Jul 26, 2010
What did we all learn from the tragic aircrash that shook our entire region recently? Answer is not at all complex. Most of us enhanced our English vocabulary by one more word, 'overshoot'. After the AI plane overshot, most of the things that were shown and spoken about this tragedy too overshot commoner’s knowledge. The second and very important thing is that for the first time we came to know that there is some 'Table-top' business in Mangalore too. We all were so much accustomed to 'under-the-table’ business that this 'table-top' business in our own backyard had never been heard of.
And whom should we be grateful for letting us know these things? No guess work here. Once again media has emerged the winner without any close contender. While the families, near and dear ones along with the whole coastal belt had plunged in shock and deep sorrow, it was media who managed to hog the limelight. For most of the Gen-X mediamen, this was perhaps the first major aircrash as reported in the last decade. So all and sundry turned in to aviation experts overnight in a bid to present the 'most authentic' live report.
With due respect to mediamen and the media fraternity (I share a close bond with it), I feel that a channel, website or a newspaper gains maximum popularity when there is a tragedy, whether it is individual or mass. Most of the time they are like vultures searching for dead bodies. They keep on hovering waiting for 'breaking news' and when they fail to get it, they create one by ‘breaking’ a few families, carriers, reputation and what not. Everything is fair in the media world as long as it contributes towards TRP ratings and brings in some extra viewers and readers.
Blessing in Disguise
While this air crash plunged everyone into great despair, there might have been a few who would have heaved a sigh of relief. First among them would be the UPA government which completed first year of its second successive regime. Media had just begun to conduct postmortem of the UPA administration. But then they got busy conducting postmortem of the air crash. So UPA bach gaya! Secondly it would be our own Muthalik who might have been overjoyed at the turn of events. At least now there was one tragedy in Mangalore in which he had not played any role!
Make Hay when the Sun Shines
Of late, owing to various reasons I have almost shunned myself from getting glued to these news channels. So the only source of updated information has been the internet. However, on the day of the plane crash, I crashed into my drawing room in a zip after my work in order get updated. But I was soon shocked to see that there were more views than news. I went on browsing through almost every news channel that my service provider offers me, but in vain. Every channel was busy airing views emanated from an 'expe(o)rt panel' which was moderated by a news reader who knew everything about aviation, at least on that day! While the real experts from the aviation family are still scratching their heads burning the midnight oil to fathom the actual cause, we have already been told the 'ifs' and 'buts' of this crash by the media who managed to successfully pick a few villains on their own.
Mangalore airport which has been operating for more than 50 years has never been in such a bad light. Except when former chief minister Veerappa Moily's flight Avro could no more carry the political ‘heavyweight' and skidded, never has there been such a scare at Mangalore airport. Though Veerappa Moily survived, Avro was banned from flying to Mangalore. Strange are our leaders and their decisions! The plane carrying the minister was banned from flying to the airport for slipping just once but the survivor is still flying high despite several 'slips' and 'sleeps' during his political career. No one has ever banned him. Had the flight survived and not the passenger, Mangalore airport's runway might have been extended to such an extent that present day flights would have reached Middle East directly just by running and not taking off! Again blame it on our bad luck which is always kharab!
Ooops! I deviated from the topic! These politicians are capable of altering the course of anyone and anything so easily! I was very much impressed by home minister Dr V S Acharya's statement regarding the Mangalore airport after the crash. He strongly defended the airport and the facilities offered reminding everyone that for more than half a decade the runway had been a 'table-top' one and never had it caused any problem. I wanted a few more leaders to come up with these kinds of statements defending Mangalore airport amidst the onslaught of the media. But sadly no one emerged, and that helped the media to depict our airport and AI in bad light.
The live reports were just nonsense to say the least. The reporters, with strong competition from their counterparts from other channels, hardly have the time to ascertain facts and report. So they have to often pull out some magic tricks out of their hats to give ‘exclusive’ breaking news. What exclusive can they get by just reporting facts from the spot? If all the channels report as it is, why should we have so many channels? Accordingly they have no option but to assume things. This is the reason why even facts and figures differ from channel to channel.
In between reporting the tragedy all the channels did a bit of homework and managed to pull out a few aviation experts from out of the blue. Every channel had at least 4-5 experts in the panel and for the first time I came to know that there were so many aviation experts in our country. Most of them had never either flown to Mangalore or to any 'table-top' runway. Yet they managed to give verdict that the problem was with the runway. Suddenly entire Mangalore airport and the new runway, which according to reliable aviation sources, is one of the best in the country, was painted villain. Meanwhile some smart reporter had managed to calculate the length of the runway by then and suddenly the blame shifted to its length.
The present runway which has been in use from 2006 is much longer than the earlier one which measured around 5,500 ft. The verdict was clear on all channels that Mangalore airport's runway is not adequate to accommodate international flights. But then none of these reporters ever bothered to air that a runway of 6,500 ft is more than sufficient for a Boeing 737 (the AI flight that crashed was a Boeing 737). None of them even knew that most of the runways in major Indian airports at Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi were around 7000-7500 just a few years ago. Of course now all these airports have slightly longer runways with the longest one at Delhi measuring around 14000+ ft. However, an obstruction created by a 62-feet idol of Lord Shiv facing its landing approach renders over a kilometre of the runway stretch unusable. Usually the touchdown point begins at 1000 ft inside the runway from its origin point. But owing to the idol of Lord Shiv, the planes touch down at the runway around 4, 700+ feet which leaves only 9,600+ feet for them to land and come to a halt. But this issue has never made headlines of any news channels even after the Mangalore tragedy.
Airport & Carrier Swadeshi – Pilot and Plane Videshi
There was one more theory which too rose up from these news channels. It was regarding the origin of the pilot. They felt (just felt) that since the pilot was a British national, it was difficult for the ATC staff to understand his instructions and vice versa while a few other channels felt that being a 'videshi' he did not have the geographical knowledge of a 'swadeshi' airport! Again it was Boeing, a ‘videshi’ plane run by Air India, a pure ‘Swadeshi’ carrier. Phew! Politics has left such an indelible mark in our day-to-day life that unknowingly we often use their 'item numbers' to prove our theories. If this theory is right then most of the Indian pilots serving the foreign carriers are 'videshis' at least at one end and they too do not have the geographical knowledge of the places they fly. Forget about foreigners, how many of us know the geography of our own nation? Is a pilot from Mangalore familiar with the geography of Patna or Jammu if he is flying there? Regarding the accent, our selection process is so absurd that forget about foreign accent, some staff in Mangalore and other airports hardly understand English. After all it’s not always by merit that they make it there.
The pilot of this particular flight had more than 10,000 hours of flying under his belt of which more than 3,500 hours were flying Boeing 737. He had previously touched down and taken off from Mangalore more than 15 times. His assistant had been a regular figure at Mangalore airport ever since international flights started here. He had made Mangalore his second home and had flown here more than 60 times. This shows that even if they were at fault, it was purely owing to circumstances and not inexperience. We have seen youngsters zipping around on Mangalore roads without any problem (but causing nuisance to others) while some experienced drivers meeting with accidents even when they drive within the economy class of 40-50 Mph. Who is to blame?
Then came another angle. This time it was regarding Air India, our national carrier. Again accepted that AI is not the best in the business but we should not be forgetting that it has nothing to do with Air India. We should be blaming the people who control AI. Over the years we have seen some of the best carriers such as Air France, KLM or even US carriers crashing down resulting in major tragedies. So should we say that even these airlines should be shut down despite being the best in the business?
Amidst all this there was this big comedy of announcement of compensation. I personally feel that when tragedies take place, the leaders or anyone should be barred from announcing immediate compensation. First the identity of the victims must be ascertained properly and then the compensation should be announced and disbursed. Otherwise there are chances of some black sheep entering into the scene just to take advantage. Take for example this tragedy. A few bodies could not be identified even after the DNA test. This means some relatives might have performed last rites not of their relatives but of someone else. I do not deny even the chances of some mean creatures entering in as relatives just to seek compensation! When we have persons who can steal ornaments from charred bodies, we surely also have persons who can pose as relatives just to pocket the compensation.
Perhaps we can elaborate a little more on this air tragedy. But the bottom-line is that this calamity has surely put AI and Mangalore airport in hot water. While the life of 158 persons who were killed cannot be measured in currency, the tarnished image of Mangalore airport too cannot be easily repaired.
Mangalore Betrayed !
Agreed that Mangalore airport is geographically situated in a bothersome spot. But I strongly felt that we Mangaloreans miserably failed to defend ourselves when the need for it arose. This perhaps has been the one reason that we have often failed as a community, whether it is in politics, business or in availing facilities. When mediamen from other places, leaders from neighbouring states and experts from all over the country were busy painting Mangalore airport in poor light, we perhaps should have stood strong defending our airport which is one of the pride accomplishments of our coastal belt. Except for Dr Acharya none of the leaders bothered about it. When Mangalore needed us most, we the citizens betrayed her big time! This has actually eased the road for our neighbouring state which has been eyeing another international airport.
In these very columns I read some readers' comments regarding the now-shelved plan of an airport at Padubidri. What assurance have we that the airport at Padubidri will be crash-proof? Accidents don’t take place only on Mangalore’s pot-holed roads but they also take place on super-fast highways of Middle East, Europe or America. So assuming that the tragedy would not have taken place if the Mangalore airport was situated somewhere else is nothing but telling that accidents only take place on Mangalore’s pot-holed roads and not on super-fast highways of Middle East, Europe or America. Is that true? So more than the air crash, a crash in our spirit and loyalty to our motherland was more tragic, at least for me. This is purely an accident and not an incident and accidents can take place any time and with anyone.
We will never perhaps grow as one community owing to this lack of unity. Our neighbours though small in numbers and short on finances, have managed to get more than what they want. Let us not blame only our political leaders for that. The neighbouring state which I am referring to has one of the most unstable of governments. The political confusion there is more than it is here in our state. The resources available to them are much less than what our motherland offers us. Yet they thrive while we keep on cribbing. This is just because those people have grown as one community and they have tremendous unity among them. While they have political fights creating ruckus in the state every other day, they hardly have communal fights. But we Mangaloreans in particular and Kannadigas at large have divisions based on one's religion and faith. I have heard people saying that none from the neighbouring state going to Gulf on visiting visa returns without a job. But among us most who go on visiting visa just complete their visa and plan for the next visit after completing the term. We all know why it happens only with us!
The Mangalore air tragedy indeed is gruesome and heart-breaking and no one can console those who have lost their near and dear ones. However, what baffled me more was the way we disowned and disassociated ourselves with Mangalore. While there has been a lot talk about rescue operations, people’s proactive nature and victory of humanity over those who are bent upon creating divide among us this accident will also be remembered for our lack of loyalty, love and appreciation for our motherland. Surely across the world there are better cities with sophisticated facilities, super fast highways, magnificent malls etc. But surely there is no city like our Mangalore anywhere, only because she sheltered us when we were still poor. Most of us when we are tired of running around for work, family, money, and finally think of retiring, think first about our native. When we want solace, peace of mind, want to live healthy or improve deteriorating health, we think not about Gulf, Europe or the US, but about our native. Right from birth till our life’s sojourn comes to an end we go on expecting rewards and sustenance from our native and never bother about giving back anything to her because we know well that Namma Kudla or Amchem Manglur is so good that it has never expected anything from us for all that she has given us.