Safety Publications/Articles

Making better decisions

You undoubtedly recall US Airways Flight 1549's recent ditching in the Hudson River. So do your students, but they may not know its most valuable lesson.

The dual engine failure caused by bird strikes left Captain Sullenberger very few choices about where he would land. Yet, the most interesting aspect of this event was Captain Sullenberger's apparently quick acceptance of his situation and the skill with which he handled it.

When pilots experience a dramatic emergency situation like this, they usually go through four stages before finally accepting their fate.

The first stage is denial. When an engine quits, pilots may think, This can't be happening to me.

This is followed by anger, where a pilot may think, Darn it, I should have forced my mechanic to change that cylinder during the annual.

The next stage is bargaining. Here a pilot may think something like, If I can just get this engine started again, I'll make sure I always begin a flight with full tanks.

Depression is next and here a pilot may think, This is terrible and I'm not likely to survive, and if I do I'm sure to be in a lot of trouble with the FAA.

Finally, there's acceptance. When a pilot reaches this stage he or she is most likely doing everything possible to make the best of it. The secret here is making sure that your students are aware of these stages, and the need to move to acceptance as quickly as possible.

There's little doubt that Captain Sullenberger's training helped him move quickly to accepting the inevitability of his situation. Reminding your students of these stages and citing the need to move toward acceptance as quickly as possible during an emergency will better prepare them in the unlikely event they experience the real thing.

By Rod Machado

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