Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Freak Accidents

Robert Jones of Woodstock, Georgia was a 38 year-old pharmaceutical salesman.  He was in Hilton Head, South Carolina yesterday on business.  Around 6 PM, he was out for a run on the beach, listening to his iPod, when an experimental aircraft making an emergency landing struck and killed him.  He leaves a wife and two children.  The people on the plane were unharmed.

It appears that the plane started leaking oil and the propeller fell off.  The oil got onto the windshield, so the pilot couldn't see.  The pilot of the aircraft was still on the beach when the Associated Press interviewed him, but he didn't want to talk. He said,
I've got a lot of issues going on right now. I've got a plane that's all torn up. And I've got a young man that I killed.
Who can blame him?  Someone should have been running interference between him and the press in the first place.

"I've got a young man that I killed."  I don't know about you, but something strikes me as problematic about that statement.  Imagine listening to a 911 call where the caller says, "I've got a young man that I killed."  What comes to mind is a murderer confessing to a shooting, or perhaps a death that occurred in self-defense.  What does not come to mind is an accident. 

And that's what this was -- an accident. The pilot did not get up yesterday morning thinking, "I think I'll kill a jogger today."  He did not get up saying, "To heck with safety, I'll do what I want."  He was trying to save his own life and the life of his passenger when he landed that plane.  He didn't aim for Mr. Jones.  He hit him by accident.

However, the pilot did hit Mr. Jones, creating a classic example of the type of danger we simply don't bother to worry about.  I doubt that Robert Jones got up yesterday morning and thought, "I'll go for a run on the beach after work, but I'd better watch out for crashing airplanes."  The way he died was so unlikely that it probably never occurred to him.  I never occurred to me before I read about it.

The pilot will have to live with the knowledge that a craft he was in charge of took another person's life.  He will need to make peace with a freak accident where, in some sense, he was the freak.  Jones' family will have to make peace with him being killed in such a bizarre manner.  And the joggers on Hilton Head Beach will need to make peace with their jogging spot, and the fact that, yesterday or not, it's still a pretty safe place to be.


Alan said...


Not sure if you remember this very similar accident in Canada....

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