Flavin's Corner
11-26-99

Martha's Triangle

     217 lives were lost when EgyptAir Flight 990 went down.  Controversy has
surrounded the various unofficial translations of the tape from the cockpit
voice-recorder which were leaked to the media.  These "translations" seem to
indicate an intential crash caused by a relief-pilot and somewhat agree with the
plane's behaviour as shown on the flight data-recorder.  The Egyptian
government has responded with criticism that these conclusions are premature
and insensitive.  America isn't worried about manners in the least, however, as
the EgyptAir disaster joins the recent unsolved crashes of JFK Jr. and TWA
Flight 800 in the narrow area some call "Martha's Triangle."*  Rather than honor
the deceased with quiet dignity or concentrate on flight safety issues, many
would rather discuss acts of terrorism, "friendly fire," assasinations, or aliens.
We're losing touch...

     On Jan. 28, 1986 the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, killing seven.  I was
in Chicago, knew a couple of guys who made a living making esoteric hand
gestures at the Mercantile Exchange, and was shocked that within a few hours
of the disaster, sick jokes about Christa McAuliffe were being circulated through
a telephone network of stock-market workers around the country.  The
subsequent 'o-ring' theory by physicist, Richard Feynman, soothed America's
immediate need for answers, but later proved to be a mere preview of NASA's
pattern of cost-cutting, public relations anxiety, and intellectual (read: scientific)
dishonesty which ultimately cost brave men and women their lives.  The tragedy
of Challenger allowed inappropriate humor, inspired engineering genius, and
revealed human error and arrogance.  I'm still ashamed that I repeated some of
those Christa jokes.

     I wouldn't be entirely wrong to characterize Americans as damaged goods.
This week we learned of still more Kennedy assassination trivia (involving a tape
of a call to the Soviet Embassy in Mexico in which the caller falsely claimed to
be Oswald), which will indulge the cravings of conspiracy theorists, despite
professionals' call for moderation.  We're still confused and divided by O.J. and
Jon Benet Ramsey...  Recent air disasters have somehow switched from being
unsolved or a "mystery," to being under-investigated and "mysterious."  We've
been hurt and our behavior indicates we're not healing.

     The crash of TWA Flight 800 into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Long
Island was (according to witnesses) spectacular, and (according to the friends
and family of the passengers and crew aboard) ...devastating.  230 people lost
their lives in that crash, on July 17, 1996.  It's been over three years and the
whispers and rumors about a missile bringing down TWA Flight 800 haven't
abated.  The evidence?  Well, overlooking the sad Pierre Salinger affair, many
still insist on the missile theory ... because some witnesses described a flash of
light before TWA Flight 800 exploded in mid-air, and the F.B.I. has continued
to act creepy and therefore must be guilty of a government cover-up.  It's a
circuitous, self-serving logic:  the American government has lied before, the
American government is lying about TWA Flight 800.  I love/hate mysteries as
much as anyone else, but there comes a time when it's okay to say: "I don't know
the answer!"  Letting go is a very difficult thing to do...

    When the plane carrying John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law,
went down off of Martha's Vineyard the evening of July 16, 1999, most
lamented, "Oh no, not again!"  The saga of the Kennedy family, is an unrivaled
American tale of successes and tragedies.  JFK Jr. endured the public eye as he
struggled to pass the bar exam, giggled over People's designation as "The
Sexiest Man Alive," found an unexplored part of himself with his magazine,
George, married a great gal, and lived an unpretentious (for a Kennedy) life.  In
death he's defenseless...    The rumors that he was murdered were, sadly, to be
expected, but the recent allegations by the New York Post that he and his wife
hadn't had sex for 18 months and were planning to divorce is just pathetic.  I
doubt some will ever let him rest in peace.

     Some of the bizarre scenarios advanced about these crashes are tantamount
to gossip, but most may be regarded as culture jamming.  Much like folks spread
rumor and innuendo to exercise real or imagined power over a victim, the claims
of missiles, conspiracies, and aliens, are desperate attempts to manipulate reality,
much like a Faustian Republican or a spoiled child whining for attention.  Those
who spread tales of cover-ups may sometimes believe their own theories are a
contribution to contemporary history, but chances are ...they've another agenda.
There are genuine  pranksters among us, though there's nothing funny about
airplane crashes.  It's got to be about money...

     A media-industry was created with the publication of "The Deadly Bermuda
Triangle," by Vincent Gaddis, Argosy, February 1964.  The next year Gaddis
expanded his material with Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea
(Chilton, 1965).  At various times since Gaddis coined the phrase, "Bermuda
Triangle," this swatch of ocean between Miami, San Juan, and Bermuda, has
been claimed to be an interdimensional portal, the remains of Atlantis, suffering
from oceanic flatulence, among many other fantastic things.  The Dept. of the
Navy doesn't officially recognize the "Bermuda Triangle," though they do
maintain a webpage about it, which basically says that the real mystery is that
people believe in such a thing!  P.T. Barnum was a wise man...

     Could there be a curse involved with Martha's Triangle?  Perhaps from the
unfortunate shipwreck which took the life of Joel Iacoomes, just before he was
to share the distinction with Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck of becoming the first
Native Americans to graduate from Harvard University?  Maybe these recent air
disasters are ... oh, forget it!  The so-called "Bermuda Triangle" is one of the
busiest air and shipping areas in the world and what's remarkable is that there
aren't more tragedies.  Ditto for the area around Long Island and Martha's
Vineyard--it's to the credit of trained pilots and air-traffic controllers that more
accidents don't happen.  Flying is still statistically safer than driving a car...

     The "mystery" of EgyptAir Flight 990 may one day be solved, or it may not.
I hope our government recovers the plane, the deceased, and that the
insensitivity shown the Egyptian people is acknowledged.  I thought we learned
something from the Richard Jewel fiasco...

*I ran a Deja News search for "Martha's Triangle" and a Collette used this
expression on Oct. 31, 1999, after the crash of EgyptAir Flight 990.

hoping the skies stay friendly,
Rick

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