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  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: March 2012

9 - ‘Remember Me’

from Part Three - Matter, Mind, Psyche

Summary

Captain: [To crew] Pull the power back. That's right. Pull the left one [throttle] back.

Copilot: Pull the left one back.

Approach: At the end of the runway it's just wide-open field.

Cockpit Unidentified Voice: Left throttle, left, left, left, left…

Cockpit Unidentified Voice: God!

Cabin: [Sound of impact]

– Cockpit Voice Recording, United Flight 232, 19 July 1989

Modern aviation has given us the purgatorial technology of the CVR or cockpit voice recording, the so called ‘black box’ that captures instrument information and audio from the cockpit in the last moments of a disaster. In the case of United Flight 232, whose final moments in flight are recorded above, the pilots managed to land their plane in Sioux City Iowa after three hydraulic systems failed simultaneously at 33,000 feet. Just after the first impact is heard – the left wing of the DC-10 clipped the landing strip before the tail end of the aircraft tore away from the cabin – flight 232 flipped upside down and crashed in a corn field near the airstrip. All three pilots survived, but in the end, 110 people were killed in the incident.

The mere existence of such recordings is unnerving. On some of them, pilots call out people's names before the audio cuts off, knowing their voices will be played to loved ones after they are dead. The men and women whose voices are captured on these tapes are mindful of the fact that, even as calamity unspools, whatever they say will survive them.