Meigs Mid-Air Aftermath: Who Makes These Decisions?

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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 the lakefront on July 19, 1997 was a tragedy. Seven people died and the sorrow that incident has caused can not be measured. I had a personal loss just last month that I will never completely recover from so I am not making light of it. What angers me is the exploitation by 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 remember reading about an automobile fatality every day or even every week. But let an airplane crash and watch out!

Meigs Airport, ChicagoFirst, the media gets the lay public all worked up about every air crash, and their audience doesn't know enough about aviation to separate the truth from exaggeration and hysteria. The second thing the media always does is to try to find somebody to blame for the 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, and besides the accident happened five miles south of the airport where the tower has no jurisdiction at all.

This was a clear look-out-the-window situation and we pilots are only human. I'm sure that there may have been a few occasions in my twenty plus years of instructing, that I could have been so involved with a student that I kept my head in the cockpit a little too long. Maybe I was just a little luckier than someone else. I have flown the lakefront hundreds of times and always get traffic advisories and a lot of the time, although traffic 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 boil and, on our way back, were in the same spot that the accident happened but about three hours 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 next step inevitably is the kneejerk reaction by Big Brother. First some genius closes down the tower after complaining that we need more people in the tower and that we also should have radar there. If we need more people in the tower why did this person remove the only one there? (If we had a traffic accident at a busy intersection would this same genius want to turn off all of the traffic signals?)

More tower controllers? Radar? Who is going to pay for this stuff? And why stop at just Meigs? Gosh, at the Lansing (Michigan) airport where I instruct, or any teaching airport for that matter, on a nice weekend the place looks like a bee-hive. But we don't have radar or towers, we have eyeballs. Next, I suppose Big Brother will demand that we have plane-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 is by Those In Authority is not limited to aviation, by the way. Here's another example I heard on the news just today. Illinois Gov. Edgar spent some of the taxpayers money to hire a panel of experts to decide what needed to be done to correct the problem that caused the train crash that killed five children in a school bus over a year ago in Fox River Grove. I'm sure you remember that, it was all over the TV news. After intensive study, 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 of the crossing did not allow enough room for the vehicle to clear the tracks. Okay, so guess what out brilliant Protectors did? You guessed it, every train that goes through Fox River Grove must now slow down. I remember that on the day of the accident, one self-proclaimed expert on the boob tube recommended that all of the trains in the country should be slowed down 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 and make sure they are not reelected. Or if they are in an appointed position, petition to make it an elective one, just as some people are trying to do with the judges. Our quality of life is being controlled by people who have no interest in our well-being, and often little knowledge of what affects us. Sometimes we just have to yell louder.