Tempus fugit is the Latin phrase meaning time flies. They say the older you are, the faster time appears to go, which may be related to the ratio of years lived to increments of time and how we perceive time. Not trying to get too philosophical here but it does seem to be true. For example, we are making note of two big milestone anniversaries of extraordinary events in the aviation industry and to me they seem like they happened just yesterday. I’ve talked to many colleagues who feel the same way. Perhaps it’s because these events made such a huge impact on our collective psyches in the aviation industry but also likely because of the personal connections and results that reverberated throughout our lives.
First is the 25th anniversary of TWA Flight 800 that crashed on July 17, 1996. First, let me say that this accident happened on my husband’s birthday so, we remember the date exactly and make a note of it every year. We are both lifers in the aviation industry, so we pay attention to these types of events but never more so than this one. Why? Because second, we had recently moved to Montoursville, Penn. You may have a brief memory of the fact that many members of a high school French club were onboard that flight to Paris for an experiential learning trip — and all of those kids were from this small, tightknit town, Montoursville, Penn. Try to imagine the devastation of 16 students and 5 adult chaperones from the French club of your high school perishing all at once. That event clearly hit this small town hard. As if that isn’t enough, the third reason this particular accident stays with me all these years later is that I had flown for a TWA feeder, knew some folks at that airline and one in particular whose fiancé died onboard that aircraft.
All 230 people on board TWA 800 died in the crash making it one of the deadliest in U.S. history. Accident investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) traveled to the scene, and later, officers from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other security-related agencies arrived amid speculation that a terrorist attack was the cause of the crash. There are some who still believe that there was a cover up and that the accident was the result of being shot down or a bomb.
But as you will see in Jeff Guzzetti’s piece, “Wired for Safety” on page 38, the TWA 800 accident was the result of the center wing fuel tank of the older 747 exploding, which was likely caused by wire chaffing and arcing outside of the fuel tank. In Guzzetti’s piece, he looks not only at the TWA 800 accident, but at several others that are all related to wiring.
If you have ever had the privilege of taking courses at the NTSB Academy, you may have seen the truly amazing and extensive reconstruction of the TWA 800 accident aircraft in a huge hangar-like facility at the academy. It is something to behold and the epitome of accident reconstruction. Unfortunately, the NTSB announced recently that they will be disassembling the display and that it will no longer be available for viewing.
The reconstruction was housed in a 30,000 square foot hangar along with other training tools at the NTSB’s Training Center, has been used in the NTSB’s accident investigation training courses for nearly 20 years. The NTSB said “advances in investigative techniques such as 3-D scanning and drone imagery, lessen the relevance of the large-scale reconstruction in teaching modern investigative techniques.” Unfortunately, in the time of conspiracy theorists, this decision has reignited the flames of those who believe there was a cover up of a sinister act that caused the accident. Read Guzzetti’s explanation on page 38 to understand more.
Moving on. This September we are also commemorating the 20th anniversary of the events of 9/11. Again, for all of us who have worked in the aviation industry, we felt the impact of that terrorist attack deeply, personally and its effect continues to reverberate in the lives and careers of so many. When I thought about the fact that it happened 20 years ago, I was stunned. It seems like it just happened.
I think of all the things that came out of that time period. The change to the New York skyline. The changes to aviation security. The military actions made poignant by the recent withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Let me take a moment to express my gratitude to anyone who served there and please know that the sacrifices you made are appreciated and valued — thank you.
I have written before about my college friend, David Charlebois, who was the first officer aboard American Airlines Flight 77 that was deliberately crashed into the Pentagon that day. I remember him every year at this time. He was living the dream we talked about at college — flying around the globe as a pilot and building experience to become a captain someday. He was well on his way. He was so motivated and one of the first of our cohort to have made it to the right seat of the 757. He gave us all hope that we too might make it, someday.
I feel the need to finish on a high note so let me try. I entitled this piece tempus fugit but let’s don’t forget another oft-quoted Latin phrase: carpe diem. Seize the day. If I had one piece of advice for all, especially now in the throes of the pandemic, it is to seize the day. Tomorrow is not promised. Take the leap. Do the thing you have been putting off. Get the degree. Forgive the one you’ve been holding a grudge towards and move on. Protect yourself, get vaccinated and then, carpe diem. The next thing you know, 20 years — or 25 — will have passed.