My partner and I watched the Wednesday morning news in horror as a witness detailed the death of a fellow airline passenger. Jennifer Riordan was killed when one engine of a Southwest Airlines plane came apart and broke a window on the fuselage. Riordan was violently sucked against the window and had to be pulled back in by other passengers.
The scene is nightmarish to imagine and unbelievably cruel to those who were directly affected. It is so terrifying and unfair, in fact, that it nearly immediately forces each of us to consider the exact same question: Could it have been avoided?
Absolutely. There are things that could have been done differently that would have changed the course of events and kept this incident from occurring. For the sake of the hypothetical point, the easiest alternative to consider is that the entire engine, or even just the fan blade that eventually failed, could have been replaced prior to the flight.
It is possible, then, that something could have been done to avoid this terrible tragedy. The waters begin to muddy however, when we blur the lines between the concepts of “could” and “should”. Due to the extremely unpleasant nature of the situation, it is both easy and tempting to misconstrue the two concepts as being inextricably linked. In other words, it’s natural for us to want to believe that if the accident could have been avoided, it then should have been.
On the surface, it may seem ridiculous to even entertain otherwise. A woman, (who was, by all accounts, pretty amazing) lost her life. Her family and friends, I’m sure, are devastated. Her fellow passengers are mortified and some will probably be negatively affected for life. Given the ability to make such a determination, any sane person would choose that this had never happened and would never happen again.
It is from this emotional position that we then normally proceed with the assumption that such an incident not only could have been avoided, but also should have been avoided.