Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: An airline pilot locked himself out of the cockpit and had to use a fire axe to get back to the controls.
In the fallout from this debacle, it became clear the article's author had reported as her own experience a story she'd heard from someone else; none of the events described had happened to her. The following quote comes from the apology Gaby Plattner extended to Air Zimbabwe:
I very stupidly wrote Choppy Skies as though it had happened to me, when actually it was a story a passenger told me. I don't know what made me write it in the first person, except that I guess I thought it would be a more vivid story that way.When she was challenged about her article, Plattner's journalistic ethics remained non-existent. Said Randay Curwen, travel editor of the
Air Zimbabwe failed to appreciate the attempt to breathe life into an old urban legend by dragging its name through the mud. It penned a strong letter of protest to the Chicago Tribune, decrying the article as totally untrue, unprofessional, and damaging:
"I cannot for one moment believe that a paper with a reputation such as the Chicago Tribune's would accept such sick lies as a pilot breaking down the door to the cockpit with an axe," complained the airline's public relations manager, David Mwenga.The airline instituted legal action against both the Chicago Tribune and Gaby Plattner because the article had caused serious damage to that country's tourism and the reputation of Air Zimbabwe.
"We do not keep axes on our aircraft. For what purpose?"
"We never fly aircraft without the full complement of cockpit or cabin crew. The distance between Kariba and Hwange is so short that our pilots fly manually; rarely would they fly on auto pilot for that distance." Mwenga complained that the article, which has been circulated widely through the internet in the last two months, had caused untold harm to the airline.
As for how old the legend of the locked out pilot is, one of the oldest sightings was contributed by an American Airlines pilot who remembered hearing it in 1978. Another reader, the former editor of a flying magazine, recalls hearing the story in 1968 when it was told of a hapless pilot of a
There's too much about this legend that rings false for it to be taken seriously by those inclined to believe it. Several keys to the cockpit are stashed in various locations around the plane, obviating the notion that the pilot could be locked out. Cockpit doors are not spring-loaded and thus don't snap shut when released. Indeed, by FAA rules, when the plane is on the ground, that door remains open. Passengers who have boarded and deplaned will recall that the cockpit door is always open at those moments, without anyone's struggling to hold it open.
News accounts described an incident involving a pilot's being unable to
Barbara "no axe-ident" Mikkelson
Last updated: 30 August 2006
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