Life and Death at 37,000 feet

From the title of this article you might get the impression that this is a story about some in flight disaster, but that's not what's on my mind. Lately I've been thinking about life and death stories that occur every day some 30,000 plus feet below me as I make my way across the land and sea.

I've been a pilot for a long time. A typical flight will take me over thousands of miles in a single evening. The plane I'm flying will be within sight of perhaps thirty million or more people on any given trip. Now only a few of those thirty million people will actually notice us, and the same is true for us. We don't notice individuals from 37,000 feet up. We do, however, occasionally see things that hint at something more profound that's going on below. Maybe it's a fire that lights up the night sky. Maybe it's the flashing lights of a police car as it races along an isolated road.

Two recent stories made me think of this connection. The first is the story of little Caylee Anthony. I happen to fly up and down the Florida coast on a weekly basis. I don't fly over the spot where the remains thought to be those of Caylee Anthony were found, but I do fly within sight of it. That means that it's very possible as I made my way to Ft. Myers or St. Petersburg last summer that I could have been in the air as little Caylee's life was ending. That's a sobering thought.

The second story involves a life and death story in the Caribbean. One of my destinations is Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Recently there was a story of two men found adrift at sea. They had been adrift for some three weeks. They were the only two survivors among forty people who were making the trip from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico.

Now our flight path doesn't take us directly over the spot where these men were found, but it takes us pretty close. Maybe even within sight. Think about that for a second. Here we are with a plane load of tourists going to the Caribbean for a little R&R and 37,000 feet below us forty people in a small boat are fighting for their lives.

I often look down at the water from above. Small boats are hard to make out. Two men in a boat adrift at sea would be impossible to identify. But I'm sure they were able to see the contrails of planes flying overhead. Maybe they even saw our plane and tried to signal for help. But we didn't see them. Nor did our passengers see them. They were watching the in-flight movie or taking a nap.

To give you a better idea of what I'm talking about, take a look at the December view from the cockpit image. Click on the image to bring up a larger version and take a good look. Is there a life and death story happening down there beneath those clouds?

December view from the cockpit.


  1. […] feet and up, I am always curious about life below me. I wrote about those feelings in the post life and death at 37,000 feet. When you get away from the big cities, this country is mostly vast expanses of open, unpopulated […]

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