Spec­tac­u­lar crashes be­lie air safety record

A lit­tle voyeuris­tic, a lit­tle ed­u­ca­tional, with a dash of schaden­freude

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - Ian Cuth­bert­son

THERE are var­i­ous ways to look at shows about air crashes. First, in in­dig­na­tion, along the lines of How

‘‘ dare they show this ( or write about it) when I ’ m just about to board a plane for the beach/ the snow/ over­seas/ in­ter­state? ’ And then there ’s the cooler, ul­tra- ra­tio­nal approach: what can we learn as trav­ellers from this and what has the in­dus­try done to make sure some­thing like this never hap­pens to me?

For those who feel they may learn some­thing and not just quake and

A trem­ble un­der the doona, see also Sur­vivor s Guide to Plane Crashes

’ ( Wed­nes­day, 8.30pm, SBS).

How­ever, I sus­pect there ’s a mid­dle ground, a place where most view­ers of pop­u­lar dis­as­ter television se­ries dwell. It ’ s a lit­tle voyeuris­tic, a lit­tle ed­u­ca­tional, with a dash of schaden­freude and a sprin­kling of the same stuff that puts bums on seats in

The Blair Witch Project , cine­mas for Night­mare on Elm Street, or Wolf Creek thrown in. Be­cause, let ’ s face it, we love to be scared wit­less.

Though air travel is sta­tis­ti­cally far and away the safest way to travel, it ’ s the spec­tac­u­lar na­ture of the rare fail­ures, the fire­balls, ex­plo­sions on land­ing and run­way over­shoots that strike fear into our travel- weary hearts. It ’ s the shock of re­al­ity, when some­thing does go wrong, that you are 11,000m in the air in an alu­minium can that is just mil­lime­tres thick at points, trav­el­ling at 800km/ h.

For ex­am­ple, the alu­minium skin on an Air­bus 320, af­ter the Boe­ing 737 the most pop­u­lar pas­sen­ger plane in the world, is just 2mm thick. The thick­ness of a coin, we are told in tonight ’s show.

Be­cause of the need for pres­surised air inside the cabin as air pres­sure drops out­side, on an av­er­age air­liner ev­ery square me­tre of the fuse­lage must sup­port 5000kg of force. So let ’s hope the pa­per- thin bit near you is up to the task.

Per­haps there is a fourth rea­son for watch­ing shows such as this: the com­pelling his­tory of avi­a­tion, re­vealed through nar­ra­tion, key in­ter­views and mono­chrome archival footage.

Tonight you can see truly dis­turb­ing vi­sion of the fa­mous first midair dis­in­te­gra­tion of a de Hav­il­land Comet in the early 1950s. When it hap­pened again, the fleet was grounded. No one could un­der­stand why th­ese planes were ex­plod­ing un­til teams of en­gi­neers im­mersed one in a gi­ant, wa­ter- filled pres­suri­sa­tion tank, where it was ex­posed to pres­sure shifts that du­pli­cated those it faced in the air.

Even­tu­ally, the Comet ’s Achilles heel re­vealed it­self: square win­dows. Who would have thought?

Trav­eller ’ s worst night­mare:

In­ves­ti­ga­tors sift through the wreck­age of a pas­sen­ger jet

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