Instructor Gets A YouTube Code Red

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Cable television being the reiterative swamp that it is, you can count on some things being more or less evergreen. One of these is the 1992 classic, A Few Good Men. And yes, that was 26 years ago. When it scrolls by on the guide, I never fail to watch it. A good night is when I catch it just as Jack Nicholson’s Col. Jessup is taking the stand and about to make cinematic history with a lecture about truth.

One minor but important MacGuffin element is when actor Noah Wyle takes the stand to explain why his fire team beat the crap out of him for dropping his weapon for lack of using rosin to counter his sweaty palms. The salient point being that seemingly minor mistakes like that can prove fatal. The beating—the vaporous Code Red—reinforces the need for discipline and focus in high-risk situations. 

Hold that thought while I plow on here.

Last weekend, a dramatic video went viral showing a man taking a hang glider ride in Switzerland. Alongside the instructor, he leaps off a steep slope attached to the machine only by his left hand; the instructor neglected to clip in his harness. The video shows the passenger, Chris Gursky, clinging to the glider’s control bar and grasping desperately at the instructor’s pants. The harrowing flight lasts about three minutes and ends with a fast, hard landing that hurt Gursky seriously enough to require surgery and orthopedic hardware for a wrist injury.

Coincidentally, Gursky lives locally, so the papers here predictably interviewed him for stories. I found his “live your life” attitude refreshingly unusual for people not accustomed to high-risk sports. Understandably, many people would shiver and say never again. He appears philosophical about the experience.

But he was far more generous toward the instructor than I ever would have been. I’m not a person given to unrestrained physical violence, but I’m not so sure a Code Red moment wouldn’t have been justified. I’m all for polite behavior and dispassionate analysis and all, but there are limits.

For those of us who make risk decisions on behalf of others—and that’s chiefly strapping passengers or students into airplanes—this incident serves as a sort of brief safety stand down. Which is to say don’t get complacent about the cabin safety briefing, the seatbelt check and whatever tricks you use to review your risk matrix before the wheels leave terra firma. This instructor clearly did not do that and it wasn’t just a minor oversight that anyone could make. It’s as basic as gravity.

My perspective on this is informed by hundreds—more like thousands—of rides to altitude sitting next to tandem masters strapping another human to themselves for a skydive. Some are more disciplined about the procedure than others, but considering the enormity of the potential risk, the need for unrelenting care has rubbed off on me and carries over into other physical risk assessments I find myself making.

Everyone has their own tricks for answering the question: Am I ready to do this? Mine is to simply pause and ask myself what I might be forgetting. Obsessively checking handles multiple times—when one will do—is a symptom of this. So is triple checking that the switch is off before propping the Cub on the prime stroke.

Resisting the natural urge to rush things is another because getting in a hurry almost guarantees something will be overlooked, especially on preflights. Another fetish of mine is to discourage yelling in an airplane. It connotes panic and shatters concentration. The pushback has proven futile, I’m afraid, but I keep trying.

Once safely on the ground, however, a well-placed verbal burn is fair game if doing so keeps the target from dropping a weapon or forgetting to strap a passenger to the glider. All things in moderation, I always say, including restraint. Gursky’s YouTube video was published, then removed, but now it’s out there in the wild. Maybe the global beat down that resulted is a Code Red for the multi-media age and not a bad thing.