Sunday, November 7, 2010

It Was Bound to Happen

By Mark W. Danielson

Recently, a bomb was discovered on a cargo plane bound for Chicago. Whether this bomb was intended to explode en route or at its Jewish destination is a moot point. Either way, this scenario was inevitable.

Many years ago, I wrote about a similar situation in my fictional thriller Danger Within. As a cargo pilot, this story stemmed from my cargo safety concerns following an actual in-flight fire aboard a FedEx DC-10 caused by undeclared hazardous material. Later in my story, a bomb sends another cargo jet into the ocean. And when divers fin their way down to investigate, men die. No one expected it was a time bomb. Danger Within is a wild ride, but also a realistic one. And while cargo screening has improved since this book was published, our system still has holes. No doubt, security authorities are seeking ways to plug them.

But there is another problem associated with this failed bombing. Fear. Of course, fear is to be expected. Who wouldn’t be concerned about falling debris from blown-up airplanes? But the reality is the odds still favor an airplane’s safe arrival over your journey home from the airport. After climbing into your vehicle, you will now face texting drivers, drunk drivers, angry drivers, smoking drivers, drivers applying makeup or shaving, car jacking, and even snipers, and yet we accept these risks without a fleeting thought because we expect auto accidents. Fear is only effective if the outcome was unexpected. The objective of terrorism is for fear to override logic. That’s the terror behind terrorism. I’m not a fatalist, but I do believe that when my time is up, there won’t be a thing I can do about it. I also know that if I truly considered what might be in the 180,000 pounds of cargo I’m supposed to fly back from overseas, I would never climb into the cockpit and start the engines.

Sadly, the people responsible for this latest bomb event “won” even though their bomb never exploded. In fact, because it didn’t explode, this story will receive more attention than it would have had the cargo plane exploded and been lost at sea. The recent UPS Boeing 747 crash in Dubai from an in-flight fire confirmed that killing a couple of cargo pilots was barely newsworthy, and yet the fear of airliners carrying in-flight bombs will last for weeks. Even worse, the government now has to divert millions of dollars earmarked for other projects to further enhance cargo screening.

Writers are influenced by events, but can also influence events. I stopped writing one terrorism book because it contained too much sensitive information, and I don’t need to create scenarios for those willing to harm us. On the other hand, it’s important to keep everything in perspective as we live our lives. We haven’t gone back to the Dark Ages yet. Keeping our eyes open, our heads on a swivel, and our fear in check will ensure we never get there.


Kevin R. Tipple said...

A scenario that many authors have used for decades.

And who could forget all the heat Tom Clancy took for fictionally crashing a plane into Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attack.

Mark W. Danielson said...

I agree it's always been a plausible scenario, Kevin. The only difference btween fiction and reality is I have to fly up to 12 hours without knowing what's in the back of my plane. Embargos have been set against Yemen, but that doesn't prevent explosive devices from being planted in other locations.

As for fiction, no one gets upset about our murder plots until they involve airplane crashes. That immediately gets the TSA and FBI's attention

Morgan Mandel said...

When you're close to the action, that kind of stuff seems more real than fiction. Pilots have tremendous responsibility these days.

Morgan Mandel

Mark Troy said...

We won the lottery with this incident and a few others this year. We won't always be so lucky. If our army is always fighting the last war, our homeland security seems to be guarding against the last terrorist threat.

With regard to artists influencing events, Trevanian once regretted providing so much detail about art theft in The Loo Sanction because it spawned a copy-cat art theft.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Good advice, Mark. I read your chilling book, Danger Within, and not only enjoyed it, I have a greater respect for airline pilots, especially those carrying potentially dangerous cargos.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Heard an airport security policeman talk about how lax everything is behind the scenes: where deliveries are made, etc. Scary stuff. Good blog.


Mark W. Danielson said...

Thanks, all. The FBI and TSA are doing a good job in protecting this country, but as long as people make up organizations, there is always room for error and oversight. Copy cat scenarios are always a concern -- especially if they involve aircraft.

Not long ago, a person shipped himself home in a cargo box and nearly got away with it -- until the courier saw eyes staring up at him. Every cargo pilot is acutely aware of the Trojan Horse scenario are are prepared to face that threat. Unfortunately, we can do less about an in-flight explosive devise we know nothing about.