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Flying without wings

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FLYING without wings would not have been possible without the Wright Brothers; Orville and Wilbur. Thanks to their innovation we are now able to travel long distances in a fraction of the time it would have taken by sea, road or rail.

Flying has given us convenience and ease of travel albeit at a much higher cost. It has put places that might have been previously inaccessible within our reach.

I don’t have a phobia of flying. For the most part I enjoy it; especially the take off. The feeling of a plane scurrying down the runway at terrific speeds before ascending into the air gives me an adrenaline rush.

Like a little kid; this is the part that excites me the most about flying. However, I generally abhor long-haul flights; especially when you are flying economy class and don’t have the leisure and comfort of a business class suite. The experience is almost akin to taking a chicken bus from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

I always have the swollen feet and puffy eyes to show for it. A few months ago I watched the movie Flight starring Denzel Washington. In the movie, Washington plays Whip Whitaker, a veteran pilot with an alcohol and cocaine abuse problem.

After a night of drinking, drugs and debauchery he steers a flight through a rainstorm and mechanical malfunction, but by flying upside down manages to safely crash land in an open field.

The flight scene is undeniably the most electrifying and terrifying. It reminds us that flying comes with its hazards; that the co-pilots we entrust to steer the plane to our destinations may not be a 100%; that they too can get drunk on the job or make errors in judgment just like a doctor or an accountant would; or that sometimes the aeroplane itself experiences unforeseen technical failures that put the cabin crew and all the passengers at risk.

We often allay our fears by trying to fly with a tried and trusted airline. I have often heard people swear they would never fly Air Zimbabwe because of safety concerns.

Nigeria is another country which despite not having reported any accidents between 2007 and 2011, is often eyed with great scepticism. In 2012, all 153 passengers on Dana Airlines perished when the flight crashed into a two-storey building in Lagos killing 40 people on the ground. A year later, another plane carrying 20 people crashed shortly after taking off from the Lagos Airport.

I have always maintained that mishaps can happen to any airline. Even planes with impeccable safety records like the Boeing Co 777 have been known to crashland as was the case with the Asiana airlines on July 2013 at the San Francisco International Airport. Who would have thought the Malaysian airline MH370 would just vanish into thin air?

It has been seven whole days since the aircraft went missing. It is, however, not the first flight to disappear into oblivion. History has many reported incidents of flights disappearing, the Bermuda Triangle being the most documented.

Also known as the Devil’s Triangle, it is geographically located in the western part of the North Atlantic Ocean and has been responsible for many airlines disappearing without a trace.

Flight 19, a training flight of five disappeared there in December 1945. In 1948 Douglas DC-3 aircraft disappeared with 32 passengers on board and was never found. Of course, the Bermuda Triangle has been dismissed as a myth or folklore in some circles.

However, the disappearance of the Malaysian Airline MH370 is very real. The Beijing-bound Boeing 777 vanished into thin air seven days ago with 239 passengers on board. The plane was reportedly flying north east across the Gulf of Thailand into the South China Sea when it dropped off the civilian radar without any symptom of having any technical problems.

The transponder, a communication device which transmits and receives radio signals to determine location stopped working. Seems ironic that in an era of advanced technology where your own location can be detected by your cellphone, a whole aeroplane goes missing.

The plot further thickens as two young Iranian men using stolen European passports board the plane. Although there is nothing to point out that the two may be linked to any terrorist groups, the possibility cannot be entirely ruled out either.

Recent reports of the whereabouts of the aircraft have been conflicted and spurious. In the meantime, kith and kin hang in limbo as they wait with bated breaths to hear the fate of those that boarded the airline last Saturday. So next time you embark on a journey be truly thankful when you reach your final destination.

Just like being in a car, or a train being airbone does not preclude us from the dangers of travelling.

 Sue Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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