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SwissAir 111
August 20, 2012 6:55 PM   Subscribe

Radio contact ceased. Temperatures in the cockpit were rising precipitously; aluminum fixtures began to melt. It's possible that one of the pilots, or both, simply caught fire. At air-traffic control in Moncton, the green hexagon flickered off the screen. There was silence. They knew what was coming: the huge fuck, the something terrible. God save them. One controller began trembling, another wept. It was falling. Six minutes later, SR111 plunged into the dark sea.
posted by barnacles (64 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Gaws, what tortured, stumbling prose, and what a self-conscious way to tell the story. I gave up and googled it instead.
posted by unSane at 7:12 PM on August 20, 2012 [87 favorites]


They knew what was coming: the huge fuck, the something terrible. God save them.

I was hoping for Cthulhu slashfic, but alas.
posted by mykescipark at 7:16 PM on August 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Last November I was on a flight out of Heathrow bound for Dulles which turned back and landed in Ireland due to smoke in the passenger area. The whole time I was completely happy because I had watched a documentary on this crash just a few months earlier. A 17 hour trip became 43 hours with luggage taking 55 hours yet I was completely OK with it all because no matter how crap the hotel and dinner in Shannon, Ireland was and no matter how crap United/Continental was at keeping us informed, it was all far far far superior to how the Atlantic Ocean would have treated us.
posted by srboisvert at 7:16 PM on August 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


unSane, I thought the same, but wasn't going to be the first to say it.
posted by smcameron at 7:16 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Shorter version, or why the author had to say so much about how people reacted, rather than the event: "A plane with many people on board caught fire and minutes later crashed very, very hard into the water. No one was left."
posted by zippy at 7:19 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: The Huge Fuck, the Something Terrible. God save us.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:20 PM on August 20, 2012 [53 favorites]


If it had been better writing, I might have been willing to overlook this:

a world-famous scientist, with his world-famous scientist wife

Really? Not two married world-famous scientists?
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:22 PM on August 20, 2012 [21 favorites]


It doesn't get any better if you wadsworth the article. Just sayin'.
posted by tmt at 7:25 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]




The prose can be a bit annoying, sure, but it's interesting to see a different take on normal plane crash reporting, which is why I posted it. There's a little more life in it than the normal dispassionate tones in which these sorts of disasters are discussed.
posted by barnacles at 7:31 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh my is that some horrifically over-written prose.

I knew one of the people on that plane.
posted by gingerbeer at 7:32 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Shorter version, or why the author had to say so much about how people reacted, rather than the event: "A plane with many people on board caught fire and minutes later crashed very, very hard into the water. No one was left."

Flight 111 is kind of famous in Canada, so I'm not sure why we need to do some sort of IngSoc Newspeak treatment of the article. If you don't like it, you can always flag it and throw it in the memory hole if you like.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:35 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


That was, the most, heavily laden, prose, I think, I have ever read.
posted by mattoxic at 7:47 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


I remember when Flight 111 crashed. I mean I wasn't there or anything. I lived in Halifax, which is about an hour from Peggy's Cove. I knew people who lived quite close to the crash site, who were tremendously disturbed by it. Sure this piece is a bit purpley, but I was touched by it more than anything else and I'm glad you posted it.
posted by joannemerriam at 7:55 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I'm not sure why we need to do some sort of IngSoc Newspeak treatment of the article.


esquire 7.1.00 reporting flight 111 doubleplusungood. metafilter unbellyfeel prolefeed style. rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling.
 
posted by Herodios at 8:07 PM on August 20, 2012 [30 favorites]


This is a much better overview of what went wrong. It's a tragic story - if the crew had acted faster, it might have been saved.
posted by Dasein at 8:22 PM on August 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Somewhere else, a man packed -- his passport, his socks -- then went to the refrigerator to pour himself a glass of milk. His three kids roughhoused in the other room. His wife complained that she didn't want him to fly, didn't want him to leave on this business trip. On the refrigerator was a postcard, sent randomly by friends, of a faraway fishing village -- the houses and fences and clotheslines, the ocean and the lighthouse and the green light revolving, revolving.


Here are more links to this gorgeous joker's writing. Flambavulous!
posted by FLAG (BASTARD WATER.) (Acorus Adulterinus.) at 8:25 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I didn't mind the writing, tho' I did skim a little. I appreciate articles with points of view like this.

I worked for MD when the MD-11 first came out. We got tickets from a co-worker to the military air show in Chicago, where the MD-11 would be displayed.

After getting razzed overhead by the fighter planes, we were looking up to see what was coming next.

Suddenly this huge white plane came floating by, eerily silent. The thought of something like that crashing is horrendous. We ran into bad turbulence on our last flight, coming home from a funeral, and it scared the bejebus out of me.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 8:30 PM on August 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


> It doesn't get any better if you wadsworth the article. Just sayin'.

What does 'wadsworth' mean when used as a verb?
posted by capricorn at 8:33 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Such purple prose. The author lost credibility with me when he mentioned "diesel" fuel twice. Jet aircraft do not run on diesel fuel.
posted by killdevil at 8:54 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


What does 'wadsworth' mean when used as a verb?

The Wadsworth Constant: the first 30% of any video (or, in this case, presumably article or other media) can be skipped because it contains no worthwhile or interesting information.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:54 PM on August 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


What does 'wadsworth' mean when used as a verb?

Here
posted by hypersloth at 8:55 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why TL;DR was invented.


Sheesh!
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:11 PM on August 20, 2012


Oh the humanity!!!!
posted by Dr. Peter Venkman at 9:13 PM on August 20, 2012


Dasein, I watched that video and they said that there was no chance the flight could have made it safely to Halifax, and the cause was the material used in the insulation catching fire due to overheated wires from the entertainment system. Not sure where you are getting that it was the pilots' fault. Is there another link that shows this?
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 9:24 PM on August 20, 2012


The prose was definitely purple, but I thought the overall impression the article left--one of confused, disjointed narratives where not everything is known, and may never be known--was probably more an incident like this is in real life than the pat reconstructions of a show like Mayday.

That said, I would never try to understand what happened from a mood piece like this. I like the idea, I just wish the writing had been better.
posted by maxwelton at 9:46 PM on August 20, 2012


Christ, his writing infected my first graph.
posted by maxwelton at 9:47 PM on August 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Holy shit that was the worst written thing ever including all youtube comments.
posted by jewzilla at 9:52 PM on August 20, 2012


"Gaws, what tortured, stumbling prose, and what a self-conscious way to tell the story."

Oh, I am so glad it isn't just me.
posted by bz at 9:53 PM on August 20, 2012


The writing says to me:
Thou shalt not insulate thy self from this disaster.
Feel. And then feel some more. Horror and grief.
Feel, and know that you are human.

But yea, it is perhaps overly done. Yet, maybe needed? Better than some pretty anchor lady giving a sweet smile after reporting everyone dead?
posted by Goofyy at 10:11 PM on August 20, 2012


Not sure where you are getting that it was the pilots' fault. Is there another link that shows this?

I may be wrong, but I seem to recall that if, instead of trying to make it to Halifax, they'd either turned back to Boston at the first sign of smoke, or agreed to land at a smaller airport, and if they hadn't made another large loop to dump their fuel, but just dumped it, over the forest if necessary, then they would have been able to land in time. The decision to go around for another loop to dump fuel was a crucial mistake.
posted by Dasein at 10:11 PM on August 20, 2012


"Gaws, what tortured, stumbling prose, and what a self-conscious way to tell the story."

Oh, I am so glad it isn't just me.


I wonder -- is this what the future reads like, now that the various business models of journalism can no longer afford proper editing? I hope not.

I have close family who live in Indian Harbour (not mentioned in the article) which is the very small community (mostly fishermen and their families) that was directly in line with where the plane crashed. The ensuing days, months were very harrowing for all. Besides the direct tragedy of the crash (and yeah, they were a big part of the search), they also lost their lobster fishery for well over a year -- lobsters being bottom feeders, most of the decimated remains of the crash victims ending up on the bottom.

Anyway, there's a multifaceted and important story to be told here. This ain't it.
posted by philip-random at 10:19 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


The phone ringing, in the house where he lived alone, or rather with his two retrievers, but alone, too, without wife or woman.

There should be a candlelight vigil for those who didn't make it through this writing.
posted by disillusioned at 10:29 PM on August 20, 2012 [28 favorites]


OK snark aside, there is actually a good post to be made about Ian Shaw, the successful Geneva businessman who is mentioned in the article.

After his daughter died in the crash, he relocated to Nova Scotia and bought a restaurant close to the crash site. Here is a short documentary about his experience.
posted by lalex at 10:36 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


That was tragic.

And by "that", I mean the prose, every bit as much as the lives lost in the crash.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:08 PM on August 20, 2012


I tried to read this, I really did, but I had to pack it in as soon as I came to this part: "It was summer; it was winter."
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 11:30 PM on August 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought it was a particularly well-written article. Hardly anyone on this site writes as well and this is a fairly literate site. I continue to be amazed that anyone thinks that comments like "Gaws, what tortured, stumbling prose, and what a self-conscious way to tell the story. I gave up and googled it instead" or "I'm sorry, but that was an unedifying waste of time" add any value. When that sort are in the first comments then that discourse is legitimized and everyone jumps at the chance to get in their own cuts of no substance. It's a race to the bottom and I have been finding myself here keeping time of late, because I think we're better than this, but every time I see it my hope dims a little.

I did not know anything about this incident, thank you for the post barnacles.
posted by Kwine at 11:40 PM on August 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


That was tragic.

And by "that", I mean the prose, every bit as much as the lives lost in the crash.


What a bilious feculent little spray.
posted by Wolof at 12:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bah. I'm taking the opportunity to coin a new term: PATERNITI TEST. This applies to the number of paragraphs to get to a single physical sign of an event. In this case, 19. Anything more than five is too much.

I have been reading telenovela plots all weekend and even they were less overwrought.
posted by mochapickle at 12:19 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


killdevil: Such purple prose. The author lost credibility with me when he mentioned "diesel" fuel twice. Jet aircraft do not run on diesel fuel.
<pedant>Jet A is almost exactly the same as dry (no lubricants added) #1 diesel sans sulfur regulations.</pedant>
posted by introp at 12:34 AM on August 21, 2012


Kwine: "I thought it was a particularly well-written article."
It was summer; it was winter. It was well-written; it was not well-written. Our opinion is valid; our opinion is invalid.
posted by brokkr at 2:16 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


five fresh fish: That was tragic.

And by "that", I mean the prose, every bit as much as the lives lost in the crash.


If you head out Halifax way, the memory of the crash is still very much with them. I'm told that several of the relatives of passengers who died found the Peggy's Cove area so comforting when they came in the aftermath of the crash, that they ended up moving there permanently. If you look out over the relatively confined bay where the plane went down, you can almost picture it, and it's terrifying.

I guess I'm just saying that, purple prose or not, Swissair 111 is still a real thing.
posted by bicyclefish at 2:38 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


this accident brought aircraft wiring into scrutiny, the FAA subsequently required, among other items, circuit breakers and non-flammable wire insulation....

its kind of sad that the completely superfluous in-flight entertainment system wiring is thought to have caused the fault.
posted by dongolier at 2:39 AM on August 21, 2012


John Varley's Millennium is a better description of an airline crash.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


aluminum fixtures began to melt. It's possible that one of the pilots, or both, simply caught fire

Melting point of aluminum: 1220.58 °F
Flash point of human flesh: 570 °F

...the more you know...
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 4:31 AM on August 21, 2012


"It was a dark and stormy flight..."
posted by Optamystic at 4:58 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


"It was a dark and stormy flight..."

And our work is done.
posted by unSane at 5:01 AM on August 21, 2012


Jet aircraft do not run on diesel fuel.

It was already mentioned above, but Jet A and diesel fuel are essentially identical. There are many "diesel" piston engine aircraft on the market right now that fill up with Jet A.

Fires on aircraft are bad bad news, and we spend a lot of time and effort to make sure that they don't happen. And IF they happen, they're survivable.

There are interesting things that happen in an aircraft at altitude that don't get a lot of notice on the ground. For example, we don't use PVC on the airplane. PVC is frequently used to insulate wiring, so we buy non-PVC coated wires for all of the electrical systems. What you won't notice until you're in a small cabin with recirculated, recycled air is that PVC, when burned, creates compounds that will blind you. Your eyes will tear up and squeeze shut and you won't be able to see to do things like, say, put out the fire. Or fly the plane. It takes a very, very small amount of PVC burning to cause this - on the order of parts per billion in the air of combustion byproducts. So we don't use PVC.

Jet fuel is another fun ingredient to deal with at altitude. Jet fuel is a lovely liquid with a low vapor point on the ground, but if you chill it enough it will turn into a Jet Fuel Slushie. You can chill jet fuel by taking your airplane up north at 30,000 feet or so, where the air temperature is a reliable -65F or so. Once your fuel tanks are filled with slushie, the pumps that carry this fuel to your engines won't work very well, because the added viscosity (and the fact that they are now trying to pump a solid) puts a heavy load on them. They may vapor lock, or they may simply give up and literally melt down. Now you have a lot of heat in your fuel tank (from your overheated fuel pumps) or possibly an electrical short (from your melted fuel pumps), which in turn causes your jet fuel slushie to first melt back into a liquid, then vaporize, and then explode. So now we put in fuel pumps that will destroy themselves safely instead of trying harder and harder to pump what they can't pump until they cause a fire. Electrical components inside fuel tanks are a challenge, see TWA Flight 800.

Poor design and maintenance of an aging fleet causing a fuel leak and fire where there were no fire suppression devices? Nimrod.

Fire safety is important.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:22 AM on August 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


[Comment deleted; sorry, but the numerology thing is a big ol' derail.]
posted by taz at 5:30 AM on August 21, 2012



In the hours before the flight, a young blond woman with blue, almost Persian eyes said good-bye to her boyfriend in the streets of Manhattan and slipped into a cab.


This reads like really bad fan fiction.
posted by pointystick at 5:31 AM on August 21, 2012


When I saw "Esquire" in the URL, I knew it would be written like this -- all of the "true crime", "true tragedy" stories in Esquire, GQ, heck, even Maxim and Stuff and other lad mags, is written in such sprawling, third-year-English-major style. All of it, it's intentional, and it harkens back to the writing style of Argosy and other pulp magazines of the fifties and sixties. Yeah, it can be tedious and insincere, but it's an article of more than 200 words in a magazine published for men, competing with full-color glossy photos of fast cars, leather accessories, and nearly-naked women. If this is the level of literature men are reading these days, it's 500x better than one might expect.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:32 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


It was a day, a day like any other, except it was a different day. He woke up early, ate his eggs, kissed his wife and his woman, and headed toward the airport. The sun was bright, golden, and there were dewdrops on the leaves. He stopped for gas. He turned on the radio. It was silent.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:30 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The decision to go around for another loop to dump fuel was a crucial mistake.

From what I remember of a CBC doc on this (and I stand to be corrected), the final loop may have been accidental, in that the smoke in the cabin was so heavy that the pilot would have had to lean right up against the window to see anything, not that there was anything to really see. In leaning forward and to the side, and out of proper flying position, he would have tilted the stick off of a straight course unwittingly.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:44 AM on August 21, 2012


philip-random: "
I wonder -- is this what the future reads like, now that the various business models of journalism can no longer afford proper editing? I hope not.
"

The crimearticle was committedcomposed in July 2000 for a print magazine, so I don't think you whould take it as evidence of anything happening in online writing now.
posted by brokkr at 7:01 AM on August 21, 2012


Is there a story in this thicket of words? I didn't bring my machete.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:52 AM on August 21, 2012


It's interesting, the contrast between this prose and the actual way people talk when they're in a plane that's about to crash. Out of morbid fascination I've listened to a bunch of audio from flight recorders, from sites such as this one, and my impression is that people are very direct, very focused, when they are about to crash. Sometimes they'll say things like "Shit! Shit!" or "I'm fucked!" and sometimes they'll have the presence of mind to say something like "tell my wife I love her."

But they never get so detached from what is happening that they begin a soliloquy. Never. I think that's part of the problem with this prose. It forces you away from the actual reality of the crash, which was probably not its intent at all.

Pull Up!
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:17 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Late summer, a man and woman were making love in the eaves of a garishly painted house that looked out on the lighthouse -- green light revolving, revolving -- when a feeling suddenly passed into them, a feeling unrelated to their lovemaking, in direct physical opposition to it: an electrical charge so strong they could taste it, feel it, the hair standing on their arms, just as it does before lightning strikes.
Well, that must have been one heck of a witness interview. When I read the above-the-cut excerpt, and saw that it was from Esquire, I thought that it might be one of Tom Junod's less-stellar efforts. I would now like to publicly apologize to Mr. Junod for that assumption.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:47 AM on August 21, 2012


still watching lalex's video upthread (it's 29 minutes). but this is shaw describing his thoughts while standing at the crash site where other families had begun gathering to mourn:

"i was absolutely appalled, not at simply the loss of stephanie, but at the idea of so many hopes and dreams and imaginings and [word i don't recognize], first communions and wedding vows and all those things that seem to make sense to what we call life and that they can just, you can take them and wipe them out. and then i went back down the hill and got in the car and went away. and i never wanted to come back again. never ever ever wanted ever to see this place again."
posted by twist my arm at 9:42 AM on August 21, 2012


i liked it.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:03 AM on August 21, 2012


"when you came here, were you actively looking for something to buy?"

"no, we came on stephanie's 24th birthday, we came to the cottages here and came into this place as a grease hash place to get something to eat. and then realized it was for sale and then bit by bit the idea grew--in terms of i was contacted about several projects for memorials in switzerland and i didn't really feel up to that. but it did seem to me that maybe doing something a bit more dynamic would be more sort of in line with stephanie's lost future, and that this could be somewhere that would provide employment and that was really the basis of the idea of coming here."

impact on his marriage:

"no 2 people grieve in exactly the same fashion and my return to geneva everything unraveled quite badly. and i helped the scottish export industry by consuming at least a bottle of scotch a day. and i realized my goodness, here i am 60 years old, what an enormous empire of futility i've created. it's a fact that over 80% of couples who lose a child lose their marriage, their relationship."

they managed to save their marriage by living apart-- shaw in nova scotia, wife in geneva, 2 phone calls a day and emails throughout the day.

i guess i'm really fascinated by the jet-setting rich guy loses something irreplaceable aspect of this. comparisons to mitt romney's rich person cluelessness spring immediately to mind.
posted by twist my arm at 10:28 AM on August 21, 2012


The author is plainly infactuated with his own writing, expending more effort on purpling his prose than documenting the accident. It nearly disrespectful.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:46 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting, the contrast between this prose and the actual way people talk when they're in a plane that's about to crash. Out of morbid fascination I've listened to a bunch of audio from flight recorders, from sites such as this one, and my impression is that people are very direct, very focused, when they are about to crash. Sometimes they'll say things like "Shit! Shit!" or "I'm fucked!" and sometimes they'll have the presence of mind to say something like "tell my wife I love her."

Indeed. One of the many amazing things about US Airways 1549 (the flight that ditched safely in the Hudson three and a half years ago, addressed in this FPP) was a remarkably droll exchange between Sullenberger and his first officer -- twenty seconds before going into the drink, maybe three hundred feet above the river and still doing 140 knots, and with the possibility of death looming large ahead of them -- this was caught on the cockpit voice recorder:

Sullenberger: "Got any ideas?"

Skiles: "Actually... not"
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:52 AM on August 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


twist my arm: "what an enormous empire of futility i've created."
Awesome quote.
posted by brokkr at 1:22 PM on August 21, 2012


Going by the FPP quote I was expecting aliens. I was disappointed.
posted by Splunge at 1:48 PM on August 21, 2012


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