Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Foreign Secretary's New Clothes or Hips May Lie




Sunday, June 6, 2010

Editor-in-Thief : A Short Story

It was Asin's fifth day at the Indian Age. After completing her course in Mass Communications from the Asian Institute of Journalism in Bangalore, she had accepted the offer from Indian Age to join them at their main editorial office in Bangalore. The first four days had been spent reading multiple editions of the Indian Age. As part of her induction programme - she along with other freshers were advised by the Editor to read and imbibe before beginning to write for the newspaper. 

However, on the fifth day, the newspaper had been tipped off by its sources at the Bangalore International airport about Air Ndia flight XI 810 encountering turbulence over the Middle Eastern skies. After the crash of Air India Express flight at Mangalore, there was heighten public interest in stories pertaining to "incidents-in-the-air".  Earlier, news of injuries to passengers due to Clear Air Turbulence would be routinely filed in the inner recesses of the  newspaper. However,  post Mangalore, public interest made editors give more coverage to "air incidents.

As the aviation correspondent of the newpaper was on leave, Asin had been asked to speak to the "source" at the airport to get more information on the turbulence that XI 810 encountered and to file a report before 10 pm. Asin looked up Wikipedia, and earlier newpaper reports on other such incidents, before speaking to her "source". She submitted her report to the Copy Editor - Divya Desikan well before the deadline. Her report:

Air Ndia XI 810 encounters turbulence over Middle Eastern airspace
Bangalore: It is reported that Air Ndia's flight XI 810 encountered strong Clear Air Turbulence over the skies of Jordan. It is reported that the aircraft lost height when it encountered turbulence at 37,000 feet. An Air Ndia spokesperson has clarified that Clear Air Turbulence is normal for this time of the year and occurs when the wind at high altitudes suddenly changes speed and direction causing the aircraft to mildly wobble. In some case the aircraft also loses height. The spokesperson also clarified that turbulence lasted for under one minute as the pilot, upon reporting turbulence to the ATC, was moved to a different altitude.

Under twenty minutes of her hitting the send button, Asin's intercom buzzed. It was Divya. " Asin, come over", she said curtly.

" Do you think your story  is interesting, Asin?"  "Pre Mangalore, we would have carried this on page 7". 
" Now, it is our attempt to put out all aviations stories on page 1. Your story is completely inadequate for a page 1 lead". " I have completely recast the story". " I expect all your future filings on aviation stories to be of this standard". She then handed over a sheaf of A4 sheets, which Asin noticed had the re-written story, with her initial story as part of the trailing mails. Asin commenced reading - with great interest:

Plucky pilot recovers Air Ndia flight from a nose-dive seconds before a certain crash into the Dead Sea

Bangalore : The shocking story of how 231 passenger on an Air Ndia flight escaped an almost certain crash can now be told. Indian Age has compiled this story with never before details on how flight XI 810 was saved due the skill and presence of mind of its commander, Captain A.I. Dastur.

Till an hour after takeoff, it was a routine flight. The Pilot Flying, the co-pilot in this case, had put the aircraft on auto-pilot. Captain Dastur had gone to the wash-room. As the he was washing his hands he felt the aircraft wobble, mildly. Captain Dastur knew that the aircraft was on auto-pilot and the co-pilot was in the cockpit. The auto-pilot itself would  take corrective action. Then, captain Dastur banged his head against the toilet door as he felt the aircraft banking sharply to the starboard side. Instinctively, Captain Dastur knew that all was not well. He hurriedly rushed out of the toilet. What he saw shocked him. People who were not seated were sprawled on the floor knocked out by the sharp banking of the aircraft. Childen were crying and there was a look of terror in passenger's eyes. The cabin crew were valiantly trying to restore order among the passenger and were helping others back to their seats.

Captain Dastur frantically buzzed his co-pilot on the intercom - to get him to open the cockpit door. However, there was no response from the cockpit. Captain Dastur then realized that either his co-pilot was incapacitated or was busy trying to get the aircraft back in control. The Captain then punched in on the number pad, just outside the cockpit door - the memorized code, for an emergency opening of the bullet proof steel door. While the Captain was waiting for the door to open, it is programmed to open in 35 seconds, he could hear the clacker from the GPWS (Ground Proximity Warning System) indicating that the aircraft was less than a safe distance from the ground. He realized that there was no time to lose.

As Captain Dastur yanked the door open on the 35th second, he was horrified to see his co-pilot incapacitated - perhaps being hit on the the head when the aircraft had banked steeply. He realized that there was no time to waste - not even enough time to take his  seat. Even before sitting down - he pushed the Auto-Pilot bar down to disengage the auto-pilot. Then, in a split second, he pulled back the Flight Control Column with considerable force and got the aircraft out of its dive. Next, he alerted the air traffic controllers. He wasn't done yet. The aircraft had gone into a 30 degree nose dive - at this angle, the plane was flying at higher than its permitted speed - a perfect receipie for structrual damage.  In order prevent any structural damage, Captain Dastur  rolled the aircraft more than 90 degrees in order to take the pressure off the control surfaces until it was safe to switch the hydraulic controls back on. As he got his breath back, he realized that he was only 10 seconds away from crashing into the Dead Sea.

He then flew to his destination at slower than normal speeds in case the aircraft had suffered some structural damage.

Aviation experts, contacted by this reporter, were fulsome in their praise for Captain Dastur whose skillfull airmanship saved the lives of 231 passengers and crew.

As Asin came to the end of Divya's racy piece, Divya snatched back the sheaf from Asin. As the papers were being pulled out of her hands, Asin's sight fell on another trailing mail below Divya's piece:

--- On Wed, 2/6/10, A.I.Dastur> wrote:
From: A.I.Dastur>>
Subject: XI 810 - Details for lead story
To: "'Divya Desikan'"

Date: Wednesday, 2 June, 2010, 8:57 PM
Dear Divya,
I have suitably amended the write-up by Asin, that you forwarded earlier. I have spiced up the incident for your including it as part of  the page 1 lead story  tomorrow.

I look good, don't I!