As I write this, there is a gentle rain falling outside the window of the Ojai Coffee Roasting Co., and halfway around the world bodies are being plucked out of the Java Sea. It is too soon to know, but the odds are that those on the doomed Air Asia flight experienced the violent throes of a thunderstorm, with up and downdrafts moving as fast as 100 miles an hour.
Somehow, the violence of mother nature was more than the pilots or their steed could handle. Pilots are taught to avoid thunderstorms, but they often don’t. There were, in fact, at least six jets in the same vicinity as the Air Asia flight that made it home intact. Undoubtedly, pilots who fly along routes such as the one over the Java Sea fly among storms often, and each time they get through safely reinforces their belief that they can do it again.
I had a client once who was a rock musician, and although his father was an aviation engineer, and the client himself had an encyclopedic knowledge of nearly every human-made object that traversed the sky, he never flew on them himself. When I asked him why, he just looked at me and said, “I’m a rock musician.” I understood that he felt jinxed, and preferred not to die the way so many musicians have died. We could, just as my client did, decide to stay closer to the ground, spending our time reading and writing in coffee shops or imagining that somehow we are safer in cars than in airplanes.
We could, but we probably won’t. We know that the chances of being injured or killed in an airplane are still relatively minuscule, that getting out of the house at all is dangerous, and that staying cocooned and perhaps watching TV will assure that our adventures will all be vicarious.
The traditional Irish blessing begins with “May the road rise up to greet you, may the wind always be at your back…” Pilots have their version, which is simply a wish for “clear skies and tailwinds.”
The unfortunate Air Asia flight had neither, and we all grieve the loss of fellow travelers whose lives were untimely taken from those who loved them. And, as the Irish blessing concludes, “…And until we meet again, May God hold you in the palm of His hand.”