Friday, January 16, 2009

Not such a Miracle on the Hudson

From the sublime to the ridiculous. Yesterday we watched an amazing event, the rescue of US Airways Flight 1549 passengers and crew from the freezing cold Hudson River. Today we watch the morning talk shows gush over some of these folk, stick a microphone in their faces and ask, “Did the whole thing change your life?” “Did you think you were going to die?” Geraldo Rivera gushes, “This landing will go down in history along with Lindburgh’s flight across the Atlantic!”

But that’s not the worst of it. The worst of it is that the story is now being flashed across the screens and newspapers of the land as The Miracle on the Hudson.

It wasn’t a miracle. It was a stunning, beautiful, inspiring example of people doing their jobs well.

Consider what might have happened:

• Captain Sullenberger could have made the wrong decision, crashed the plane on Manhattan, killed everyone on board and God knows how many on the ground. Instead, he takes it onto the Hudson, ditches it just right, gets everybody off and walks through the cabin – twice – to make sure everybody is off safely. Couldn’t find a more professional competent man if you tried.
• the helicopters could have gotten too close and blown the passengers into the water. But they didn’t. The pilots understood the physics of air and wind and made things work the way they are supposed to.
• the rescue boats could have gotten in each other’s way and run over people in the water, but the pilots understood the complexities of moving these lumbering beasts on the water.
• the rescuers could have failed to supply their boats with diving suits and snorkel and other equipment, but they didn’t. They were ready.
• the word could have gone out wrong leading to a mixup or lack of coordination in getting the necessary ambulances to rush the people from the cold water to hospitals. But they were there lined up and ready by the time the people got to shore.
• the fuselage could have been badly constructed and broken apart when it hit the hard surface of the water, but it didn’t. It was designed by people who knew how to get the most out of the lightweight construction.
• people could have panicked and trampled over each other to get out; mostly, they left in an orderly fashion, some stepping up to take charge and calming people down; some with an old-fashioned gallantry, urging that women and children should go first.
• the guys sitting at the exit rows could have delayed getting the doors open. But they didn’t. They did it right. Everybody, it seems, got it right.

Random House’s first definition of a miracle is “an extraordinary occurrence that surpasses all known human powers or natural forces and is ascribed to a divine or supernatural cause, esp. to God.”

I prefer the second definition: “a superb or surpassing example of something; wonder; marvel.”

For so many years now in this wretched Bush era now passing, we have watched systems fail, greed and selfishness and incompetence carry the day. What a relief, what a joy to see competence in action.

Go to school, kids. Study physics. Study engineering. Study how things work. Do your homework.

Parents, give your kids a good home so they develop a sense of responsibility and discipline, so they know how to put others first in an emergency.

Miracle? I don’t think so.

If you go out my front door, take Highway 24 to 680 and head toward San Jose, exit on Sycamore Valley Road, which runs into Tassajara Road, turn right on Parkhaven, and left on Greenridge Place in Danville, you’ll find yourself at US Air Captain Chelsey Sullenberger’s house. It’s just over a half hour away, and I feel like bopping over there and shaking his hand, but I suspect he’s too busy contending with all the other people wanting to worship a hero.

May he enjoy his moment in the sun. And so should all those other people who cross their Ts and dot there Is, do their homework, show a little discipline and do their jobs.

You can go on about miracles, if you wish. Attribute this to some force who knows when every little birdie falls from the sky (but apparently not how to keep them from flying into jet engines). I want to wallow for a while in competence and responsibility.

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