The horrific crash of a TAM Airlines Airbus 320 last week in Sao Paolo, Brazil, was a major news story. Naturally, much less attention was paid to an even worse disaster that was narrowly averted in Fort Lauderdale six days earlier.
"Almost" doesn’t count, they say, except in horseshoes and hand grenades.
But almost does bear thinking about.
The Sao Paolo crash, attributed to a too-short runway and possibly a mechanical problem, killed 186 people on the aircraft and several more on the ground.
The Fort Lauderdale incident, attributed to a pilot’s error, could have killed 300 passengers on two aircraft, plus their crews. And it very nearly did.
Essentially, a United Airlines Airbus A320 on the ground missed a turn onto its runway and ended up directly in the path of a Delta 757 just as it touched down. Heeding air traffic controllers, the Delta pilots manage to pull the 757 back up, missing the United jet by 100 feet.
I’ll let the experts figure out whether anything other than the United pilots’ mistake contributed to that incident. But there’s no question the air traffic controllers and Delta pilots saved the lives of hundreds of people.
And that’s what bears thinking about in an industry so pressed financially that low fares sometimes seem to trump all other considerations — even the employment and compensation of well-rested, well-trained and experienced professionals in the cockpit.