December 18-31, 2009

Welcome On Board, This Is Capt Gila Speaking

THE Yogyakarta air crash, in March 2007, was a shocking event. All air crashes are. But the circumstances of the disaster in Yogyakarta in 2007 made it more shocking than most, because of the expert evidence presented in the aftermath that the Garuda captain in command of the Boeing 737 flight from Jakarta that fateful morning had ignored 15 separate automated cockpit warnings that he was approaching too fast and that his landing speed – on the airport’s short runway – was far too high.

Captain Marwoto Komar landed well outside the operational limits set out in the manual – and outside the limits of common sense, another essential cockpit qualification. His aircraft ran off the end of the runway and immediately caught fire, killing 21 people. Scores were injured.

Even if he were utterly blameless, you’d think that the horror of what he had participated in as captain of the aircraft would have given him pause for thought. Not a bit of it. He took some time off; perhaps to get his captain’s uniform dry-cleaned. Later he was charged with manslaughter and was dismissed by Garuda. The charge was subsequently reduced to criminal negligence. He defended himself by appearing in court in his Garuda uniform – despite having been sacked – and by having his defence lawyers present the usual compendium of inventive excuses you tend to hear from the criminally negligent when their crimes catch up with them.

Marwoto’s instrument of death was not a machine-pistol, though it might just as well have been. His excuse for being the person in charge when 21 people met their untimely deaths in an aircraft he was flying and which he then crashed was tantamount to saying he didn’t know the gun was loaded and that no, he had no idea where the safety catch was.

His argument in the first court hearing was less than persuasive. The district court found him guilty as charged and imposed a two-year jail sentence. That appeared to many people to be little enough in the circumstances.

He immediately appealed and was released on bail. Last week a High Court appeal bench, sitting in Yogyakarta, quashed the charge against him and overturned the verdict and the sentence. The judges said criminal negligence could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The bench, in reaching this decision, rejected the expert testimony on which Marwoto had originally been convicted; or at least, seems to have decided that ignoring 15 audible cockpit warnings relating to approach speed did not constitute provable negligence.

Marwoto claimed the aircraft’s flaps – which control descent and airspeed – malfunctioned. No expert evidence has been presented that this was the case. But even if the flaps did fail, it is possible to land a Boeing 737 in most circumstances without them. Not at the sadly deficient and short-field Yogyakarta airport, granted, but diversion to somewhere with a longer runway would have been an option. How failure to apply common sense, as the captain of an aircraft, does not constitute criminal negligence is a mystery.

Never mind. Marwoto now has an obvious career opportunity ahead of him. (It probably won’t be flying; not even Garuda would contemplate letting him anywhere near a real cockpit again, surely?) But he could easily set up a consultancy and put together some useful course modules for would-be airline pilots (a three-part course under the topic heading Go Gila seems apt):

(1) How to Land Your Flying Machine Very, Very Fast Indeed. (2) Why Automated Cockpit Warning Signals Can Be Safely Ignored. (3) Wearing Your Uniform: Handy Tips to Fool People into Thinking That You Know What You’re Doing.

The Yogyakarta crash was the final straw for observers of Indonesian aviation practice overseas. The European Union banned all Indonesian carriers from its airspace. (That ban was recently lifted for four Indonesian carriers, one of them Garuda.)

Tiger Loses Stripes

THE world is an unkind place. Humans are naturally voyeuristic and of course the peccadilloes of others are the basic building blocks of the tabloid media and waiting room magazines. So it is that poor Tiger Woods, who plays really good golf, has unaccountably wrapped his nine-iron around his nether regions and given himself a frightful bruising.

Unsurprisingly, in this cruel, hypocritical and self-serving world, several corporations which have paid him handsomely to be their public face so that they can in turn make even more money, have told him to go away. There is very little that is more nauseating than money-making corporations masking their horror at losing some by taking the high moral ground.

Woods’ inability to manage his natural urges – or to distinguish between the felicity of scoring a birdie on the field of play and the infelicity of doing so elsewhere in the literal other sense – is pathetic (well, maybe) but it is surely not unusual or for that matter of more than merely venal demerit. After all, for many men – and though we’re not supposed to think so, a lot of women – sex is the most powerful driver in your kit. Tiger did what many men dream of doing and many women wish men would.

Woods’ skill as a golfer is beyond compare. His present difficulty, as a man, is sad, but sadly common. Most philanderers are not public figures. They can grub away as they wish without any fears other than of the saucepan that might collect their cranium if the wife finds out. Such is the human condition.

Sadly, too, hubris being what it is, the thought of becoming a bar-room joke is often the worst pain of all. Few of us wish to become the object of music-hall stand-up routines. We should let go of this Tiger’s tale – and allow him to reconstruct the silly mess he seems to have made of his life.

It’s a Saga

SOME people we know, who live in the otherwise peaceful surroundings of rural Ungasan, have a sorry tale to tell about the perils of renovation. It’s not their place that’s the problem – though their own renovasi after buying their modest villa two years ago had its own little difficulties – but the place next door.

It used to be a separate residence, except when the wind blew and the rotted alang-alang roof it sported migrated en masse to their swimming pool. But as part of its conversion into a dream residence – nightmare seems a better word – by some absent (and possibly absent-minded) Jakarta people, it now conjoins.

The extensive rebuilding, which seems to be a project contracted out to two little fellows with one hammer, who take it in turns to tap away from time to time but on no discernable schedule, has co-opted their structure. Perhaps our friends’ villa, built to what is loosely described in Bali as “Western standard,” is required as a load-bearing support.

For 16 months, while the interior has been gutted, three Jacuzzis installed (well, the new owners are Jakarta people; perhaps that’s why they aren’t bothering to replace the rotted alang-alang roof) and expensive glass erected, the tap-tap-tapping of whoever is the duty hammer man at the time has resonated – and reverberated, since there is now a “common wall” – at will. Siestas are rarely feasible. Having friends to stay is impossible.

But there is a silver lining. Our chums now have (one) brand new exterior sun blind for their trouble. This was provided, following extensive discussions, because the new wall of the now-adjoining residence actually butts onto their own and made it impossible for the previous blind, custom-made for the space, to fully deploy.

Maybe it will all be over sometime in 2010. Well … maybe.

Thoughts on the Season

YOUR diarist is not devotional, having decided long ago to leave organised expressions of faith to those who have need of such things. But devotional music remains a passion, and this time of year is a great time to indulge a taste for such things. And it’s so easy nowadays. Last weekend, a pleasant hour was spent listing to ABC Classic FM on live stream on The Diary’s laptop – OK, it should have been diary-writing at the time, but even diarists have to relax now and then – and enjoying Medieval Christian music.

The meter, the timbre, the cadence and the inspirational message of intellectual faith from so long ago that one derives from listening to such music is a treat. Christmas comes but once a year, as the old saying has it. When it does, it is nice to remember times past; both personal – so short a timeframe: in your diarist’s case, one that started only 155 years after verifiable temperature recordings on which we are now supposed to base our fears for the future began – and historical. Antiquity, viewed as it should be, provides a corrective to one’s moral compass. It’s a shame there is such profound ignorance today of both the facts and the lessons of the past.

In the modern Western tradition, Christmas is a secular celebration – of the illusory benefits of the consumer society among other things – that owes very little to its religious origins. But it’s as well to remember that Christmas, celebrating Jesus’ birth, is the old pagan midwinter festival of Europe, rebranded; just as Easter, the most solemn of Christian festivals, occurs, entirely without coincidence, coincidentally with the old northern hemisphere festival of Eostre, marking the new life that Spring brings to cold places that have growing seasons. The Greek god Eostre is the root of the English word oestrus. Except by traditional misunderstanding and mythology – and faith – it has nothing to do with Wafat Issa.

Happy Christmas anyway; see you in the New Year.

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