1.64M
Accidents (FLE): 3.97
Accident/MFlights = 3.97/1.64M=2.42

Now 2.42/0.33 = 7.3, that is African accident rates are 7-fold (i.e. 700%) that of Aeroflot, which itself was considered dangerous by western standards.


“It seems from the numbers that there is no great difference between African Airlines and those of any other third world region“

First of all, the Soviet Union was a world power, not another “third world region”. It was officially known as a Second World country. Here is some data about Aeroflot. It’s obvious you cannot compare this with say Air Zimbabwe:

“Through the 1950s, Aeroflot expanded routes that stretched from the capital cities of Eastern Europe all the way to the farthest regions of Eastern Siberia. Its longest route was between Moscow and Vladivostok, almost twice the distance between New York and San Francisco. Aeroflot was the first airline in the world to introduce regularly scheduled passenger jet service with its Tupolev Tu-104 jets. In 1961, Aeroflot introduced the huge Tu-114 high-speed turboprop aircraft on nonstop flights from Moscow to Tokyo and North America. By 1967, Aeroflot flew the most passenger miles in the world, and the Soviet passenger aviation industry (represented only by Aeroflot) was second only to America's industry.”


It’s clear that I was being methodological as opposed to you. All you did the second time was just throw some more numbers on the screen and point at large accident numbers in absolute terms without putting them in relation to the No of Flights, which any engineer would have done right away. And trying to insult me again.

From your responses I deduce you have little technical knowledge. What I got out of this waste of time was:

-I have proven that you are not serious, thus I can ignore your posts without feeling guilty
-I have gained a little more knowledge which will come in handy in my aeronautics degree.

It’s obvious your tactic consist of throwing arbitrary numbers at posters and insulting them in order to get attention and spuriously prove that the brothas are OK. Eventually everybody gives up against this sheer stubbornness and rudeness. So long.