What Would I Do?

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If I were suddenly faced with a dire situation, I’ve always hoped that I’d have the courage to respond and try my best to help. That’s been a constant.

It’s my tool kit that’s changed.

A few weeks ago, I read about Darren Harrison.

He was traveling on a Cessna 208 Caravan, a plane that can accommodate up to 13 passengers, although on this particular trip, there were only two. It was piloted by an experienced aviator.

The trip was uneventful. While relaxing barefoot in mid-flight, he was thinking about what life was going to be like in just a few short months. He and his wife were expecting their first child. The plane would be landing soon, and he was looking forward to seeing her and being back at home.

It was at this point during the flight that the pilot became ill. He tried to tell the passengers that he did not feel well, but he passed out before he could finish the sentence.

The Cessna was now careening through the sky with no one at the controls.

The likely scenario was a fatal crash landing. Darren was terrified, but managed to lift the unconscious pilot from his seat. He then sat down in front of the controls, and assumed the responsibility of flying a runaway plane.

His aviation qualifications? Darren sells flooring for a living.

He has thousands of hours logged… behind a desk at an interior design company.

Darren was somehow able to figure out how to use the radio and establish communications with an air traffic controller. He listened carefully, executing each of the specific instructions as they crackled over the headset.

He landed the plane. And considering the circumstances, he did so with admirable skill: there was no hard bounce, no run-away skid upon touchdown. He had saved his own life, as well as that of the second passenger and fallen pilot, who subsequently made it to a hospital in time for treatment.

I was pretty calm and collected the whole time because I knew it was a life or death situation. Either you do what you have to do to control the situation or you’re gonna die.

Darren Harrison

Well, to say the very least: “good on him.” That’s the kind of person that I hope that I would be in such circumstances. But, let’s be honest: As you’ve likely heard many times throughout your life, it’s hard to know exactly what you would do in a moment of crisis. And I get it: The theory of the bystander effect is real. I really hope that, despite all the best of intentions, I would never succumb to being a victim of it.

So I guess that’s why whenever there’s a news item about an average Jane or Joe figuring stuff out, and helping to mitigate a terrible situation, I find myself “rehearsing.” I practice in my head. I conduct a personal thought experiment, and in the requisite voice, imagine that John Quiñones is standing before me, asking, “What Would You Do?”

It’s actually an important thing to try and know about yourself: “Would I have what it takes to craft a logical and cogent plan while under duress?

In a perfect world:

I would like to think that I would have been as calm and focused as Darren was, and not overthink things. But what if it instead went more like this?

I’d really hate for it to be like that. I want to believe that I would give it my all. And I’ve always felt the same way.

But over the past few years, there’s been a subtle shift. I think my approach might be changing.

Would I try to find someone inside a burning house, like this guy?

A younger me, (in way better-shape) would say:

• I’ll be quick. I’ll get in, grab anyone inside, and get out.

Older me:

• I will think logically and break this down as separate actions.
• I will find something to douse in water, such as a towel, and wrap it around me for protection.
• I will stay down and crawl on the floor, to increase visibility and avoid as much smoke as possible.
• I will seek closets and other such places where someone might be located and hiding out of fear.
• I will call out every second, in a strong and clear voice, to let them know that help is here.

So, what is the difference between the two ways of looking at the problem? I suppose it’s a simple as getting older. Knowing that you need to compensate for diminished abilities by trying to improve some of your other, more accessible attributes.

Applying your life experiences, both the successes – and the hard fails – to the task at hand.

To be able to use whatever wisdom, (if any), that you have been lucky enough to collect and store for future use, during your many sols on this good green earth.

And on a slightly ageist and darker note: I’ve had a pretty good time at the dance. If it came down to it, I’d take a hit if it meant giving someone younger a fair shot at having as much fun in life as I’ve been fortunate to have.

None of this daydreaming is about wanting to be labeled a “hero” of any sort. I admired how the guy who saved the elderly man in the above video was quiet, almost embarrassed about it. In any of my “mt-saves-the-day” fantasies, I do what I can, and get out of Dodge, pronto. Anonymity would be a perfect way to end the story.

I came, I saw, I helped. Then I shut up and got out of the way.

News crews, YouTube archives, and a spot with Savannah and Hoda not withstanding, here’s a favorite quote:

True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost. 

Arthur Ashe

I am certain that there are about three billion people on this earth who would be more physically and mentally proficient at helping others in an emergency situation. For that reason, I hope that it’s not me who “gets the call.” I hope that I’m not the one to witness a rapidly sinking car in a lake, or see a random and senseless act of public violence where people are in terrible trouble, and need a Good Samaritan.

But I hope even more – and promise – that if I should be called upon to be their Darren Harrison, that I’ll step up.

If not possessing my formerly youthful upper body strength: would that I’ll at least have the wits, focus and clarity to help out in the best possible way that I can.

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Your grateful host. Good on you all.

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Virgindog
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Virgindog
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July 13, 2022 4:14 pm

Well thought out and well written. Heroic in its own right. You’re on my short list of all the completely unqualified people I want with me when the pilot chose the fish for dinner.

Dance Fever
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July 13, 2022 7:49 pm
Reply to  Virgindog

“Surely, you don’t mean that!” “Yes, I do and don’t call me surely!” Sorry, couldn’t resist.
A well done essay,mt58.
Probably the best way to put it is youth acts on reaction while older people act on experience.
Not to say I’ve ever been a plane when the pilot passes out but after many years and miles of riding on busses to and from sporting events, I’ve worked on what to do if the bus driver ever passed out.

cstolliver
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July 13, 2022 7:58 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

Not to be morbid, but I bet any of us in education have applied this to the scenario of a shooter within the building. We have drills annually, and yet, I’m not 100% sure what I would do in the moment. (I’m sure the first thing would be pray. The question is the next several things.)

Thanks for the opportunity to ponder, mt.

cappiethedog
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July 13, 2022 8:45 pm
Reply to  cstolliver

I had a boss who believed that teachers should be armed. I wish I could say I quit on principle. I have a degree that permits me to teach(but I have major problems with public speaking), so I was offended. You’re basically sentencing the teacher to death. A teacher’s job is to get the children out of the building, or hide them. I’d like to think I would have the character to stick around and assist. But I really can’t know for sure how I’d react.

Phylum of Alexandria
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July 13, 2022 9:30 pm
Reply to  cappiethedog

The Uvalde tragedy showed just how helpful it was to have armed security forces and police there.In other words, not at all. When the assailant has a semi-automatic weapon, it’s all rendered moot.
(Actually, the increased militarization of police arguably makes them less willing to jump in unless all possible protection is available, but that’s a separate matter).

Great write-up mt. I often have these what-if scenarios pop up in my head, which either means that I’m obsessive and a little paranoid, but also proactive! Is that “pro-noid?”

thegue
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thegue
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July 14, 2022 10:49 am

Years ago I shared a detailed list of all the situations where it would NOT be useful for Mrs. Othmar to be packing.

Needless to say, the list was extensive, and completely outweighed the “good guy with a gun” argument.

Or, as Mrs. Othmar would say, “Wa waa wa wah.”

https://youtu.be/CxC_AjFxS68

Last edited 2 years ago by thegue
Logan Taylor
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July 14, 2022 3:37 pm
Reply to  thegue

Mrs. Othmar! Oh, I knew I loved this place!

thegue
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thegue
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July 14, 2022 10:46 am
Reply to  DanceFever

Yes, but what will you do when the bus can’t go below 50 miles per hour??!!

Dance Fever
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July 14, 2022 12:34 pm
Reply to  thegue

Hopefully, Sandra Bullock is on board and she can drive!

Logan Taylor
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July 14, 2022 3:42 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

I think I’ve determined, knowing myself pretty well, I would start guilt tripping to the point that I couldn’t just walk away. May be a short trip since I might only seconds to react. After that, I don’t know if “calm” is in the cards. My starting hope is simply that I have the selflessness to jump into the fire.

cappiethedog
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July 14, 2022 9:04 pm
Reply to  DanceFever

Airport ’75 would have been so much better if the stewardess landed the plane. I was surprised. I didn’t know Karen Black was just warming the seat until they could get a guy to take over.

JJ Live At Leeds
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July 14, 2022 11:50 am

Way to go Darren!

I’ve been in a couple of situations where my personal safety and that of another was threatened and surprised myself at how calm I was and acted on instinct. It was nothing particularly heroic but not devolving into a state of complete panic was pleasing on a personal level. They were 15 years ago. Would older me act differently? Hopefully I’ll never find out

I reckon the bystander effect would definitely apply though. In the same situation as Darren where you basically have no choice but to do something or you’re almost certainly going to die I hope I’d take positive action. If it was a 747 full of passengers I’d probably sit and hope that someone else gave it a go. Regardless of whether they’re a more appropriate candidate to save us all.

Is the reaction different when its strangers or family that are in peril? I would imagine more people will act on instinct and run into that burning building for a family member than a stranger.

dutchg8r
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July 16, 2022 12:11 pm

I have no doubt the Darren Harrison scenario will become a mandatory training situation for all future air traffic controllers!!

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