Flight 188 NORDO: Admirable Restraint
As the Northwest Flight 188 saga continues to unfold in standard leak-it-to-the-media fashion, we were treated over the weekend with the convincing denial by the First Officer that neither he nor the Captain were sleeping. I say "convincing" because he looked sincere to me. He offered no other details, nor would I expect him to. He'll have his hands full with the investigation board this week. I'm willing to take his word for it.
Meanwhile, one other bit of information emerged that I found interesting, if it's true. The Wisconsin Air National Guard was evidently placed on alert to scramble an intercept flight but someone made the decision not to do that. This suggests a couple of possibilities. Either the Guard couldn't pull it together fast enough to get the fighters airborne, it actually did get them airborne and we're not being told that or, indeed, restraint was exercised. If the latter, hats off to whomever or however that decision was made. It's tempting to overreact in a situation like this and it wouldn't have been an overreaction to have intercepted the airplane for a closer look. Deciding not to do that strikes me as a slightly righter decision.
I've seen a couple of remarks in other blogs and forums ridiculing the notion of launching fighters in the first place, as though the Guard is trigger happy to splash an airliner. This attitude ignores the just-barely-beneath-the-surface trauma of the 9/11 attacks, which began with exactly the same NORDO situation. It would be downright stupid not think about that in this context. It also raises this question: Would fighters ever be justified in shooting down an airliner known to be hijacked? To answer that, take yourself back eight years and imagine you were in the cockpit of the F-15 sent to find United Flight 94 or you had to make the decision to authorize deadly force. What would you do?
This is by no means an easy decision to make and I don't envy the people having to make it. But conceptually, my answer is that in the right circumstances, deadly force is appropriate. The trick is knowing what those circumstances are and last Wednesday night, someone did know.