Accident Chained

The news media are full of reports of how British Petroleum ran its deep sea drilling operations with a paltry safety budget;  tolerated various problems with the Deepwater Horizon drilling operation, including  the blowout preventer not being in top condition;  and even attracted the attention of U.S. lawmakers who tried to get the Minerals Management Service to take a hard look at the operation – back in February.

The aviation community knows that most bad accidents  do not happen with no warning.  Instead they are the dismal end of a chain of lesser things gone wrong:  the accident chain.  It can include worsening weather, a minor mechanical problem, a pilot having a head cold, even a pilot’s persistent intuition that something isn’t right.  Smart pilots look out for accident chains.  After one thing goes wrong they get very alert.  After the second thing goes wrong, they stop the chain, e.g., by scrubbing the flight that day or if already up in the air making a beeline for the nearest airport.  Many a life and airplane has been saved when a pilot recognized an accident chain in progress.

For the classic  example of an accident chain allowed to run to its catastrophic conclusion, see the Titanic. And now Deepwater Horizon.  Evidently that rig had an accident chain  rivaling the one in Dickens’  Christmas Carol, the chain carried by Marley’s Ghost!

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