Unless you live in a news-less cave, or possibly internationally, you have heard about the ‘wrong airport’ saga. Sunday night a pilot on a 737 was flying from Chicago to Branson. Cleared for landing the pilot landed at the Downtown Airport near College of the Ozarks instead of at the Branson Airport where Southwest currently has a flight schedule. The smaller airport has a runway half the size of the bigger hub. And had the pilot not pretty much slammed on the brakes, they were within 500 feet of going over the drop of at the end of the runway and onto the highway. How does this happen? That is the first question most people have. Why did this happen is another question I’ve seen floating around. Last night there were a lot more questions than answers. The biggest in my mind was how the heck are they going to get that behemoth out of there!?! I get that cargo plans land and take off from aircraft carriers all the time. I’ve been on some pretty interesting runways myself. When we went to Alaska way back in the day we flew Ouzinkie, a tiny town on a tiny island where we have family. The runway was grass. And if you missed at all you landed in the bay. But we were on a 6 seat charter, with a jump seat thrown in as we were a group of 6 and still needed a pilot. It was pretty awesome. But we weren’t in a jumbo 737 on that runway. It was first announced that the plane would take off about 11 am, then 1 pm. Finally just after 3 pm the jet took to the air without incident. There were a lot of logistics to figure out, none of which I can pretend to begin to understand. I know that the jet technically needed more runway than was available. I’ve watched the news, watched the takeoff videos, and even done some reading. A local news station was streaming live video, for hours starting when it was supposed to take off. There were a lot of numbered yellow trucks (Hi number 6 and 7 I’ve seen you drive around aimlessly a lot today :D) and SUV’s on the scene. I watched a lot of small groups talking and watching and pointing. Getting back in their vehicle, drive off somewhere and then come back and conference some more. Fuel load, wind speed and direction, everything had to be considered for this take off to successfully end this entire fiasco. And in all my reading about this event I’ve read some negative comments. To be expected I know, but still. One stuck in my heart a little and rubbed me a bit the wrong way. They had made the comment, something along the lines of, is this plane plated in gold and craps diamonds. The poster believed that this was not newsworthy and that everyone that was following it avidly (like me) was a sheeple. And as those comments rubbed the wrong way and I watched the take off of the plane (and I am loathe to admit this that someone might think I’m cheesy) I got a little emotional. Like near tears emotional. But in a good way.
This pilot had a blonde moment that right now trumps all blonde moments. He was six miles, yes 6 or maybe 7, away from an uneventful night. He was six miles from delivering his 124 passengers to their intended destination. He had talked to the tower. He was cleared for landing…six miles away. But in that one moment he blundered and did the unscheduled and unplanned thing. He landed at the wrong airport. He landed at an airport that was not equipped to land such a plane. The outcome could have been vastly different than it was. One more wrong moment and the entire plane would have not been on the runway but over the cliff at the end. (I’ve read that even in a small airplane that airport can be tricky. If you aren’t familiar with Branson, it’s hills and valleys. There’s a reason it’s called the Ozark Mountains. It might not be a Rocky Mountain but it’s still interesting terrain.) There was 500 feet between a blonde moment and a tragedy. How many times in our lives had we had blonde moments. Ok, I doubt any of us (unless said pilot is reading this by some miracle) have had a blonde moment to this magnitude. But, we all do it. A split second decision, or lack of decision, puts us in a situation that was unplanned and unscheduled. We all make mistakes, big and little. We all goof up. Every. Last. One. Of. Us. To me, that’s the ultimate lesson in what this story is all about. Mistakes and redemption.
I admit, I mess up something on a daily basis. I say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I do the wrong thing. I meant to say/do one thing and do another. Or I say/do something without thinking. I get so focused on driving that I drive by my intended destination. Recently I passed it twice. Because my brain was on auto focus and where I was going was not part of my normal route. I’m easily distracted sometimes and forget to do something until it’s too late to do it. I mess up. I have blonde moments. At least I’ve never landed a plane at the wrong airport? Any mistake, any lapse in judgement can have tragic consequences. Driving home this afternoon I watched someone almost miss a stop sign. Had they not caught themselves and stopped part way into the street I was traveling it’s entirely possible I would have t-boned them in the drivers side. But they stopped, I saw them, and tragedy was avoided. This pilot Sunday night did something similar on a much grander scale. But it did all turn out alright. A little frustrating for the passengers, those meeting them, and the people expecting to board the plane for the last leg of the journey on to Dallas, Texas. Alive. Every last one of them are still alive to talk about their experiences. They are alive to vilify the pilot or praise him for slamming on the brakes.
I’m having a hard time communicating what is in my brain into words. I don’t always actually think in words. I think in thoughts. We all screw up. We all have blonde moments. But not all screw ups end in disaster. But every screw up is a chance to redeem ourselves. A chance to learn about ourselves and possibly even change the course of our lives. How we handle our screw ups, our blonde moments, is just as important if not more than the actual outcome of those moments. I had joked today that the pilot who had the blonde moments of all blonde moments should be the one to take on the task of getting that plane back in the air. In my opinion, he should have been the one to see the situation to the very end. That way, if things went wrong, he was there to see his moment through. And if things went well, which they did, he got a bit of redemption for himself. Seeing the plane successfully take off today was emotional. And to the person who didn’t understand the news value of this story, I feel sorry for you. It’s not about the big stories all the time. The news is about things that affect our lives. And our lives are not all about war, and politics, and murder. Our lives are not all about tragedy. It’s about humanity. It’s about being a living, breathing, occasionally screwing up human being. This story is, in my opinion, about being human. And all the mistakes, and successes, and happy endings, and missed tragedies, and learning experiences that being human entails. The ‘wrong airport’ story is a national story of one human being that had a blonde moment of epic proportions. And about 129 people on an airplane that walked away from it. And a world of people that can learn something about themselves in the process.