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When Air France flight 447 went missing back in 2009, I was but a kid of 19. At the time I wasn’t particularly concerned with air travel, and I’d only been on 3 trips by air, with an upcoming 4th that summer. I definitely remember the news, but it didn’t hit me all that hard. Sure, airliners crash now and then, and this was some weird freak accident. I was the type that trusted in statistics.

However, now that I have finally read the transcript (something I finally did a couple nights ago) of what happened in the cockpit prior to the crash, it will forever stick in my mind.

a plane being lifted off of a ship

You’re never completely safe

This was the primary takeaway from reading the transcript of Air France flight 447’s final moments. Although there was a lot of speculation and educated guesses as to what precipitated the disaster, the crash remained somewhat of a mystery for two years until the black box was finally recovered from the floor of the ocean. Then the reason for the disaster became poignantly apparent: pilot error.

Even with a modern aircraft and experienced pilots, things can go completely and utterly wrong. Yes, it was a freak accident, but it was one that could have been entirely preventable, had one of the pilots not reacted poorly. That’s what unnerves me a bit.

The actions of the junior officer were irrational and the exact wrong thing to do (I’m not a pilot, and I’m not saying I would have known better…I’m just saying this from multiple commentaries). There was a communication breakdown, and the pilots didn’t know which of their instruments to trust. They didn’t figure out until too late what was happening. In the end, they knew they were doomed. The last words of the first officer are haunting.

If you have never read the full transcript of the crash, you definitely should.

Should you be concerned about flying?

Even after reflecting on this harrowing story, this won’t deter me from jumping on a plane next time I have a chance. The United States is on a truly remarkable aviation safety streak. It was also concluded that 2017 was the safest year for aviation on record.

Freak accidents happen. And often freak accidents are caused by human error, such as in this case. Every time you go jet-setting, you must realize that are putting your life in someone else’s hands (luckily, they typically want to survive, too, unless you’re this guy).

If commercial plane crashes were a common occurrence, they wouldn’t be such a big news item. When a jetliner crashes, it is almost universally major international news. When a car crashes, it often remains a local news issue. Car crashes are fairly mundane, and deaths on the road are (sadly) as well. Over a million people die on the road annually around the world. A million. In contrast, there were a mere 31 deaths over all civilian flights of reasonable size. That is truly extraordinary.


While the final moments of Air France 447 will haunt me as an example of everything gone disastrously wrong, it won’t deter me from getting on an aircraft. It does make me more aware of my own mortality and that the worst could indeed happen in the sky. It’s just highly unlikely.

Air France tail image courtesy of Agencia Brasil used under CC 3.0 license. Featured image courtesy of Laurent ERRERA under CC 2.0 license

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