Plane Crashes, Pilot Fitness and Checklists — Oh, My!

Tragedies, like the recent catastrophic crash in the Alps of a Germanwings plane that killed people who believed they were taking a short trip home or to another fun destination, are not always unavoidable. The passengers would never make it and we cannot imagine the terror inside that plane during the final moments of its 400mph flight into the craggy mountain top. The investigators have been exposed to the desperate actions of the pilot and the screams of the passengers as they knew, without a doubt, that they would never see another day on this earth.

The scene is too horrific to imagine and so many people will be wracked with emotional pain for the rest of their lives that we must now all begin to investigate, on our own, what went wrong and what is to be done for the future. No, we aren’t in the seats of power that can make decisions of this magnitude, but we do have power in the pocketbook and social media and that’s where we need to begin to engage our true power.

Petitions, sure, but there are other things that have failed to protect us and to prevent some measure of grief precipitated by a pilot, co-pilot or cabin attendant’s dastardly actions. We must begin to examine them and insure that care is taken to take one more step in the direction of safety.

The media is frantically bombarding us with all manner of attention to the crash, simulations of the final moments, the mechanisms devoted to locking the doors, and the investigators’ opinions. But how much is really being paid to one little thing that requires much more attention and which may have played a major role in allowing a man with some disability to be in such a position of life and death?

I am, of course, referring to the clearance given to the co-pilot to fly when he hid a “medical condition” from his employer. Medical condition can have a whole array of meanings. One thing is, of course, the physical illnesses that could not be hidden, so we have to begin to look at the psychological disturbances that could have been quite active and wrought deadly intent in this man’s mind. Ah, then we have the self-report aspect of these medical certifications. Too crude to be even given a thought, IMHO.

One thing we’ve seen flourishing on the Internet are all manner of quick and dirty brief checklists for mental disorders. The intent is not to screen so much as to redirect people to their physicians and to request medication. This is not entirely wrong, but it is certainly not adequate, nor are they without multiple problems and they increase the belief in both potential patient and practitioner alike of an illness being present. The result is that someone gets a diagnosis that may not be adequate and a medication that may not be needed and which carries disturbing side effects.

When was the last time you took one of these tests and what was the result? Did you think you had depression, anxiety, insomnia, some behavioral disturbance, binge eating disorder, slight bipolarity, adult ADHD, or whatever? I will bet you initially completed it out of curiosity, but then you began to wonder and see symptoms popping up. It can be a self-fulfilling prophesy and you WILL end up asking for medication from a medical professional who may very well not be fully qualified to know whether or not you need medication. Most people who go to their docs for a med come away with a script for one.

What type of mental evaluation do the airlines give their personnel who are in position of extreme responsibility in terms of flying planes? Checklists are too cursive to even be given any credibility at all. In fact, I find most of them laughable and would chuckle if it weren’t so serious.

We cannot assume 10–15 items (or even less) will suffice as a real form of protection for everyone. Who would see them as such? Who has given the responsibility for these types of extremely sensitive evaluations to mental health professionals? I don’t care if you use a psychologist or a social worker but I do want someone who can conduct, at the very minimum, a 30–45 minute interview with each and every pilot and co-pilot and I want a complete report.

I might even want a more extensive psychological paper-and-pencil (computer scored but not interpreted by computer) with each of them. Takes too much time and costs too much? How much is a baby’s life worth to you? What about a whole group of school children or a mother and daughter? What are they worth to you? Nothing?

If they only use checklists now, they are saying it’s too insignificant to even bother doing more. Once again, dollars and cents is the major factor and its much more cost effective to take the chance with one accident and the ensuing lawsuits than to run everyone through a series of truly relevant tests.

Test or no test? You decide if you want to play God and decide who shall live and who shall die because of the lack of appropriate testing.

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