SAFETY SOLUTIONS: Terror In The Skies Revisited
During some recent trips I was shocked at what I saw
while I was flying on a large airline. Before I tell you
what really bothered me on that flight, let me take
you back to September11, 2001.
Remember that day? Remember how shocked we all
were when we saw those two airplanes hit the twin towers
in New York City? Remember how other people gave their
lives and when the Pentagon was struck by the airplane?
Well I do. I remember walking into my office and there it was
on every news channel. America was under attack. I saw the
planes hit the towers and I cried. Why did I cry? Before I
went out into the consulting field, I worked for Allied Signal
Aerospace, Lockheed Aerospace and then as Corporate
Manager of Technical Support for Boeing.
People who work in the aerospace field work hard to
ensure that we make a safe product and that it is free from
all hazards. We are proud when we see these products take
flight and we are saddened when one of our products crash.
I have been in the safety, health and environmental field for
going on 33 years and I still get emotional when I see or
read about people being hurt either on or off the job.
Still wondering where I am going in this newsletter? On
September 11, 2001 terrorists gained access to the cockpit
of an airliner and the rest is history. Did we learn anything
from that accident? I think not. Sure we have
increased security at our nationís airports. Our bags are
checked and x-rayed by the government, we have to go
through the scanners, unload our computers, take off our
shoes and we even hear of sky marshals being put on the
aircraft. But let me share a story with you. It was written
by Mr. Adam Scott last year.
Terror in the Skies
By Adam Scott
A passenger tried to force his way into the cockpit
of a United Airlines plane on a flight from Miami but
was subdued after the co-pilot hit him over the head
with a small axe, the FBI said.
The incident began when Pablo Morcira, an investment
banker from Uruguay, could not find the magazine
he stowed in the overhead compartment.
Enraged that someone had stolen his magazine,
Morcira demanded to see the pilot. Surprised flight
attendants did not believe Morcira to be drunk or
high on drugs but noted that he was “acting crazy” as
he marched toward the front of the plane.
In accordance with new FAA regulations for international
flights, the cockpit door was securely
locked. However, when Morcira began kicking the
door like a lunatic, the captain promptly opened it.
“The kicking was awfully similar to our secret knock”,
said Captain James Ramos later. While he admits it
was dangerous to give a lunatic easy access to both
the cockpit and a small axe, Ramos concedes that he
was anxious “to see who was there.” The small axe
used to subdue the passenger was a hotly contested
addition to standard cockpit equipment.
Brazilian authorities were contacted as soon as
the deranged banker hit the floor. The FBI is treating
the incident very seriously in the wake of other “airplane
related incidents” and a full investigation was
commenced even before the subdued Morcira
Reacting to the potential disaster, United Airlines
President, Rono Dutta announced that he has
changed the secret knock from incessant frantic pounding to something more sophisticated. Investigators
did eventually find Morcira’s missing magazine.
It was under some extra blankets.
I live in Minneapolis where a different large airline has
its main hub. On a flight to North Carolina, I was speaking
with a flight attendant and explained that on my last
two trips to Canada, right in the middle of the flight, the
cockpit door was opened and the captain came out of the
cockpit and kept the door open to pour a cup of coffee
and have a chat with the flight attendant.
The flight attendant told me that she had not heard of
anything like that before. She stated that It was the airline’s
policy to; “ensure that if the captain or co-pilot has
to leave the cockpit that they are trained to ensure that
they are between the door and the other passengers and
that one of them must go into the cockpit and be there
until they can validate that it is the proper person returning
to the controls”.
As we were speaking another flight attendant opened
the cabin door and stood speaking to the captain. I told
her, “quick take a look; one of your company employees
is doing it again.” She looked shocked and stated; “I can
not believe it.” To make matters even worse, in the first
class section of the plane people were eating their lunch
using real steel knives. I asked her about the steel knife
and she stated that her company has gone back and
forth on this issue. Try to take a knife with you through
an x-ray machine at the airport and you will be surrounded
by the police.
Now do you think there is something drastically wrong
with this picture? Have we learned anything from the
events of September 11? In the safety field we like to use
the words changed behavior? I think not.
The next time you fly, pay attention to what is happening.
Watch out for your own safety because what I learned
from these two recent flights, coffee was more important
than my safety.
I contacted the airlines customer service department to
file a complaint. I spoke with a person there and heard the
same old story: “I do not know what the company policy is
and when I fly on the airlines, I am usually asleep.” She
stated that she would take my complaint and finished
with, “The next time I fly, I will try and stay awake.” I have
also contacted the President of this airline to really voice
So are the skies safe when we are in flight? No, not as
long as these types of conditions prevail. Should we be
more concerned about safety on the airlines? I hope so. If
you have had a similar experience, please let me know.
Lets all work together to change these types of actions
and behaviors. Remember this statement, “It is either safe
or it is unsafe.”
If I can ever be of assistance please contact the magazine
and we will be there to help you. Thanks for reading.
Editor's note: Creating and maintaining a safe work
environment is a challenge we all face on a daily basis.
The Safety Solutions column was created to help you stay
aware of the issues facing your company. Jack Podojil
has covered a wide range of topics from “In-plant Air
Monitoring” to “Machine Safety” and “When OSHA
Arrives.” Our website features an archive of thirty articles
covering an array of topics. Jack has a lot more to talk
about although he also values your feedback. If there is a
topic you would like him to explore, please e-mail him, or
the magazine and we will do our best to address it.
For more information, click on the author biography at the top of this page.