Tale of Two Captains
Over the weekend, I was watching the coverage of the Costa Concordia disaster in Italy and it caused me to pull out my iPhone for a look at the calendar. This shipwreck occurred almost three years to the day after the USAir 1549 Hudson River ditching that made Chesley B. Sullenberger III a household name. Yup, it's been three years. Hard to believe. (The Costa Concordia grounded on an unlucky Friday the 13th, 1549 went down on January 15th, 2009.)
But news reports today show there was a sharp contrast between the way the crews of these two vessels behaved. I never considered Sullenberger and his F/O Jeff Skiles to be heroes, but just a couple of professionals doing what I -- and any paying passenger -- should expect them to do. Remember that the two of them took an icy wade through the cabin one last time to make sure everyone was evacuated. That's command execution at its best and it defines duty of care.
In Italy, on the other hand, Costa Concordia skipper Franceso Schettino abandoned his ship so quickly that he was on dry land before many of the passengers even found their lifeboat stations. I heard some audio this evening that had the Italian Coast Guard on-scene commander screaming at him to get back aboard the ship and organize the evacuation. He refused. If that turns out to be factual, the guy ought to be hung by his thumbs. (This very thing happened once before in 1991 when the Greek captain of the Oceanos abandoned his sinking ship long before many of the passengers were off.)
You have to wonder if this is more a study in cowardice and dereliction of duty or the odd and uneven way people are able to rise to the level of command, slipping through the filters meant to eliminate the unsuitable. Well, it's probably both, but the second aspect interests me most. When any organization puts a person in charge of a vessel or an airplane with hundreds of souls aboard, you'd think it has reason to do that. You'd think sufficient vetting has been done to at least surmise that the command-anointed person won't fold like a cheap suitcase when everything goes south.
Given Sullenberger and Skiles and, let's not forget, the boat crews on those Hudson ferries, I surmise that people who will step up and perform are more the rule than the exception. The outlier is the commander who abandons his duty of care to save his own hide.
It looks like the cruise line may have found the exceptional guy who would do just that.
Find more photos of the Costa Concordia here