Saturday, August 8, 2009

Aviation Over the Hudson

Writing this blog requires that I scour the news for something awful every day. Some days it isn't hard, some days it is, and some days, like today, make you just go "ugh." Shortly after noon today a private plane collided with a tour helicopter over the Hudson River in New York. There appear to be no survivors.

When I saw the headline, I made a prediction about how the coverage would run before I ever saw it. I predicted that coverage would very quickly include reference to US Airways Flight 1549, the plane that landed on the Hudson in January. And I wasn't disappointed. The New York Times breaking news article at 4:40 Eastern had its mention of the "Miracle on the Hudson" in the 9th paragraph:
The accident, on a sun-drenched weekend that beckoned people out of doors, occurred seven months after a US Airways jetliner with 155 people on board lost power after striking birds on takeoff from La Guardia Airport and ditched in the icy Hudson a half-mile north of Saturday’s crash, with stunningly different results: all on board were quickly rescued by a flotilla of ferries and emergency boats.
Let's think about this for just a moment. The US Airways crash has, objectively, essentially no relationship to this crash. The cause clearly is not the same, the aircraft are not the same, the people involved are not the same. The only thing they share is landing in the same body of water.

So why does the coverage fly immediately to the US Airways crash? And why does that make sense to us? I think it's because of how we naturally store information and memories. I like to compare our minds to a gigantic system of filing cabinets. We file memories and new information in one or more cabinets based on some label. When something else comes along with the same label, we open that drawer again to file it, and in the process review what's already in the drawer. Today we opened the "Hudson River Plane Crash" drawer, and not surprisingly flight 1549 was already in there.

People who have been traumatized are often surprised by the associations that come up for them. They find that their car accident has them thinking about when they broke their arm in the 3rd grade, and they can't imagine why. But that triggering is all the same mechanism. We only have so many labels in our file drawers, and things that don't have much to do with one another wind up getting filed together.

With that in mind, the people I am concerned about (other than the families of the deceased) in this instance are the pilots of water taxis and tour boats on the Hudson. These folks helped heroically in the rescue efforts for flight 1549, and responded again today. Their reactions today will be not just about today, but about January. And I hope they are able to remember that, when there were survivors to rescue, they made a big difference. They probably aren't feeling so effective today.


Meet the Quarterback

My Photo
Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
View my complete profile

Subscribe via email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Quarterback for Kindle

Blog Archive