Meigs Mid-Air Aftermath: Who Makes These Decisions?

GUEST EDITORIAL. Two VFR light planes collide five miles south of Chicago's Meigs Field, and what happens? The media immediately pins the blame on ATC. Some genius in authority first closes down the control tower, then complains that the facility needs radar and more controllers. Everyone conveniently ignores the fact that a VFR tower is not responsible for separating VFR traffic, especially five miles away. Who makes these decisions, wonders Michigan CFI Bob Crosswhite, and who's going to pay the bill?


The midair collision on thelakefront on July 19, 1997 was a tragedy. Seven people died and the sorrow that incidenthas caused can not be measured. I had a personal loss just last month that I will nevercompletely recover from so I am not making light of it. What angers me is the exploitationby the media and the kneejerk reaction by our so called leaders.

Approximately 40,000 people are killed on our highways every year in the United States.That is about 110 people a day. I read two newspapers every day and I don’t rememberreading about an automobile fatality every day or even every week. But let an airplanecrash and watch out!

Meigs Airport, ChicagoFirst, the media gets the lay public all worked up about every air crash, and theiraudience doesn’t know enough about aviation to separate the truth from exaggeration andhysteria. The second thing the media always does is to try to find somebody to blame forthe crash. In the case of the Meigs mid-air, let’s blame the tower controller. Sure,except that a VFR tower has no responsibility for separating VFR traffic in the air, andbesides the accident happened five miles south of the airport where the tower has nojurisdiction at all.

This was a clear look-out-the-window situation and we pilots are only human. I’m surethat there may have been a few occasions in my twenty plus years of instructing, that Icould have been so involved with a student that I kept my head in the cockpit a little toolong. Maybe I was just a little luckier than someone else. I have flown the lakefronthundreds of times and always get traffic advisories and a lot of the time, althoughtraffic is reported to me, I don’t see it even though I’m looking hard.

By coincidence, my friend and I flew up to Washington Island that day for the fish boiland, on our way back, were in the same spot that the accident happened but about threehours before. Yes, it could’ve been us instead of them. But I digress.

After the media-induced public hysteria and the instant assignment of blame, the nextstep inevitably is the kneejerk reaction by Big Brother. First some genius closes down thetower after complaining that we need more people in the tower and that we also should haveradar there. If we need more people in the tower why did this person remove the only onethere? (If we had a traffic accident at a busy intersection would this same genius want toturn off all of the traffic signals?)

More tower controllers? Radar? Who is going to pay for this stuff? And why stop at justMeigs? Gosh, at the Lansing (Michigan) airport where I instruct, or any teaching airportfor that matter, on a nice weekend the place looks like a bee-hive. But we don’t haveradar or towers, we have eyeballs. Next, I suppose Big Brother will demand that we haveplane-to-plane anti-collision devices that will cost more than the airplane.

This “don’t confuse me with the facts, I’ve got my mind made up” attitude isby Those In Authority is not limited to aviation, by the way. Here’s another example Iheard on the news just today. Illinois Gov. Edgar spent some of the taxpayers money tohire a panel of experts to decide what needed to be done to correct the problem thatcaused the train crash that killed five children in a school bus over a year ago in FoxRiver Grove. I’m sure you remember that, it was all over the TV news. After intensivestudy, the experts agreed that the speed of the train had nothing to do with the accident.They concluded that the railroad crossing gates were insufficient and that the geometry ofthe crossing did not allow enough room for the vehicle to clear the tracks. Okay, so guesswhat out brilliant Protectors did? You guessed it, every train that goes through Fox RiverGrove must now slow down. I remember that on the day of the accident, one self-proclaimedexpert on the boob tube recommended that all of the trains in the country should be sloweddown permanently. Hey, if 50 MPH is safer than 70, then 20 MPH must be safer than 50,right?

What can you do? Find out who makes these ridiculous decisions on things like this andmake sure they are not reelected. Or if they are in an appointed position, petition tomake it an elective one, just as some people are trying to do with the judges. Our qualityof life is being controlled by people who have no interest in our well-being, and oftenlittle knowledge of what affects us. Sometimes we just have to yell louder.