Friday, June 5, 2009

Air France Tragedy and Fernando de Naronha

Fernando and Me

This tragedy really struck both my wife and I on a personal level. While the rest of the world is unfamiliar with the area off of the coast of Brazil where this plane disappeared, we remember it fondly as the place where we spent the first week of our honeymoon in July of 2005. The island of Fernando de Naronha (pronounce naron-ya) is an amazing place, often referred to as the Galapagos of the Atlantic.

The Middle of Nowhere

This is an island that is so remote, that it's meager population of a few hundred are the only inhabitants of it's entire time zone, making it the least populated time zone on the entire planet. From that description, and the picture above, you can see why it was such an attraction to us as a honeymoon destination.

The island is incredibly well known throughout Brazil, yet very few Brazilians have ever visited there. It is expensive, by Brazilian standards, and as a National Park the number of visitors is tightly restricted. Very few people outside of Brazil have heard of Fernando, and at the time, it was extremely hard to get there. From Denver, we flew via Miami, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Recife, and finally to the island of Fernando. Five flights traveling a great deal out of our way were required since at that time, there was no service from the United States to northern Brazil. Today, Delta and American Airlines serves Natal and Recife from Atlanta and Miami, which are both much more direct routes to the island.

The island is only a few miles across, just large enough for a tiny commercial airport in it's interior. It receives only two flights a day, and it's "terminal" is about the size of a small cafe. Nevertheless, it is easy to see how any distressed pilot in the central Atlantic would immediately turn towards Fernando in the event of an emergency, as there is nothing else out there for hundreds of miles between South America, Africa, and Europe.


It is said that there is no such thing as bad publicity, and in the wake of the Air France 447 disaster, billions of people know of Fernando de Naronha who would have never known of it's existence. If .0001% of them ever visit there, it will be a major influx of people.

This New York Times article explains some of the islands history, and references the fact that the paper hasn't written an article about it in nearly 20 years.


What brought the plane down? For some informed information, I would refer your to the website of pilot and former CNN correspondent Miles O'Brien. Now that Miles is no longer with CNN, I believe they now cover aviation stories with whoever on their staff happens to have the most frequent flier miles at the time.

Here is an interesting article about the chances of a meteorite hitting an airplane. Of course, who is to say that a small meteorite would be instantly disastrous?

I personally am leaning towards some kind of turbulence induced structural failure, like American Airlines 587.


This kind of accident scares us in part, because there is not yet a known cause. It has been so long since a large jetliner was lost without survivors, the scope of the tragedy seems to have receded from our memory. The last major aviation disaster was actually the aforementioned American Airlines 587 that crashed in November of 2001. This article about the people who accidentally missed boarding that flight shows the random forces that continues to choose between life and death in our modern world.

Few things bother me quite as much as when people say "Everything happens for a reason". It doesn't. There is no reason some people made that flight, and others didn't. When the people who skipped work at the twin towers on 9/11 started saying nonsense like, "I think god wanted me to live", what did those statements imply for the thousands who did show up for work that day?

It is scary to live in a world where the most casual of decisions can ultimately determine life or death. The upside of this realization is that it reminds us to live life to it's greatest extent. That was our motivation for taking three weeks off of work in July of 2005 to visit Brazil, and explore paradise in the Central Atlantic.

No comments: