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Saturday, April 21, 2007

Re: It Can’t Happen Here

posted by on April 21 at 17:13 PM

Joe writes in the comments attached to Josh’s earlier post about the Blue Angels crash in South Carolina…

I think the headline is referring to all the handwringing that comes out of some quarters of Seattle whenever SeaFair rolls around. There are a bunch of people who are terrified one of the Blue Angels is going to fall on their heads (or just object to them on principle but use this as an excuse). The reality is that far more people will die in fiery wrecks in the Seattle area every year while minding their own business — they’ll just be in cars.

Well, speaking as handwringer, my concern that the Blue Angels will fall on our heads someday is genuine, not merely an objection to the noise, waste, and freakin’ pointlessness of it all. (Although I object to all that too.) But whenever I’m like, “One day one of those fucking planes is going to plow into something — a neighborhood, a house, Columbia Tower,” I’m told that It Can’t Happen Here. That the Blue Angels never crash, that there are better things to worry about. (Who says I don’t worry about other things too? Can you only worry about one thing at a time?)

Blue Angel fans are very dismissive when anyone expresses any concern about the potential for a crash—and if one should crash, the loss of life could be pretty spectacular. A jet slamming into an office building or, say, a densely packed neighborhood really can’t compare to a fiery car wreck that kills one or two people.

There’s a reason air shows are held in big empty fields in the middle of freakin’ nowhere. Because it can happen — and despite what we worries have been told over and over and over again, it can happen here.

Now just imagine this

A Navy Blue Angel jet crashed during an air show Saturday, plunging into a neighborhood of small homes and trailers and killing the pilot, the county coroner said. Witnesses said the planes were flying in formation during the show at the Marine Corps Air Station and one dropped below the trees and crashed, sending up clouds of smoke. At least one home was on fire.

Raymond Voegeli, a plumber, was backing out of a driveway when the plane ripped through a grove of pine trees, dousing his truck in flames and debris. He said wreckage hit “plenty of houses and mobile homes.” “It was just a big fireball coming at me,” said Voegeli, 37. “It was just taking pine trees and just clipping them.”

…happening at Broadway and John or First and Pike.

RSS icon Comments


A jet slamming into an office building or, say, a densely packed neighborhood really canít compare to a fiery car wreck that kills one or two people.

We'll never be as famous as New York. But hey, at least we'll get our 15 minutes/days.

Posted by hmmm | April 21, 2007 5:45 PM

If it was pilot error then your argument stands.

If it was mechanical failure then you need to go to Cal Anderson park one day and just sit and count the number of commercial airliners flying over that don't go through anywhere near the amount of mechanical inspection that the blue angels do.

I'm more worried about commercial airliners (and I'm not even that worried about them) then I am the Blue Angels. And their fucking cool!

Posted by monkey | April 21, 2007 5:57 PM

Monkey -

The point is, the commercial jets (and yes, there are a lot of them) are flying on pretty much well-established flight paths on a steady descent into SeaTac, which is located (as most airports are) not near Downtown but several miles away. Blue Angels are doing aerial somersaults over downtown. Yes, it's only once a year vs. every day, but the risk level of the activity is much, much higher, as is the potential severity of a disaster.

Posted by DavidG | April 21, 2007 6:05 PM
...and freakin' pointlessness of it all
Ah, but it's not pointless, is it? Domestic displays of military might always have a point.

The Blue Angels, and the Fleet that shows up with them on the coasts, aren't very different than those old Soviet parades of tanks and missile launchers through Red Square.

Posted by robotslave | April 21, 2007 6:19 PM

All I can say is that if your handwringing somehow ever results in them not roaring over Capitol Hill several times a day in the summer and annoying the shit out of me ... then please, wring away, and accept my thanks.

Posted by tsm | April 21, 2007 6:39 PM

I can't believe no one has mentioned Ramstein.

72 dead and hundreds wounded after a mid air collision slammed shrapnel into the spectator stands and a fireball of aviation fuel descended on a crowd around an ice-cream truck.

Posted by Jasper le Jasper | April 21, 2007 6:47 PM

monkey: You may not be concerned with the Blue Angels, but the FAA is. When the BA's are in the air, the I-90 bridge is closed to traffic, for crying out loud. And while there (their?) are lots more commercial airliners flying over my house, they're (there?) not buzzing my neighborhood and terrifying the pets, children, and weaklings. They come so close you can almost touch them.
Sure, it's like being in Star Wars, but beyond adolescent ya-yas, I don't get the attraction.

Posted by squara | April 21, 2007 6:47 PM

Monkey -

As noted above, commercial planes follow very strict rules and routes to minimize the chance of a crash in a populated area. A more important problem with your argument, though. is that most people would agree that commercial aviation is necessary, and we accept the risks associated with it. The Blue Angels doing maneuvers over densely populated areas is far from necessary--it's unnecessarily risky. An air show can easily be held away from the city, putting only those who choose to attend at risk.

Posted by Tone | April 21, 2007 7:23 PM

It happened it Portland. No one died, but only because no one was home.

Posted by no one in particular | April 21, 2007 7:40 PM

Commercial aviation is necessary? How's that?

It's mostly pleasure travel, i.e., entertainment -- same as the Blue Angels.

"the risk level of the activity is much, much higher, as is the potential severity of a disaster"? Wrong by a country mile, on both counts.

And the I-90 bridge is closed to avoid traffic tie-ups and accidents, not air disasters.

Posted by RonK, Seattle | April 21, 2007 8:34 PM

When a blue angel dies, it's a tragedy. Just toooo hot to die..... They came through our office last year, and they were all just extremely hot.

Posted by jackseattle | April 21, 2007 8:51 PM

When a blue angel dies, it's a tragedy. Just toooo hot to die..... They came through our office last year, and they were all just extremely hot.

Posted by jackseattle | April 21, 2007 8:51 PM

This is still the Jet City.

The Blue Angels and the Hydros are cool because they are LOUD!

Posted by Old Seattle, and loving it | April 21, 2007 9:01 PM

45 years ago today:

Posted by ballard native | April 21, 2007 9:23 PM

But whenever Iím like, ďOne day one of those fucking planes is going to plow into something ó a neighborhood, a house, Columbia Tower,Ē Iím told that It Canít Happen Here.

Darn those People Who Tell You That Stuff! How can they be so closed-minded? I'm not going to be like them; I'm going to distinguish myself from those closed-minded people by agreeing with you immediately.

Whatever. Nice strawman.

I daresay the point Joe was trying to make is that worrying about the Blue Angels crashing on you is yet another case of poor risk assessment behavior common to-- well, pretty much everyone these days. Threats like terrorism, serial killers, kidnappers, school rampage shooters, food or drug tampering, and so on are all things people spend a lot of energy worrying about that are, statistically, fantastically unlikely to happen to them. Meanwhile, there are plenty of perfectly plausible threats that people accept without a second thought. So, for example, people spend a lot more time and energy worrying about intentional food tampering than they do worrying about accidental food poisoning, which kills about 5,000 Americans every year.

I don't drive, and yet I'm under constant threat from other people's cars. That's considered acceptable because those cars serve a specific social and economic purpose that trumps my right to walk more than 100 yards without having to worry about being crushed like a bug. Likewise the fighter jets: they serve a very specific propaganda purpose. The fact that you don't agree with the agenda that propaganda supports doesn't mean the fighter jets aren't serving a purpose when they buzz the city.

Remember how you supported the war? The reason that was considered a viable position was, in part, because of those jets.

So your pitch here comes off as either poorly reasoned or disingenuous.

I suggest you find another approach.

Posted by Judah | April 21, 2007 9:30 PM

Commercial aviation is necessary? How's that?

It's mostly pleasure travel, i.e., entertainment -- same as the Blue Angels.

Commercial aviation is mostly pleasure travel? Business travel is the meat and potatoes of the airline industry. Remember People Express Airlines back in the 80's? They failed, in part, because they catered to individuals and not the business traveler. Business travel pays the big bucks, while pleasure looks for the cheap rates.

Posted by Ebenezer | April 21, 2007 9:41 PM

#15 cant anyone change their mind? Is that always disingenuous?

Posted by DreadLion | April 21, 2007 9:46 PM
#15 cant anyone change their mind? Is that always disingenuous?

It's not disingenuous because he changed his mind. It's disingenuous because part of his pitch is that the jets serve no purpose-- when not only do they serve a purpose, but Dan himself has been a player in the enterprise of which the jets are a component. So, if nothing else, one would expect him to know better than to state that the jets serve no purpose.

Posted by Judah | April 21, 2007 9:54 PM

Ebenezer -- Business travel pays the bills, but pleasure travel fills the seats ... accounting for the bulk of takeoffs and landings, and the size of the fuel-laden flying bombs that pass overhead every minute. (Actually, you couldn't have commercial air travel as we know it without both lines of patronage.)

And which is worse -- the roar of the jets, or the whine of the handwringers?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | April 21, 2007 9:54 PM

Or God forbid a bus could careen off a bridge and cause sizable damage. Oh wait...

Posted by Giffy | April 21, 2007 10:00 PM

Come to think of it, I've never heard anybody claim "It can't happen here." Where do you hear this?

"[T]here are better things to worry about"? Definitely.

Neurotoxic Bullet Ants, for instance, expanding their range as a consequence of global warming. If you're not staying up late worrying about that, what good are ya?

Posted by RonK, Seattle | April 21, 2007 10:04 PM

Dan sez:

A jet slamming into an office building or, say, a densely packed neighborhood really canít compare to a fiery car wreck that kills one or two people

I think Dan is making an error here in giving the severity of an accident vastly more relevance than the probability of an accident. There are plenty of other things happening every day that pose a greater risk to each of us than the Blue Angels. Let's worry about those first. Finding legitimate reasons to dislike the Blue Angels isn't too hard to do, but I don't think the crash risk is one of those reasons.

Posted by hotdogs for lunch | April 21, 2007 10:22 PM

Holding an air show over the city for the amusement (of some) does seem by definition an unnecessary risk. And yes, the risk of you as an individual dying, are infinitesimally small, but the risk of someone, somewhere dying eventually grow with every repetition. Given that it's a big, spectacular version of "Hey, watch this" (those infamous famous last words) it does seem sort of insane to keep doing it until something goes wrong.

But on the scale of insane risks that we have learned to tune out, I suppose it's pretty low on the list.

Posted by flamingbanjo | April 21, 2007 11:55 PM

Maybe the Blue Angeles should move their air shows to places like White Sands. If the only thing those planes ever did was to thrill people with their shows we would be in a better world.
Seafair could continue just fine without the Blue Angles. I also think there is room in the city for both "old Seattle" traditions like Seafair and newer events like Bite of Bumberfolk. The complaints I hear about Seafair come from snobs who believe Seafair is for "rubes" and that thier events are "superior"
At the Seafair race people go one day out of the year to drink beer and watch loud boats. How is that different than things like running events (many days a year) where streets get closed down so that lycra clad runners can spit a sweat their way thru the city.
There is plenty of room for both kinds of events.

Posted by Zack | April 22, 2007 7:33 AM

As a taxpayer and a pacifist, I must say I like seeing the Blue Angels flying over the city. There's no getting around the feeling that they are remarkably cool machines, at least if you enjoy the aethetics of the physics and the engineering that make them possible.

Yet, of me is annoyed the F-18s or whatever those plane are exist in the first place. But dammit, I'd much rather seeing the flying over my house than bombing the hell out of some pathetic third-world neighborhood. While I feel guity admiration over the aerobatic spectacle, I like to try to empathize with those who must have felt or feel terror at the same noise in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Vietnam, Kosovo, Serbia, Lebanon, etc. It's a way of participating in the horrors, at least by proxy, that we perpetrate individually by paying our taxes and voting for imbiciles. And, if one comes crashing down into my school, church, synagogue, mosque, shopping center, business park, appartment, condo, home or whatever, it's no worse than if they were being put to the use for which they were actually designed.

Posted by Rod | April 22, 2007 11:46 AM

Handwringing aside, how might we go about banning this? Even if it doesn't happen, wouldn't the attempt be worth the resulting discussion?

As I said in the comments of the original Josh post below, it's not just the needless risk of disaster, it's everything: the dogs and babies crying, the tons of jet fuel wasted, the traffic, pollution, and blatent promotion of death and distruction, and the taxpayer expense.

If Seattle can't ban this, no one can. And if no one can, I'm worried.

Posted by Drake Bozarth | April 22, 2007 1:56 PM

The Blue Angels is military recruiting; it's no more wasteful than a commercial during the Super Bowl.

As much as you may disagree with aspects of our foreign policy, if you believe in us having a military and having people serve in it voluntarily, shows like this are a legitimate expense.

Posted by MHD | April 22, 2007 4:01 PM

If you don't like watching airplanes roar around the sky, fine.

But please get off this pansy-ass "safety" kick. The is the same anxiety-fueled reasoning that drives people to purchase enormous 2-ton SUVs to haul their 20 pound baby around in. Yeah, I suppose technically speaking, that Ford Enterprise is safer, but it's lame and so is the attitude.

Posted by Sean | April 22, 2007 11:09 PM

Ok I'll trade you. No more Blue Angels at Sea Fair. No more assless chaps and starp ons at the pride parade.

Posted by L Jack Davis | April 23, 2007 9:08 AM

Is it the planes themselves that bother you, or that they are flown by the U.S. Navy?

Posted by elswinger | April 23, 2007 10:03 AM

Synchronized planes? How cool is that! (come on Jen G. you know you support it)

The only thing cooler would be synchronized rockets.

Posted by cochise. | April 23, 2007 11:32 AM

I will admit my love of the BAs is purely juvinile. I like the loud cool machines. I was brought up around airplains and jets and I do like them, even the commercial ones. Of all the things we have to pick from, Blue Angels are mighty low on my list of things to ban.

Guns! I was raise around and love guns too. Have you ever shot one? Handgun or rifle or shotgun or semi-automatic machine gun... they all are a KICK IN THE ASS to fire. With that said I think the NRA is the biggest group of idiots ont he planet and I think this nation is LONG overdue for serious real-world gun control.

So you want to get behind a safety cause that will actually save lives why not leave the jets be and focus on guns?

I guess that's a little off topic, but still...

Posted by monkey | April 23, 2007 11:43 AM

I like the Blue Angels, too. Your chance to see firsthand the pinnacle of aeronautical engineering paired with the top of the class in military pilots.

Obviously, I'm in favor. Seattle has a strong military presence here (I for one was glad to see cutters in the Sound when 9-11 happened), so I look at the Angels' show as a nod from the military to Seattle.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | April 23, 2007 12:24 PM

Haven't people expressed concern about a potential accident with the Blue Angels in Seattle like every year they show up? True, clean cut Navy pilots are hot hot hot but it is gambling people's safety for what amounts to an aerial military parade.

But as with all things American we will not do anything until there is a substantial death toll involved. Then Rush and M Savage will blame the liberals.

Posted by Just Me | April 23, 2007 1:45 PM

I have to agree that the Angels are cool - technologically, aeronautically, pilot-amazing-ologically. They're good at what they do. Not a big fan of the military-industrial complex they represent and promote, but abstractly, sure, they're neat-o. I still think they should do what they do away from the city.

Oh, and commercial aviation not necessary, RonK? How about freight? You want to see what happens to the economy if we stop using jets for cargo? Or the mail?

Posted by Tone | April 23, 2007 5:28 PM

I-90 is not closed for the safety of motorists during the airshow, it is for the safety of the Blue Angles and other performing aircraft.

An airshow, particularly a military one, has strict requirements, one of which is that the center of the airshow has to be over a suitable place to land in the event of an emergency. Boeing field (KBFI) is much to far away to utilize, which is one of the reasons the show can not be performed over Elliot bay.

I-90 is closed so that it can be used as an emergency runway if required not because the jets flying overhead are 'dangerous'.

There are additional reasons to close the bridge, for example drivers rubber-necking at the airshow and causing car wrecks but the primary reason is for use as an emergency air strip.

Posted by Jill England | April 26, 2007 2:04 PM

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