Wednesday, May 16, 2007


Wikipedia is a dangerous thing to a bored man. Now tell me, how many of you have wikied your birthday to see it's significance in history? I have. And I'm not best pleased.

Although on May 25th 1521 it saw the end to the diet of worms, it was pretty much downhill from there.

In 1865 - In Mobile, Alabama, 300 are killed when an ordnance depot explodes.
We lose Ireland in 1914 - The United Kingdom's passes Home Rule Act for devolution in Ireland. But they can have it for all I care. I'm really more concerned about the following:

1979 - American Airlines Flight 191: In Chicago, a DC-10 crashes during takeoff at O'Hare International Airport killing 271 on board and two people on the ground. This was the day I was born remember.
2002 - China Airlines Flight 611: A Boeing 747-200 breaks apart in mid-air and plunges into the Taiwan Strait killing 225 people.

So that's over 500 people dead, on my birthday, from flying. Now I don't particularly like flying that much, even though I partake in it quite frequently, but mostly that's not of my choosing. That's why I would advocate getting trains wherever possible - and it's also good for the environment (smugness) and much more enjoyable (just ask someone whose flown to Paris vs someone who got the Eurostar). And I know people will spit back statistics about numbers of deaths on road or rail travel but frankly that doesn't phase me. I'm happy to go when my time is up. I just don't want to know about it in advance, even by a few minutes.

So I've found my own method of dealing with flying - a couple of strong drinks beforehand - not to get paralytic or anything silly, just to forget the risk and enjoy the scenery, and it can be spectacular. I used to feel guilty about this, that somehow I was too weak for taking this easy way out, but fact is, everyone has their own ways of dealing with what they perceive as a danger or threat.

I guess I had it put into perspective by my previous managing director (really missing him these days!...) with something he said in his farewell speech. He was recalling memorable moments in the last few years as MD for International Banking, possessing as it does the frequent need to travel to far flung corners of the world. This was a strong man in all the senses of the word, in his late 50s, so he'd been doing this a while and indeed regaled the tale of how he narrowly cheated death on a helicopter in Nice (the very next flight everyone on board died) but one of his memories was of:

"Always landing in any destination I've gone to with a hangover."

So it's not just me.

You know those statistics people throw out - something like 14 million to 1 of dying in a plane crash? Yeah. They're wrong. Have a look at this put together by the US National Safety Council based on figures from 2003 (no 9/11 involvement see). It gives odds of dying from 'something' throughout your life - depressingly the ultimate result is 1/1 of dying from something. Bugger.

Chances of dieing from air & space (?) transport accidents = a little less than 1 in 5000. Although to give it some perspective, death from falling is 1 in 218. I don't know if that includes death from falling 35,000 ft....


Pete said...

That's a pretty interesting diagram. I'm quite surprised that there are no stabbing or violent physical assault deaths on there.

A UK version should have significantly smaller probabilities of Firearm Assault and Accidental Firearm Discharge but I'd expect our "more traditional" brands of violent crime to register.

bagelmouse said...

Oh, I'm glad it's not just you that has a birthday of misery and death. I thought that was just mine (but more likely another incidence of, if you're looking for something, you see it everywhere). In my lifetime? Start of first Gulf War, Kobe earthquake, Northridge, California earthquake, volcano in the Congo.

I'll go with death from falling being quite likely - think of all those old people who fall and break half their bones, etc. But also quite relieved to see death from stingy insects is quite rare. Doesn't stop the phobia, mind...

Lesley said...

I took falling to mean "from a great height" rather than tripping in the street and cracking something on the pavement. If so, it goes to show my fear of heights / falling is more rational than any man's fear of flying, by a factor of 42.

The meaning of life.

kate said...

'air/space accident' ?? A lot of Americans have space accidents then do they?!

bagelmouse said...

Space tourism. It's a growth industry :-)

(I wonder if some of those stats were created in years with shuttle accidents and no plane crashes, and nobody thought to clean them up to remove the blindingly obvious distorting factors...)