Borrowed from Workboat magazine.
USCG, listen up! Mark these words without modification of regs this WILL surely happen.
Contact Luke Harden
Does the name Al Haynes sound familiar? How about Chesley Sullenberger? Both men were veteran passenger airline captains who were in command of flights that went notoriously awry but ended at least relatively well. Capt. Haynes of United Airlines Flight 232 and Capt. Sullenberger of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 are living legends in the aviation world.
These pilots had some things in common. Both were Texans and former military pilots. And they were not young when they had their moment in the spotlight. They were both 57 years old, and had thousands of flight hours under their belts when fate threw them a curve. Both men hit home runs.
In 1989, Capt. Haynes calmly led a cockpit team that was able to maintain control of a DC-10 that had lost all hydraulics after blowing an engine. It was essentially a plane that could not be flown, but Haynes was able to land it in Sioux City, Iowa, in a semi-controlled fashion, saving the lives of two thirds of the passengers. At the time of the accident he had been flying for United for 33 years.
In January 2009, Capt. Sullenberger and crew pulled off an equally amazing feat of airmanship when Sullenberger was able to ditch the fully-laden 81-ton jet into the Hudson River after losing both engines to bird strikes shortly after take off. There were no fatalities. Sullenberger had been flying commercially for 29 years at that point — logging over 19,000 flight hours.
On the other hand, Colgan Air Flight 3407, which crashed outside of Buffalo in snowy weather in February 2009, killing all 49 aboard plus one person in the house they landed on, was flown by crew that was either inexperienced, very young, or both. Nothing was wrong with their plane at all: they just lost control of it, then stalled it, and that was that. The NTSB cited pilot error as one of the chief causes.
It is hard to imagine either Haynes or Sullenberger making the same errors, and that’s exactly why you want old “silverbacks” like them around. They can provide guidance, and relay their experiences and wisdom to younger and less experienced pilots. Being inexperienced isn’t a sin, but it is also unavoidable. To mitigate the risks of inexperienced personnel getting in over their heads, you want to offset it with the presence of someone who has been there and done that.
In the workboat industry, the Coast Guard would do well to heed the words of barge company owner Walter Blessey, who understands very well what is at stake as the Coast Guard cracks down hard on its mariner medical standards. He is right on target when he says, “We feel that there will be more casualties as a result of inexperience rather than having slightly less rigid medical standards.”
National Mariners Association has been pounding away for years on this issue while the Coast Guard has basically ignored him. [His report](http://www.nationalmariners.org/reseachreports/adobe/rdocuments/rdocuments/R-415-B Rev. 1.pdf) should be required reading for all mariners.
Throwing older and more experienced captains, mates, pilots and engineers under the bus whenever a shred of medical doubt about their fitness for duty surfaces will unlikely result in an improvement in marine safety. Instead, it will more likely deprive the industry of an irreplaceable and valuable store of knowledge and result in more casualties where inexperience is cited as the primary cause.