Flight Ends Well

I’ve never heard of it happening before on a commercial flight, though I may have missed mention of such or am now forgetting. But the news today is stunning. Continental Flight 61 landed safely in Newark, despite the fact that the pilot had died en route from Belgium on a trans-Atlantic junket.

Perhaps in the attempt to sensationalize, news broadcasts have been repeating one other fact in connection with this flight: “passengers report that they had no idea the pilot had died.” Are we supposed to be surprised? I’m surprised if that what’s the media think.

I’m so surprised, in fact, that it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some listeners think they must have heard “co-pilots report that they had no idea that the pilot had died.”

That would be newsworthy. But if it’s what you think, don’t say you heard it here.

* * *

Footnote:

It has also been reported that “the crew gave no indication that the pilot was ill or had died.” Certainly, if the crew did not know of the pilot’s death, this would explain why they gave no indication of it. But that would leave certain other things unexplained, like the safe landing of the plane at Newark.

Another Footnote:

The same ABC news article, authored by a team of two journalists, also includes this remarkable statement:

The pilot . . . died of apparent natural casues.

I don’t know how that happens. I understand the concept of dying from natural causes. But the article says the captain died of apparent natural causes. Does anyone else think that sounds metaphysically bizarre? I should think that if it’s soon determined that the pilot died of actual natural causes, then it will be false, if it means anything, that he died of apparent natural causes. There must be some distinction between natural causes and apparent natural causes that makes it impossible to die from both.

You may be thinking, “But what the journalists meant was that the pilot, apparently, died of natural causes.” But this would be ambiguous. Would it mean more precisely that apparently he died of natural causes (i.e., it appears that he died of natural causes)? Or would it mean that he died of natural causes in an apparent manner?

OK, we should probably infer that the first of the last two options is what the journalists meant by what they actually wrote. But what explains how ABC journalists or in-house editors could make such a simple grammatical mistake?

Simple error? Don’t be too sure. It is the media, after all.

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About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

One Response to Flight Ends Well

  1. The natural way to parse the grammar of “he died of apparent natural causes” would be to take it as parallel to “he died of hidden natural causes”. Thus, he died of causes that were both natural and apparent, instead of dying of causes that were non-natural and apparent, or non-natural and hidden, or natural and hidden.

    Apparently, the natural way to parse the grammar isn’t right. 🙂

    Like

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