February 8, 2015

Staring at the train wreck

A plane crashed half a mile from my backyard.  A twin engine Cessna, on approach to an airport over 6 miles to the north.  The weather might have been a factor...it was misty and dipping below freezing, with some gusty wind.  Unfortunately, the lone occupant, the pilot, died in the crash, so we will only ever know what the investigators piece together.

After  listening to 15 minutes of emergency sirens that seemed to be circling my neighborhood, I clicked over to a FB page that monitors local scanner feeds and heard about the plane crash...and that the initial reports were coming from an address very close to my own, but closer still to my company's warehouse and equipment yard.  I jumped in my car to go check on the building, only to find that the police wouldn't let me near it.  As the 10 pm news came on, and the first pictures of the site started coming across social media, the downed plane seemed to be very near our building.

As it turned out, the plane's wing pushed our perimeter fence in a foot or so.  Had the pilot managed another 100 feet of distance, he would have been in our building.

Amateur theories suggest that the plane iced over and stalled.  The numerous reports of the sound of the plane's engine revving just before it went down, support the theory (as stall speed increases when lift is lost).  The overhead shots of the site reveal that there was no slide or skid.  It appears that the plane just fell straight down out of the sky.

I have since been thinking quite a bit about people's desire to stare at the train wreck, or, in this case, plane crash.  My kids asked me to take them over the next day.  I did, but we didn't get close, and I didn't really even look at it.  A man died in that plane - though looking at it, one might think that he could have walked away.  The cockpit is intact, it is just on the ground.  It is hard for kids to grasp that the human body can't survive a jolt like that, they think that anyone seat-belted in should be safe.  Maybe because I had already come to know more about the man that had died there, I didn't feel the need to gawk at the place where he lost his life.

News crews hung around like vultures, descending upon anyone that showed up at our gate.  The minute they saw anyone with a key, they ran to beg entry and get an up close view of the wreckage to beam out to the masses.  Helicopters hovered.  They conducted the "I saw it, I saw it!" interviews.  And by the early morning news the next day, they had already rang the doorbell and tried to confront the widow.  They had trolled social media and posted tear-inducing photos of the dead man with his six young children and beautiful wife.

What makes us want to see this, what drives this sort of morbid fascination?  Is it a method by which we try to face our own mortality?  To stare a known death in the face and celebrate the fact that we are still living?  I suppose it is somewhat normal to be curious about the circumstance of death, as we all will face it at some point.  It is just unseemly, that a 'normal' man's death brings the circus of celebrity to his grieving family, just because of the way he died.  

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