Track Your Time (United Airlines Flight 173)
December 28, 1978. United Airlines Flight 173 takes off on its way to Portland, Oregon USA.
It has an experienced crew.
The captain is Malburn McBroom, aged fifty-two. The first officer, Rodrick Beebe, is forty-eight at the time. Flight engineer Forrest Mendenhall is the youngest of the trio at forty-one years of age.
All is going well. The aircraft approaches the airport at Portland and begins to lower its landing gear.
Suddenly there is a problem.
A shock ripples through the aircraft.
McBroom looks down at his equipment, and does not see an indicator that the landing gear has been lowered and clicked into place. Panic begins to creep-in as the flight crew are forced to circle the airport whilst they investigate the situation.
Landing without landing gear is not ideal after all.
McBroom begins the busy work of dealing with the issue at hand. What is going on?
He begins radioing out for support, trying to get an indication of whether the landing gear is down.
Suddenly there is another problem to contend with . Flight Engineer Mendenhall notices that they are running low on fuel, that they can only circle for so long.
Mendenhall keeps McBroom informed.
United Airlines 173 continues to circle.
The fuel levels drop lower, and lower, and lower.
Mendenhall keeps notifying McBroom, but as the recordings capture, McBroom appears dismissive and overly focused on the landing gear.
He is an experienced pilot, but Mendenhall cannot understand how casual he is about the situation.
Suddenly, it’s too late.
Fuel levels are critical, and McBroom is snapped out of it by the desperate pleas of his crew.
Mayday is declared.
There is now no time to get to a runway.
McBroom does his best to steer the plane towards a clearing.
But the wooded area does contain houses…
Miraculously no one on the ground is killed.
But eight passengers and two crew members are not so lucky.
Among them is Flight Engineer Forrest Mendenhall. It turns out the landing gear had been fine all along.
McBroom survived. The failing of the system at this time, which haunted McBroom for the rest of his life, was the realisation that attention is finite.
When we are engaged in a difficult task, we lose reasonable perception of time.
You’ve noticed it too. The clock is always unkind.
When you’re in the exam the clock is unkind. When you’re running late the clock is unkind.
When the mind is burdened, time runs even faster – like smoke we can’t grasp. If the mind is busy it cannot watch the clock and it cannot watch the fuel gage. When the mind is busy and does not have time to think, whole lives can go by unnoticed… until it’s too late, and you have to crash land.
We so often wake up one day and wonder, how did I get here? Where did all the time go?
Whose life will it be?
You’ve got two choices. The first is to use McBroom’s example as a Slingshot for your own life, to remind yourself of the importance of balancing what you’re doing with managing the clock.
The airline industry used this case as a Slingshot to reform so that the mistakes wouldn’t be repeated. Your life is an airline, so you should do the same.
Option two is that you keep your mind distracted.
One of the biggest and most recent changes I made to daily life was to stop filling every pause or silence in the day with stimulation.
Not to pull my phone or a book out every car trip, seated session on the toilet or five minute waiting period. To allow silence, so that I can listen to my mind.
So the mental inbox can stop piling up and start emptying. So I can get in the helicopter and look down at my own current state. Because if you’re not watching the clock and the fuel gage you might crash and wreck your life.
That’s one thing. But what if the life you wreck is someone else’s?
Your actionable for today.
Where is the time you’ve set aside in your diary to stop and think?
Where is it?
If it is not in your diary somewhere…
Then it will not happen.
The idiot is not the one who makes the mistake.
The idiot is the one who repeats it.
“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
– Dr. Seuss
Who do you think of when you read this? Would this piece ‘open a door’ for someone you know?
Why wouldn’t you share it with them?