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GLOBAL AVIATION SAFETY

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On Saturday, July 5, 2013, the world watched with astonishment as a Boeing 777-200 that took off from Seoul, South Korea crash-landed in San Francisco, USA. The Asiana flight was allegedly problem-free throughout the over 14-hour flight.

The Boeing 777 is considered the workhorse of all planes and carries between 350-400 passengers. After, terrorism was ruled out, the only question was the fate of the 291 passengers and 16 staff members who were onboard the Asiana flight 214. At the time of my writing, two people have been confirmed dead and a least 24 were in critical or serious conditions at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH).

The American National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) immediately spun into action to investigate and within a few hours, NTSB Chairman Debbie Hersman briefed the media. One amazing occurrence was that the surviving passengers, as they were running away from the inferno that engulfed the plane, turned around to take pictures and posted them on various social media sites. They apparently were not aware of the story of Lot's wife being turned into a pillar of salt because she turned around to look at the burning twin biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

As a person who has been fortunate to fly to over 20 countries and boarded hundreds of aircrafts, I am always cognizant of airline safety. In actuality, I was on this same San Francisco route in 1996, while returning from a Jaycees World Congress in Pusan, and recall that it was a long flight. Some years back, I was even on a 12-passenger amphibious plane to Montserrat to see my friend the attorney General. The plane was so small that you could not stand and I could literally stretch out both hands and touch the opposite sides of the aisle. I said my prayers piously before we took off and while in the air. The irony is that my Indian friend that I left behind died in a car accident that night. As I write this piece, I will lie if I say I do not have a little trepidation, knowing that I am boarding a trans-Atlantic flight in a few days. However, God is in control.

On Sunday, June 3, 2012, we in Nigeria witnessed the Dana Air crash that people are still recovering from the horrible experience. Dana Air flight 992 from Abuja to Lagos crash landed in a neighborhood and killed all 153 passengers and crewmembers onboard the MD-83 jetliner.

Research has shown that air transportation continues to be safer than ground transportation. I try to drum it into a family member that refuses to fly, especially on domestic flights in Nigeria. According to Todd Curtis of Airsafe.com, fear of flying has nothing to do with the safety statistics, as those afflicted with this complex psychological problem are oblivious to it. Nonetheless, you are more likely to die from a car accident than an air crash. In fact, global statistics buttress this point. It is just that when a plane crashes and kills 200 people in two years, the world reacts notwithstanding the fact that thousands die annually in automobile accidents. With that said, there are four lessons that we can learn from both the Asiana and Dana Air crashes.

First, Airlines must make sure their fleets are in sound conditions. Safety should never be compromised. It has been rumored that used planes are dumped in developing countries, when the planes are not air-worthy in the developed countries. This should never happen and those with oversight functions should be executed if they breach their fiduciary duties to the public.

Secondly, emergency rescue procedures must be available on ground. Based on the high likelihood of fatalities from air crashes, airports and government regulatory agencies must ensure that emergency medical personnel and firefighting equipment are located at airports. A split second makes the difference between life and death. For States like Delta that have opened airports, this point cannot be over flogged.

Thirdly, pilots must be properly trained and alert. This should be considered of utmost importance because there are a few incompetent pilots that bring disrepute to the honorable profession. Pilot error, including landing short of the runway, has been a contributory factor in many fatal air crashes. We should not allow a washed up pilot to be “dumped” on us as an expatriate when there are better-qualified indigenous Nigerian pilots.

Finally, we should all make sure we are right with God and our fellow human beings, especially family. Life is a vapor and we should never take for granted that we will be around tomorrow. Live as if today is your last day and love like you are taking your last breath.

May the souls of the victims of the Dana and Asiana crashes, rest in peace.

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Prof. Alex O. Atawa Akpodiete, Esq. and do not necessarily reflect those of The Nigerian Voice. The Nigerian Voice will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

Articles by Prof. Alex O. Atawa Akpodiete, Esq.