If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Out of the blue

I wouldn't ride a motorbike if I didn't think that I had the risks under reasonable control.  Part of my personal 'safety training' is to analyse every unforeseen or unexpected event to see if anything can be learned from it, and to put any lessons learned into practice in the future.  I do this with my own riding, but I also examine accounts of things that happen to other people, which is a kind of risk-free learning.

I don't like the term 'accident'.  Too often people refer to an event as an accident, when in fact there is a clear cause.  The word 'accident' implies that the event was unforeseeable, and that nothing could be done to prevent it (and therefore, crucially, no-one is to blame), where this is rarely the case.  When you break an event down into immediate causes (car pulls out), proximate causes (rider going too fast to take avoiding action) and ultimate causes (poor training, careless attitude, inadequate maintenance), you can nearly always find something that someone did wrong, and which, done right, could have prevented the 'accident'.  It's just a question of how far you are prepared to look.  Of course, as a rider you cannot control the road users around you.  You can't heal the functionally-blind Prius driver, or sober up the sales rep on his way back from a team-building weekend.  But you can anticipate their presence, and ride accordingly.  In other words, any accident should, in theory, be avoidable by a well-trained, experienced, patient and mature rider.  (I said in theory, and I am making digital contact with many tree-derived objects as I write this.)

And then something like this happens.
At least two people have been killed and another 11 injured after a plane was forced to make an emergency landing in Burma, officials say.
The Air Bagan plane was carrying more than 60 passengers. Two Britons are believed to be among those hurt.
It was on its way from the city of Rangoon to Heho airport in Shan state when it crash-landed about 3km (two miles) from the runway.
Reports say a fire in one of the engines may have caused the accident.
Burmese government officials have confirmed a passenger was found dead inside the plane.
A motorcyclist near Heho airport was also killed when the Fokker jet made its emergency landing in thick fog in a rice field.

What to say?  One minute you are riding along on your 125 beside your family's rice field, and the next minute you are hit by an sodding aircraft.  I am prepared to admit that this is one of those occasions when the rider was simply a helpless victim.

And, without wishing to make light of a sad story, what's the betting his last words were, like so many others have been, "Bloody hell, what's that Fokker doing?"


  1. It's a 50/50 chance the sneaky pilot attacked the biker from behind.

  2. "Part of my personal 'safety training' is to analyse every unforeseen or unexpected event"

    " Too often people refer to an event as an accident, when in fact there is a clear cause."

    Its rare that I would disagree with anything you say Richard, but I must disagree with those two points above, which are linked.

    Firstly, its impossible to analyse *every* unforeseen event - the fact that it is unforseen means that, well, you wouldn't foresee it. In other words, you can't cover *every* base. Whch brings me to the second quote.

    In most, if not all events, there is no single cause. Many factors come together to create the 'accident', even 'luck' or 'fate' if you believe in those things, ie. being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A good example, to demonstrate what I'm talking about would be a death that occured at my works in late 2006.

    A young man who had worked there before came back at the same time as I started there myself. He had just finished a tour of Afghanistan in the army. He had a wife and 2 little girls, aged 3 and 5 I think.

    I worked in the fabrication area, not far from him and it was our second week there, on the night shift. He was tasked with pressure testing fuel tanks, which entailed the fitting of a blanking plate and gasket to block the hole where the fuel level sensor is fitted, block the filler cap and connect an air line at 10psi. He would then paint all the welds with soap solution to find any leaks in the welds.

    This particular night, all we heard was an almighy bang. The blanking plate, which measured roughly 250 x 150 x 8mm, and held on with 10 x 6mm bolts, had blown off, hitting him in the head and killing him instantly. After investigation the firm was fined £400,000 and these are the factors which came together to cause the event:

    He was being supervised, but the guy had gone to the toilet when the event happened.

    The 6mm bolts holding the blanking plate had been in/out so many times that the threads were worn.

    Almost next to the low pressure air line, another line had been installed a week or so earlier. This ran full pressure, around 250psi.

    The new air line had the same connector as the low pressure line. This is the one that he connected up to the tank.

    The way that the tanks were tested, on trestles, meant that the plate was at head height when connecting the air line, so the tester was forced into a particular stance, where the plate could not miss if it blew off.

    He had been told to 'carry on' by the guy supervising, while he took a toilet break.

    Being a night shift there were only the two of them working in that area. The weld bays nearby were almost empty and the robot welder that did the tanks was not operative that night.

  3. Wow, that is so sad. Now we need to be on the look out from the air too?

    We had a local rider killed this summer. A minivan going the opposite direction crossed the center line. The driver of the minivan (no driver's license) was distracted while her husband took pictures of her while she was driving. They were arrested weeks later as they were packing up to flee home to Mexico. They were just sentenced a week or so ago. 3 years probation only and time served in jail (60 days). The judge is letting immigration deal with the rest of it to see if they will be deported or not.

  4. I was told on a Speed Awareness Course (me bad) that insurance companies no longer described most collisions as "accidents" which is perhaps why local papers ludicrously tell of "a collision between an articulated lorry and a pedestrian". It's kinda non-judgmental'

    Only events with no human cause, like a tree falling on your car/bike are "accidents". I expect that "A motorcyclist near Heho airport was also killed when the Fokker jet made its emergency landing in thick fog in a rice field" is covered by this definition.


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