Being Able To Act Makes All The Difference

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It's kind of a strange feeling to save someone's life. I may have done it a couple of times and it's not because I'm the kind of person you'd expect that from. There were no hails of gunfire or burning buildings involved, just, I guess, the ability to size up a situation and not be afraid to act.

Thanks to that ability by Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch filmmaker on Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, almost 300 people get to reflect on those qualities and thank whomever they deem appropriate (Jasper included, I hope) that their number wasn't up.

Because of the puzzling failure of a multi-billion dollar security apparatus that a 23-year-old kid from Nigeria was able to defeat, Schuringa's decisiveness and justifiably described heroics were necessary. He dove on top of an alleged terrorist who was on fire at the time and kept him from trying again to blow up the A330 they all shared.

If Umar farouk Abdulmutallab's bomb had been more effective, a planeload of Schuringas wouldn't have made a difference. He had enough PETN, the incredibly rapid explosive used in primer cord, to take the aircraft down.

But having a fire onboard an airliner is never a good thing and, regardless of what's burning, putting boot prints on your fellow passengers as you dive on in to stop the inevitable disaster warrants full merit points. That man should never have to pay for a Delta flight again and there should be some bravery awards on the way for him.

Schuringa has told his story many times and it's similar to many "hero" stories. He saw what was going down, knew what to do and, perhaps most important, wasn't afraid to do it. He also said, as heros often do, that he didn't consider his actions to be out of the ordinary.

As much as I hate to say it, it's perhaps something all air travelers should consider. The security apparatus, while effective at filling bins full of toothpaste and shampoo at checkpoints, somehow let a very potent and quite detectable explosive aboard a big airliner. While we should be respectful and compliant with the folks who really are doing their best to keep us safe, we shouldn't rely on them utterly. There may be times when we need to act in our own best interests, despite the regimentation of airline travel. Sometimes you just have to do something.

As for my own experiences, they pale in comparison to Schuringa's or the time my brother pulled a family from a burning van on the freeway near his home, but they undoubtedly saved two people from horrible harm and probably death.

About 20 years ago, as I was jogging along a pleasant suburban street, a young mother was mowing the lawn with a gas mower and her two-year-old daughter was outside with her. Mom left the mower to move something that was in the way and the little girl went straight for the discharge chute of the running mower. Boy was Mom surprised to see me lying on my back on her freshly mown lawn with her screaming daughter held above me, neither of us the worse for wear. But was it close.

About 10 years later, I was driving along a rural road in a blizzard when a horribly drunk man staggered in front of the car. He profanely declined a ride to wherever he was staggering and I called the cops. On my way back from town, the responding police car passed me just as I noticed some dogs looking over the embankment at the side of the road. I stopped, and sure enough, there was our reveler, rolling around in the snow, with no coat, hat or gloves, unable to pull himself back up. I stopped the police officer on her way back and we got the guy out of danger and into the relative comfort of the drunk tank. He would have been dead within an hour if we hadn't pulled him up the bank.

Hardly the stuff of movies and I kind of joke about the drunk guy as "the time I saved a man's life." As for the little girl, I'm probably lucky I didn't get thrown in jail myself, but I'm pretty sure the outcome would have been different if I hadn't acted. I'm sure drunk guy has no recollection of the events and Mom probably still has her doubts about the need for me to tackle her toddler.

But there are almost 300 people who understand why they are looking forward to the New Year and are thankful to Schuringa.

Now, about that security apparatus...

Comments (32)

"As much as I hate to say it, it's perhaps something all air travelers should consider. The security apparatus, while effective at filling bins full of toothpaste and shampoo at checkpoints, somehow let a very potent and quite detectable explosive aboard a big airliner. While we should be respectful and compliant with the folks who really are doing their best to keep us safe..."

Sorry, but I do not understand how you can write the quoted passage without rolling on the floor laughing (your) you-know-what off.

TSA is nothing but Kabuki theater. I would guess that its analogue in other countries (except Israel) is equally ineffective. TSA does seem to be quite good at mindlessly and bureaucratically interfering with GA.

Bill Hill

Posted by: Bill Hill | December 28, 2009 6:55 AM    Report this comment

A lot of the TSA employees I have seen, look more like the terrorists that they are supposedly trying to keep off of the airplanes. That said, how can this guy be in the "terrorist database" but then not on the "no-fly" list? I would think if you qualified for the database, you certainly wouldn't knowingly be allowed on an airliner. TSA is just another government boondoggle. They collect your toothpaste, etc., so that it looks like they are doing something in the name of security. Of course, most of the flying public are no more than sheep in the airport pasture. It seems that mostly pilots, at all levels, appear to be the ones that know most of what goes on.

Posted by: GLENN DARR | December 28, 2009 7:08 AM    Report this comment

The timely action of this young man is certainly to be commended.
Pity, one cannot say the same thing about those who have been appointed to keep this from happening in the first place.
Their utter stupidity is on full display now that they have to deal with the aftermath of this incident, which we are all very glad to label an 'incident' and not a 'disaster'.
Prohibiting passengers from leaving their seats an hour before landing is an example of such utter stupidity. The next terrorist, who wants to blow a plane up, could do it an hour and 10 minutes before landing and so thwart this idiotic ruling. I suppose they would then change it to an hour and a half before landing.
What about having one's blanket and pillow removed an hour before landing? The next terrorist could do it under his jacket. What would they rule then?
And these people are in charge of things more important than toilet cleaning? They actually earn our tax dollars? They actually vote?
Forgive me if I sound very upset at this response from the people who are supposed to do their jobs but are wasting time and money endangering our lives instead. What about the additional financial burden on the aviation industry for no good reason at all?
As you said, Russ, not a plane-load of Jaspers would have saved the plane if Umar succeeded and those in charge have done nothing to lessen the risk.
Perhaps we are the idiots for allowing these people to remain in positions where they can cause us harm.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 28, 2009 7:09 AM    Report this comment

It is the spin-off costs (Not to mention the loss of life) of this silliness that really get to me. The terrorists have won big-time (Costing us billions of dollars) as have some suppliers of security equipment and personnel.
Concerning this incident, in the lead-up to it a person or persons probably did not do their job(s). The resulting costs to people's plans and the airline and travel industry are enormous. Now the people in positions of power are into the "knee-jerk" reaction mode. There appear to be an abundance of people with more authority than brains. Every time I travel I pray that I might deal only with people who have more brains than authority.

The privatization of certain government functions has enabled the profit motive to reign supreme...while others pay the price for what was lost. In the name of profit hire fewer people. Hire less qualified personnel and pay less. Overwork the personnel you already have. Here is an area where governments must intervene...and this relates to other countries as well.
May Heaven preserve us from those in authority over us!

Posted by: Charles Elliot | December 28, 2009 8:50 AM    Report this comment

TSA is not much more than a Dog and Pony Show. Any terrorist who wants to get a bomb on board a plane will find a way. For Janet Napolitano to say that "the system worked," demonstrates that she's either stupid or delusional. It's up to the passengers themselves to take action against terrorists. For those passengers who who lack the fortitude to do "battle," hopefully they will immediately get out of the way to allow those who would take action do what is required. Men especially, should always be prepared to immediately jump into the fray because your lives depend on your prompt actions.

Posted by: Douglas Rodrigues | December 28, 2009 10:25 AM    Report this comment

I wouldn't go so far to label TSA grossly incompetent (nor would I compare it to Kabuki theater -- Kabuki is far more artful) but it seems clear to me the next major terror attempt won't be thwarted by security screeners, but rather average persons like Schuringa. When push comes to shove, it's not TSA that has real skin in this game -- it's the passengers onboard the plane whose lives are at risk, and they're the ones who will bear ultimate responsibility for stopping the attack and the assailant(s). It's not the way it should be, of course, but that's the reality of the situation.

Personally, given the choice between a TSA-O-Tron making Burger King wages and a Midwestern father of four whose family is onboard... I'll bet on the effectiveness of the angry Dad any day.

Posted by: Rob Finfrock | December 28, 2009 10:45 AM    Report this comment

Those who are condemning the current system, flawed though it is, don't seem to be coming up with any better ideas. Fact is, and there are many who don't seem able to either understand this or accept it, we are up against some very evil and very smart adversaries. The partial answer to this is to do what the Israelis do, and nothing less.

As for the notion that "men" should be prepared to jump into the fray, well that only holds true for those who have been trained to do so. For those who have had no training in quick physical response, such as the military or the martial arts provide, "jumping into the fray" simply is not an option on the mental menu. Our society today simply does not put any sort of premium, or even, for the most part, tolerance, on such behaviors. Unless, of course, they occur in a situation like this! So if we want people to react like this hero did, it would be a good idea to do some training - for the entire population.

But remember - no matter how many Rambo-types (and I use that term not disparagingly but respectfully) there are on the airplane, you still need effective preflight screening to interdict as many of the threats as possible, especially the more sophisticated ones, because a whole planeload of martial arts experts might not be able to get to a terrorist fast enough to prevent him from setting off a bomb that worked better than this one and the shoe bomb did. And such bombs and such terrorists are definitely out there.

Posted by: Anthony Vallillo | December 28, 2009 11:21 AM    Report this comment

Anthony, we are indeed coming up with better ideas. All the time, but we are ignored and belittled when we suggest the solution: Profile and prevent. But we are too scared to profile Muslims and subject them to intense scrutiny and search. All the terrorist attacks since the 1980's were committed by Muslims and they are publicly on record as pursuing that path of action. Why don't the moderate Muslims start an action group denouncing the jihadists? Their silence either speaks of fear for their brothers or it speaks of their approval of the attacks. Which one is it?
This guy was not only already on the suspects list, but his dad warned the "current system." Still, nothing was done. And according to Janet Useless the system worked. It will be the angry dad who has to do the heavy lifting until someone is hurt and not killed and a lawsuit takes away the angry dad's liberties. Then we are back at the 'wait for the police' when a gun goes off in 10 seconds while the police takes 10 minutes to get there.
The system is handicapped by an administration that purposely set out to dismantle it.
For eight years hundreds of attacks have been thwarted and within less than a year utter incompetence has allowed this to happen.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 28, 2009 12:02 PM    Report this comment

I rather think the incompetence has endured longer than the last year! I suggest it has been with us for a very long time...regardless of the political persuasion of the administrators.
The best work MUST be done on the front line...for the administrators have all too often given the distinct impression of forgetting that their primary job is to facilitate the work of the front line people.
The front line people are the most important...we can just hope they have more brains than authority.

Posted by: Charles Elliot | December 28, 2009 12:17 PM    Report this comment

As courageous as Jasper Schuringa was, his actions would have been too late had the PETN detonated the first time as planned. This points to the fact that everyone on a flight must be ever vigilent toward their neighboring seatmates, looking for the very earliest warning signs of foul play. Better to be embarrased by false accusation than floating earthward without wings.

Posted by: Robert Hirko | December 28, 2009 12:30 PM    Report this comment

Profiling needs to be done. Yes, this includes racial profiling, but shouldn't be the only criteria of course. The terrorists will adapt, and Richard Reid shows us delusional white men are as liable to hurt us as delusional Arabs -- but we need to start somewhere.

Speaking of starting somewhere, it would also help if DHS paid attention to its own damn watchlist.

Posted by: Rob Finfrock | December 28, 2009 12:53 PM    Report this comment

I agree that it goes beyond political pursuasion, per se, but when an administration purposely down-plays the terrorist threat, calling it man-made disasters and forcing soldiers to mirandize battlefield combatants, it becomes glaringly obvious what is happening.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 28, 2009 1:04 PM    Report this comment

Bill Hill's aside about Israel should be an important clue for the TSA. El Al - a prime terrorist target - has been effectively protecting its flights for decades at reasonable cost and without serious passenger delays. Frustrated terrorists, unable to bring down El Al flights, have attacked ticket counters instead of killing hundreds of passengers and destroying airplanes. Maybe screening should begin at the terminal's front door.

Perhaps before hiring 50,000 employees and spending untold millions, American authorities should have had a serious conversation with Israeli security officials about how to do the job right.

Posted by: Robert Kisin | December 28, 2009 10:41 PM    Report this comment

First, the bomber guy isn't an “alleged terrorist”. He is yet another, real, Muslim terrorist. Don't whitewash it.

Those who try to excuse the government's system seem to think that the passengers are the front line of defense. Yet, it is obvious that the heroic actions on Flt 253 were actually too late to stop the intended explosion. Our government is relying solely on the incompetence of terrorists for our safety. So, what are the well-paid, union TSA people for?

If apologists for the country’s airline keystone cops expect me to take out terrorists, I want the right to carry and use effective defensive weapons; and the TSA can go home.

The core security problem here is the same PC nonsense that allowed 9/11 terrorists to slip through -- the FBI and CIA and other agencies aren't allowed to share information. People like Jamie Gorelick and Janet Napolitano have actively created policies that prevent effective security.

Israel has an effective way to keep terrorists off their planes -- profiling, as mentioned above. Profiling is good, and it is essential. It would have stopped the Ft. Hood terrorist, the Flt 253 terrorist, and others. The government needs to start doing it now.

Anything less is criminal negligence by the federal security system and policy makers. Naturally, what we got from them as a result of this terror event was less – we got some unhinged notion that sitting in our seats a bit longer without a blanket on our laps is the key to safe airline travel.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | December 28, 2009 11:28 PM    Report this comment

Every time there is an incident like this, people (including our president) begin clamoring for “enhanced security”. How long it will be before all airline passengers must strip naked, be washed, sniffed, probed with a speculum (or two), palpated, made to don diapers and prison uniforms, and then be gagged and shackled to their airline seats, with electrodes attached, so that any passenger who struggles, squirms, or whimpers can be promptly disciplined?

I'm sure some (Paul Bertorelli?) would consider this an entirely reasonable approach. However effective such enhanced security might be, I was already boycotting all airlines.

The current incident merely proves that nothing our TSA can do will protect us from terrorism. Eliminating personal freedoms does nothing but, for the gullible, provide the illusion that government is protecting us.

In reality, only right-minded passengers can effectively prevent airborne terrorism, as they have on many occasions since the mid-morning of September 11, 2001.

For years I thought the best solution would be to dispense with screenings and issue handguns to every adult passenger. However, even a die-hard Libertarian like me has to admit that by itself, this would probably have been unable to prevent the Christmas day incident.

It is time for some very out-of-the-box thinking. I don’t expect that from anyone at TSA. I also doubt our government would care what any pilot thinks.

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | December 29, 2009 12:05 AM    Report this comment

We should get the handguns at checkin. That'll resolve many problems.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 29, 2009 2:05 AM    Report this comment

Regarding the Israeli use of profiling...There are some cases where political correctness is offensive. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, however almost every terrorist in the western world is a Muslim. The political correctness that prevents the US from profiling airline passengers is sheer insanity. Perhaps someone can tell me how slowing down the line to ask an 80-year-old Catholic woman with a walker to take off her shoes and belt makes sense? Yes, I've seen this happen in Philadelphia.

Posted by: Robert Kisin | December 29, 2009 6:45 AM    Report this comment

Bad weather prevented me from flying to Northern Idaho to
pick up my Mother-in-Law for Christmas vacation. At the
check in in Lewiston, Idaho, TSA gave this 78 year old grandmother a triple screening. I can only assume this is done so they can justify screening a Muslim man should
one be boarding the flight.

Political correctness is the pathway to our destruction as a free nation.

Posted by: Ric Lee | December 29, 2009 12:51 PM    Report this comment

Glenn Darr: "Of course, most of the flying public are no more than sheep in the airport pasture." That's funny.

DISRUPTION is by definition one of the goals of terrorism. The PC-driven response (votes driven? fear driven?, whatever it is) seems oblivious to that fact, and willingly plays right into the fulfillment of it. It is resources spent and trouble had with little effect - erecting climbable fences, taking the time (yours) to treat passengers with equality - ALL of you are terrorist suspects, and the like.

It's anything but refreshing.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | December 29, 2009 1:32 PM    Report this comment

And we keep voting these idiots into office. In the end we are responsible for this mess. We have forgotten that our destiny lies in our hands and we EMPLOY the elected officials to accomplish our objectives. We employed them because we have work to do. Now the inmates are running the asylum.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 29, 2009 1:54 PM    Report this comment

I agree that this administration appears to be biased towards unreasonable PC sensitivity related to those that seek to wage war and vengeance on our nation and population. The key word here is "war." If we are to be on equal footing with a self-declared enemy that has no qualms about their own use of profiling, we must be do the same.

90% of our security should be in the actions of our intelligence and TSA organizations to identify, track, and prohibit these targets from using our US visas and transportation systems. The other 10% can be used at the gates, stations, and depots to keep the under-the-radar crackpots out of the way.

More gate security procedures and onboard rules are mostly useless.

I wonder how I would react if I ever happen to be in Schuringa's place. I'd like to think I'd go for the throat. The next time I travel, I will try to be mentally prepared to do that.

I'm in Arizona where I got to watch our former governor at work for several years. She was never strong on border security, despite the hollow publicity actions she directed here. She was the perfect choice for heading the TSA in this administration. For the rest of us, she was not the correct choice.

Posted by: Philip Hubacek | December 30, 2009 3:12 AM    Report this comment

And I thought that Janet Useless was the only one to blame. Now, it's clear that the U.S. knew about the attack and did nothing about it.
George Bush met with his security people EVERY day. This president hasn't met with his security people in weeks.
It's not a systemic failure, Mr. President. It's a matter of apathy.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 30, 2009 5:03 AM    Report this comment

Our country is already profiling. The problem is when you profile everyone as they go through the various screening devices, you profile no-one. Enough with the PC BS! Time to start profiling as required and taking appropriate measures.

Posted by: Richard Mutzman | December 30, 2009 7:58 AM    Report this comment

Philip H.: "I'm in Arizona where I got to watch our former governor at work for several years. She was never strong on border security, despite the hollow publicity actions she directed here."

There's the maddening part, whoever it's coming from - where is the love of the truth? Is it years of practice, or is it just a 'gift' that allows anyone to make blatant anti-truth statements to the public, with no apparent capacity at all for embarrassment or guilt?

"The system worked", and, the public is safe, and so forth. It's unbelievable.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | December 30, 2009 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Back a little more on topic, it was the terrorist's system that failed (just barely) rather than our system that worked, or even the guy that jumped into action.

There's humor there - the guy was expecting instant heaven, but ended up with a little taste of the opposite, with his draws on fire.

Posted by: Mike Holshouser | December 30, 2009 12:57 PM    Report this comment

Reading the above was very interesting and it still seems many miss the point of the terrorists. Having fought terrorists for many years me thinks I have a few good observations to pass on.

The first and most important purpose of a terrorist is to create fear and the best form of communicating that fear is through the news media. The powers to be (terrorist leaders) have long ago realized that a bomb going off and killing everyone on board is short live as far as news worthiness goes. What happened here is perfect and will be remembered for a long time creating fear every time mentioned.

Next, with fear comes a heightened sense of security. So far it’s been relatively minor with some discomfort to the traveller. When the traveller has to publically strip naked in the queue and have all their clothes checked and double-checked, their suitcases opened and thoroughly searched then it can said it’s a heightened security situation. And funny enough this is what the terrorist leaders are after. How satisfying it is to know that the people are so scared they will be willing to take there clothes for and profane themselves in the quest of their personal security.
The answer is simple stop publicising these acts of terror. Without the publicity, fear cannot be transmitted to the population. Remove all forms of security hindrances and let the police do their jobs properly.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | December 31, 2009 7:58 AM    Report this comment

silly me the above should read "clothes off" and not "clothes for" :-)

Posted by: Bruce Savage | December 31, 2009 8:01 AM    Report this comment

I agree, Bruce. But the opportunities to enrich those involved through law suits are too obvious. Trial lawyers will have a field day with those who haven't even suffered trauma, but just not having been informed.
It's like a pathogen. Like cancer. It, too, is considered healthy tissue but with different objectives about the host.
I wouldn't be surprised to learn if the mindset of getting money by destroying someone else, hasn't progressed beyond the point where this nation can be saved in its current form.
There is an old adage that 'one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter' which is only true if one equivocates the terrorist and the victim's moral objectives. There is evidence of this equivocation regarding outside terrorism but it is less evident regarding inside terrorism, such as Bruce is speaking about here. And, as we experience from those who disregard the constitution for their own objectives.

Posted by: Nico van Niekerk | December 31, 2009 1:21 PM    Report this comment

Nico, you are absolutely correct about the greed of man and the endless litigation that is upon us. All of what is happening today only tips the hand for governments to become dictatorships; they will maintain the right to vote but little else they actually have no option. Every time we turn around another item of freedom is removed, done in the name of Health and Safety. When we voice our opinion there are many people saying, “if you got nothing to hide you need not be afraid”. The right to bear arms is written into the constitution of the USA but what is happening to that right? Can you carry arms when and where you want to? The USA has only had one revolution whereas UK and Europe have had several but governments still make the same mistakes time after time. They underestimate the population and are very surprised when there is an uprising and the continual talk about terrorist and fighting a terrorist war is grows thiner. I probably won’t be around for the major crash and upheavals that are destined to happen. Sorry the climate change won’t happen we wont be around to save it (or according to some create it). As Spok would say “Live long and prosper”.

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 1, 2010 5:53 PM    Report this comment

Thanks to leftist maneuvering, the vote is now in the hands of government employees, non-taxpayers, and welfare recipients (including corporate welfare recipients) exercising their choice for bigger, more intrusive, and corrupt government to line their own pockets.

Politicians fiddle over schemes to make the "security" apparatus of government bigger, while honest citizens, frisked of any useful defensive devices, are left to fend for themselves against terrorists allowed to board with bombs because of PC nonsense.

Why do we allow this? Who votes for senators who pay each other off with our tax money to pass laws that serve their favorite lobbyists, who create "security" systems that harass frail grandmothers instead of stopping terrorists?

Why don’t we drive the corrupt legislators out with pitchforks or banish them from the public scene? They stole our government through subterfuge and thievery, with the active help of Acorn and their fellow travelers. Too bad we can't ship them off to an Iranian prison to enjoy the fullness of jihadist understanding.

On the point: yes, being able to act makes all the difference. Too bad so many of the legal ciphers friendly to Avweb's owners will be suing those who dare to fight flaming terrorist bombers with their bare hands.

I'll bet you Avweb journalists don't touch this central issue with a ten foot pole. Get some testosterone. Otherwise, a fie on all your houses.

Posted by: S. Lanchester | January 2, 2010 12:57 AM    Report this comment

The technology exists to detect explosives, plastic or otherwise, but the TSA hasn't deployed it.

How interesting CNN and the major news agencies haven't discussed what happened on the flight for fear of embarassing the Obama Administration and TSA.

Janet Napoleon's comments are laughable. She's such a poor administrator.

Now that the terriorists know that they can get explosives thru the TSA screening, whats to stop them in the next few weeks or months? I'm sure they will try again and when they do it will cause the collapse of the US airline industry. Think about it, if they are successful it will be just like 9-11 again.

Yet, the Mao Bama administration goes on hoping it will happen. Why, because he will then lump all the airlines together, regulate them as a federal agency and call them Air Track. They will look and operate just like AmTrack.

But I guess thats not all bad because a guy driving a subway train in NYC makes $100,000 per year.

Told you so.

Posted by: Carter Boswell | January 4, 2010 11:10 AM    Report this comment

Yes Carter they call them dogs. Apparently the UK will have dogs go aboard an airliner just before closing the doors as a last check.
Not much said? Could it be that everyone is worried about the litigation that the terrorist could mount against those that stopped or say anything against him.
And yes the Governments are out to reduce their carbon footprint and the easiest way is to reduce the air travel which is seen as the biggest culprit of global warming (lets not get to into that) and the promises President Obama and Gordon Brown made at the conference the other day. Hmm am I back into the conspiracy theory again? Can't get away from it can we :-)

Posted by: Bruce Savage | January 5, 2010 5:13 AM    Report this comment

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