When I first learned about the crash of Germanwings Fight 9525, I was doing Internet research on my computer. As a freelance journalist, a lot of my time is devoted to thinking of story ideas and then investigating the viability of them. On the day of the tragedy, I happened to be on Reuters’ website, investigating this idea or the other, when I saw the breaking-news banner: “Germanwings plane crashes in the Alps; all 150 on board feared dead.”
I couldn’t believe it. German airplanes don’t crash. Germans have a sterling reputation as aviators. I quickly clicked on the story and, like so many other people, I couldn’t believe it.
But then thoughts started spinning around in my head: I know a little bit about the airline industry in Germany….I know a little bit about the airline industry in general….I even have some contacts who can help me. I can write a story.
I was even more encouraged to write a story when I looked in my inbox the next day and saw an email from Chris Mele, my former editor and the former editor of the Pocono Record:
I told Mele that I was going to. And I had my angle, too: “Will this accident negatively affect the otherwise sterling reputation of Lufthansa, the parent company of Germanwings. If so, how?”
I spent the next 24 hours doing interviews with people in the airline industry as well as regular passengers. I did about 15 interviews in total. Then, on Thursday of that week, just a few hours before I was to write the story, I saw this on my phone:
I knew my story was gone. I had interviewed people with the idea that the crash was an accident. But this news that broke on Thursday was so devastating, so radical, that it just blew the premise of the story I had been pursuing out of the water, and I simply did not have the time to go back and do a full redo.
Still, all wasn’t lost. That weekend, I headed over to my personal blog and I wrote an essay of sorts about how the tragedy affected me personally — because it really did have a big effect on me, probably because I now live in Germany and can better identify with Germans.
In any event, below is what I wrote on my personal blog. Keep in mind, the piece isn’t news. But it does elaborately venture into how the tragedy psychologically affected me. Please have a read.
A JOURNALISM PROFESSOR of mine once said that he thought that similes and metaphors were proof that words fail. What he meant was, that we sometimes have to employ a simile or a metaphor to convey meaning is proof that a single word does not exist for the thing we are trying to express.
I must say that words certainly do fail when considering the crash of Germanwings 9525.
I have been keeping up with the crash, and must say that any time I’ve discussed it or thought about it, language really has fallen short. Not only are words missing to describe the horror that was that flight, similes and metaphors don’t seem to do it justice either.
In fact, one of the only ways, if not the only way, I have been able to process the incident has been by comparing it to things that have happened in the realm of fiction.
For example, when I first heard that the co-pilot of the plane, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and then steered the aircraft and all the people in it into a mountain, one of the first things that came to my mind was Freddy Krueger. In “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2,” the movie opens with students on a yellow school bus being dropped off from school. It’s a cheery, cloudless day and the students are all horsing around in their seats as the bus rolls through a leafy suburban neighborhood.
Then, a few of the students — the ones who are to be dropped off last — notice that the bus driver has passed their stops. Suddenly, the bus takes a sharp turn off the main drag and heads into what looks like an open, desert-like area. The bus is being driven wildly, and the sky, which had been cloudless, quickly turns to black.
Finally, the bus stops. The students pound at the windows, trying to get out. As they do this, though, they see that the sand all around the bus is starting to drop out, almost as if a sinkhole were opening around them. Before they know it, the ground around the bus has completely dropped out and the vehicle is teetering treacherously at the top of what looks a 200-foot-tall stalagmite. It is then that they see who was driving the bus all along: Freddy Krueger.
As the teens cower by the emergency exit at the back of the bus, Freddy slowly gets out of the driver’s seat. Laughing, he brandishes his glove and begins to walk to the back of the bus. As he makes his way down the aisle, he scrapes the blades of his glove against the metal ceiling. The teens are trapped and Freddy is coming for them….
THE SECOND FICTIONAL sequence that came to my mind when I read about Flight 9525, especially when I read that the captain of the plane pleaded with Lubitz to be let back in, was a sequence from Edgar Allen Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”
The story, which takes place during carnival season in an unnamed Italian city, perhaps Venice, opens with one character, Montresor, leading his “friend,” Fortunato, into a crypt under the city.
Fortunato is a wine lover and Montresor has promised to take him to a secret cask of rare Amontillado, which is stored underground in the city’s catacombs.
Once the two men reach the bowels of the catacombs, Montresor, who has an unnamed grievance with Fortunato, tells Fortunato, who is already a little drunk, to go look inside a niche in the crypt wall. That’s where the wine is, Montresor promises. When Fortunato walks into the niche, Montresor quickly shackles him to two thick metal staples protruding from a wall inside the space. Fortunato is trapped. Montresor then begins to carefully brick up the hole through which Fortunato entered.
Montresor is flabbergasted. At first, he doesn’t even understand what has happened to him. But as reality sets in, he frantically tries to reverse the situation any way he can: he begs, he pleads, he threatens.
Finally, after letting out something akin to an animal-like scream, Fortunato says, “For the love of God, Montresor!”
The transcript of Flight 9525′s inflight blackbox recording has not been officially released. But it has been reported that Lubitz, though he could still be heard breathing, never responded to the captain’s pleas.
However, in “The Cask of Amontillado,” Montresor does respond to Fortunato’s final plea.
“Yes,” he mockingly says, “for the love of God.”