According to the Aviation Safety Network, there has never been such an incident involving the failure of the entire undercarriage on a Boeing 767. Nonetheless, Captain Tadeusz Wrona and crew had to land this plane without wheels. He landed the plane so expertly some aboard did not even notice and nobody was hurt.
Captain Wrona, whose Polish surname means crow, was instantly declared a superhero. More than 40,000 congratulated him on Facebook fan pages with slogans such as he "flies like an eagle and lands like a crow." Some drew comparisons to Captain Chesley (Sully) Sullenberger, who landed a crippled US Airways jet on the Hudson River in 2009. No one died in the crash.
After seeing the videos and photos of the landing, I immediately thought of the passengers. I tried to imagine what were they were doing when this was unfolding. How were they feeling? What were they thinking? What were they told?
The pilot announced to passengers four hours into the flight that the plane had technical problems and that he would attempt an emergency landing. He told them to follow all instructions and that was it.
In moments of crisis, is it best to keep things this vague? Should we be more explicit with details or should we say nothing at all to avoid the risk of panic?
I conducted an informal survey at my risk management office.I simply asked, "What would you want to know if you were a passenger on that plane?" The answers amazed me they varied so wildly. Some said they would not want to know any details. They would trust the pilots and relinquish control to them. They preferred to spend their "final" moments in silent prayer or reflection.
Others said they would want to know all the details. They felt that without facts, their imaginations would take over and that was scarier for them than knowing brutal truths.
The debate ended a few days later. Something unique happened on this particular flight. A passenger, Aleksander Ryszko, while bracing himself for the emergency landing, had the unique forethought to videotape the event, the inside of the cabin, and his fellow passengers. The video was later posted on YouTube.
What is seen and heard in this video is remarkable. We hear composed flight deck instructions to passengers regarding seat belts, we see passengers tucking their heads as per emergency landing specifications, and most incredibly we hear nothing else. The cabin was so quiet, so calm, there was no sign of panic at all. In fact, the first sound you do hear is applause when the plane finally bellied down on the foamed runway.
Having created and implemented crisis management and emergency preparedness plans as part of my risk management career, I can say that it is true there is such a thing as too much information. It is unproductive to share information with people who are not trained or accustomed to dealing with such important detail.
In moments of high risk and crisis, time is the enemy. Relevant information is precious and needs only to be shared with persons involved in the solution of the crisis. For those who are naturally hungry for details, this reality might feel like a bitter pill to swallow. But less, in this case at least, is clearly more.
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at email@example.com.
December 1, 2011
Copyright 2011© LRP Publications