Spectacular crashes belie air safety record
A little voyeuristic, a little educational, with a dash of schadenfreude
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