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Letters from London
Fear of Flying: My Morbid View of Airline Safety
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Fear of Flying: My Morbid View of Airline Safety

I’m terrified of flying – always have been, and probably always will be. I don’t know where this fear comes from, but I know it isn’t helped by me watching programs like Air Crash Investigation (“Mayday” in the US) on the National Geographic Channel.

That’s not to say I’ve never flown. My first flight was a 12-hour slog to Japan – how’s that for courage? Just a few weeks later I flew to Venice, and three months after that I was off to Japan again. Let it never be said that Shane Clarke runs away from his fears.

I would say that on the flight back from my second trip to Japan, on a plane named “Madame Butterfly”, we were on the tarmac for ages before take-off. Close to an hour passed, and then the Captain came on and said, ‘Sorry for the delay, folks. One of the engines keeps overheating; the mechanic’s said it’s okay, so we’re going to take off. These things do happen sometimes but they’re normally fine once we’re up in the air.’

I turned to my then-wife and said, ‘Am I supposed to not be freaked out by that?’

What followed were probably the longest twelve hours of my life. I almost knelt down and kissed the ground when we finally landed at Heathrow.

I was on that exact same plane again, at the exact gate at Tokyo’s Narita Airport just over two years later. I noticed the name as I got on, and immediately remembered why it was familiar. I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if…

I decided not to finish that thought. There was no need to tempt fate. Besides, lightning couldn’t possibly strike twice, could it?

We sat there at the gate for ages. Then the Captain came on and said, ‘Sorry about the delay, folks. We’ve been having a bit of trouble with the landing gear, but the mechanics have sorted it out so we’ll be on our way soon.’

I asked myself – Is it me who’s jinxed or is it this bloody plane?

Needless to say, the next twelve hours or so seemed like twelve days. I thought about writing a will – just in case; as well as a strongly-worded letter to the carrier to express my annoyance at them operating planes which had obviously been beaten with the unlucky stick.

The reason I’m writing about all of this is that a passenger plane slid off the runway at Birmingham Airport, near me, today. Thankfully, all passengers got off safely and no one was hurt, but it still managed to make me shudder, and to remind me of the horror stories relating to the many who were not so lucky.

According to the website, around the world there have been 14 fatal air crashes this year, resulting in a total loss of life of 485, including 22 on the ground. There were only 27 survivors. That’s an average of more than 1 plane crash per month, with an average loss of life per accident of just over 34, and only just over 1 survivor per crash.

Now, I know that these figures represent only a tiny fraction when you factor in the number of flights every day and the number of passengers carried, but these numbers give me the willies. I know that – statistically speaking – I have a better chance of being hit and killed by a falling meteorite than dying in a plane crash. But I consider myself a fundamentally unlucky person. I’m the kind of person who would be on a plane that gets hit by a meteor and then crashes, and said meteor wouldn’t even have the common decency to knock me unconscious so that I’m spared the horror of falling thirty-five-thousand feet to my death.

I guess there are a number of factors to flying that scare me: The sheer height is the most obvious – if things go wrong up there, then the only way is down, and – as if that wasn’t bad enough – as the crash of Alaskan Airlines Flight 261 in 2000 shows, it’s not always straight down. Sometimes there’s lots of bumping and spinning about first. Then there’s the fear of terrorism; having the plane taken over by terrorists and being slammed into a building, or one of them detonating a bomb on board. Lockerbie, and the attacks of 9/11 have shown that these situations tend not to end well. But I think what scares me most is the fact that I’m flying at over 500 miles per hour in a narrow tube filled with millions of parts all made by the lowest bidder.

If someone is reading this on a plane, or about to get on one, then I offer my most sincere apologies. I don’t mean to scare anyone. I just thought I’d talk about my own fears just a little; put them out there, in the hope that it might diminish them even a tiny bit.

It didn’t work.

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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.






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