With intense sadness and sorrow for those most affected, I sat horrified as the demise of Egyptair flight MS804 impacted like a small earthquake on Thursday morning.
The Airbus A320 was near the end of a routine flight from Paris to Cairo, when it dropped from 37,000 feet into the sea just off the Egyptian coast. Some fifty six passengers and ten crew- sixty six souls in all- were lost.
No one knows for certain yet just exactly what happened to make this plane drop like a stone from the usual cruising altitude to an early morning immolation in the Mediterranean. Not that it has stopped a tsunami of expectation from people trying to sound more informed and knowledgeable than they actually are. Inevitable, yet depressing.
Heartbreaking, too, for the huddled groups of friends and relatives ensconced in a Cairo airport hotel, waiting for news that, when it comes, can only ever be bad. Their suffering beggars any true comprehension. And all of this in the grip of a world wide media circus.
Obviously, people want answers. And, for those of us in the travel industry and market who spend large parts of our time flying through these self same areas, the sense of unease such an accident- if it was that- engenders, can be as poisonous as anything from a WW1 battlefield.
For me, it’s a little bit personal, too. I’ve been on five Egyptair flights over the past couple of years, from London out to Cairo, Luxor, and back again.
On all five journeys, I felt comfortable with the level of security, and actually enjoyed the flights. The on board hospitality was genuine and reassuring. And, though no flight is ever truly a joyride, I have endured far worse. No, Egyptair got me there and back, and with the minimum of pain. There was nothing alarming whatsoever about any of those journeys.
So, I feel quite deeply for the airline staff, many of whom will have had friends and relatives on the downed MS804. I feel for Egypt as a country, where their primary industry of tourism, on which so much depends, is already in the guillotine basket. Between the reality of an internationally unpopular government at home, the looming horror that is Isis, and a basket case economy, there must seem to be little, if anything, to hope for right now. And then this crash.
It is, as many commentators have bruited, very strange indeed for something to go so catastrophically wrong when a plane is in the ‘cruise’ sector of the flight. Although about to commence descent for a final approach into Cairo, MS804 was still at its optimum cruising height when the fatal accident occurred.
Usually, the most dangerous moments for any flight occur on take off and landing. For a plane to just suddenly fall from the sky at the height MS804 was flying at is, indeed, as rare as it is horrifying.
I’m not getting into speculation on what might have happened yet, because I am simply not qualified to. I am no aviation expert. Possible terrorism of some kind will always be a lingering concern, unless (and until) it can be ruled out. The pilot seems to have been vastly experienced and, of the ten staff on board the plane, at least three of them had some kind of security role on board.
Obviously, incidents like this tend to make many of us rethink our plans. Do we really feel safe travelling at all? Maybe we would be better off rolling ourselves up into a ball, hedgehog style, and just sit out the remainder of our time in limbo, effectively safe but essentially shackled?
What I do know, however, is this.
All of us are on borrowed time, and few indeed know when the meter will run up empty. I also know that, so far as any of us are aware, we get one crack at this life. In short, this is not a dress rehearsal, people. It’s actually the main event.
And, while we can’t determine the quantity of our time here we can- up to a point- determine the quality.
There are forces at work in this world- and obviously the likes of Al Qaeda and Isis come to mind- who would love nothing more than to see what they regard as western barbarism reduced to a mass of cowed, terrified souls who collectively dare not travel outside of their own borders. You don’t have to be a Harvard graduate- or, for that matter, an aviation security expert- to see that. It’s not rocket science, people.
Thanks, but no thanks.
I, for one, intend to keep on flying, sailing, travelling and, in general, living it up, for as long and as far as I possibly can. It’s actually minimal bravado really, because I know that the risks of anything actually happening to me out there are so slight. Still, in the back of my mind I know the possibility is there.
I think of it as a kind of cognitive arthritis. It exists; there is nothing I can do about it, but it’s more annoying the painful. In short, I can live with it. Unlike a really well crafted Margarita, which I will never, ever, be able to live without.
Afraid to fly Egyptair again? Absolutely not. I am far more terrified of the possibility that Mariah Carey might actually somehow get a new recording contract.
Those loved, lost souls who perished so tragically yesterday were just ordinary people, going about their business. Maybe, like me, they carped and moaned at the security lines as they waited to go ‘ airside’ at Charles De Gaulle airport yesterday. Maybe, like me, they were genuinely thrilled at the prospect of boarding a flight for somewhere exotic. Maybe, like so many of us, they just wanted to get home to their loved ones. In so many ways, they were ‘us’, just as we are ‘them’.
I can think of no better way to honour those souls than to keep right on enjoying the highlights- and enduring the hassle- of modern air travel. Because, while you cannot always outrun the million to one chance of an accident, or always swerve the malignant intent of a handful of malevolent, murderous psychopaths, you can- quite literally- rise above them, and keep reaching for the things you need to see.
That’s life. That’s beautiful. Let’s see that it stays so. Over and out.