Last Night's Viewing: The Plane Crash, Channel 4
What Hollywood wants from a plane crash and what air-safety investigators want from an air crash turn out to be substantially different. Hollywood wants a fireball and apparently endless momentum – that gratifying destruction smeared out by slow motion so that it seems as if it will never end.
Essentially, Hollywood wants as much bang for its buck as it can get. But air-safety investigators don't want that at all. They want a crash that they can calibrate and analyse afterwards, which means no fire and preferably not too much disintegration. Frankly, it's as if they simply don't care about the aesthetics of a really awesome catastrophe. Instead, they want – and I suppose you can see their point – a survivable crash. In terms of passenger advice there isn't a lot to be said about the other kind, after all.
I did find myself wondering, though, whether the expectations of the audience for The Plane Crash might have fallen into the hole between these two different approaches. Let's face it, we know what most people will have tuned in for and it wouldn't have been the opportunity to get a good look at the print-out charts from the on-board accelerometers. We'd come for the money shot, teasingly withheld in the introductory sequence, which froze just a couple of seconds before impact. Even then, though, it seemed clear that this wasn't going to be a spectacular of blossoming flame but what the scientists called a High Vertical Load impact and what a layman might describe as a Bloody Awful Landing.
The logistics were quite fun. The Mexicans had given the team permission to use a bit of their desert for a day or two and the plane, a Boeing 727 nicknamed Big Flo, had been selected both for its similarity to the most ubiquitous current passenger plane, the 737, and because it's one of very few passenger jets you can parachute out of safely (it has a kind of cloacal hatch under its tail). The pilots were planning to guide the plane into its approach and then hand over to a pilot in a chase plane who got the boy's-toy fun of doing the last stretch by remote control. They all talked of Big Flo with an apologetic degree of identification: "Poor old girl," said one pilot patting her belly. "Can't believe we're doing this to her." Another virtually suggested it was what Big Flo would really have wanted, rather than decaying slowly in a desert junkyard.
Then, finally, after some glitches with weather and transport, we got what we came for and it was – in a soberly instructive way – just a tiny bit underwhelming. In real time, rather than the Hollywood version, it all came to an end with surprising abruptness, though it was a surprise to find that one engine survived the crash intact and continued running. Perhaps because the plane came down short of the planned crash site there wasn't much in the way of external footage and the internal cameras recorded what you'd pretty much expect to see – a hail of debris and collapsed ceiling panels. The takeaway practical advice was that it's worth adopting the brace position and that you can improve your chances of survival by picking the right area of the plane in which to sit, the only drawback being that you need to know what kind of crash you're going to have before you check in – information most pilots seem oddly reluctant to share with their passengers.
Homefront continues to explore the difficulties of life for Army wives, one unexpected facet of the drama being that most of their problems seem to come from other women. Tasha is being driven mad by her hopeless mother, Louise is coping with a tramp-stamped sexual rival and Claire is juggling a spiteful colleague at work with her out-of-control step-daughter. You'd be tempted to enlist.
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