I wrote a post about the Tanjung Kupang airplane tragedy. This post is about another airplane tragedy, as bad as that at Tanjung Kupang. Tanjung Kupang was an air-land crash. This one is an air-river crash, the worst in modern aviation history. This was the tragic SilkAir Flight 185 from Jakarta to Singapore on 19 December 1997. It has been 15 years now. Eyewitnesses are 15 years older since that crash date. Children who witnessed the crash are teenagers and adults today. In this aircrash, all died. Victim's families mourned endlessly. Investigations were troublesome and long-winded. No aircrash investigation is easy. The cause of many such aircrash remains unknown. There can never be a single cause. Most point to a multitude of probable causes. In this case, investigators gave many causes such as pilot suicide, indicating heavy financial losses of one pilot and a predated purchase of a life insurance as glaring evidence for his committing suicide. Other investigations brought up the rudder mechanism as being at fault for the airplane's yaw or roll (as 2 other planes had experienced the same). The airplane went down in a river near a village in Palembang, midway between Jakarta and Singapore.
Mayday - SilkAir 185 - Pilot Suicide
I met Mr Champika Wijayatunga, a senior IT trainer and specialist based in Queensland, Australia. We met at the IPv6 Forum on 15-16 March 2007 at dinner in Putrajaya (refer to Research on the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957 Malaya and Singapore, page 63). I sat next to him and we started talking about IT applications in various fields. We hopped from hospitals to airplanes. Both Champika and I loved the IT applications for the airplane cockpit. He loved video game airplane simulations; I don't. We discussed about autopilot and whether there was any safety when things are flying on autopilot. Champika said a lot of things about autopilot. A haunting feeling I had was WHAT IF pilots died in their seats and passengers were to fly an autopilot airplane. Would they know how to read and comprehend the dials, buttons and levers? We laughed. But an eerie feeling ran through me. WHAT IF an autopilot driven airplane had mechanical problems? It was no joke when passenger safety is at risk in an aircraft that's flying on autopilot. We were both silent. Anyway, Champika wished me luck for completing my book on The Early Malay Doctors.
Many years ago, I had a female medical student who asked me if there is a new field that she could take up after graduation. I proposed to her the topic of emergency air medicine and told her how to go about it. It would require a basic medical training (as for a doctor, plus postgraduate A&E training), a basic mechanical & electrical engineering training (as for engineers) and a good training in faith (as in Islam). You see, in any emergency involving a machine (in this case an aircraft that rolled to the right and flew upside down before it crashed), sometimes we can still bring things under control. However, in many emergencies, there is a point where we cannot change things happening right in front of our eyes, and have to accept the inevitable - in this case, aircrash.
Despite many investigations that follow after any aircrash, it is the people that matter. People who made the aeroplane parts are responsible for inspecting that these mechanical parts are of quality and have passed strict inspection tests. Technicians cannot just shut one eye and pass an object that is defective. A corrected mechanical defect is fine if it passes inspection and tests (the defect becomes history). A pilot's mental health is of utmost importance as he flies the airplane. One wrong move by the captain can bring down an entire 6-ton airplane and jeopardise or end the lives of hundreds on board. It is not a joke.
We all must be very careful with the duties entrusted to us. We cannot pass something that is defective or wrong. There is a limit to bring personal problems to the work space. There is a limit to bring domestic problems to the work scene. It is difficult to separate a person from his pressing problems but this is the greatest challenge that employers face today. The other challenges are employee honesty and trust.
I am troubled every time I hear of an aircrash. It makes me wonder, with all the IT that we have today, we still cannot control even the airplanes that we fly. It simply tells us a message that there is a bigger power that controls us. It should make us contemplate on our lives and the lives of others.
On 29 December 2012, Ustaz Pahroi said on Radio IKIM that we read doa before using any transport as we cannot fully control the transport.