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Two Degrees Can Make All the Difference

Nov 18, 2020

I recently read an article about a plane crash that occurred in 1979.  I was quite young at the time of the incident and I don’t remember when it happened, but it wasn’t the tragedy that grabbed my attention.  It wasn’t the “WHAT?,” it was the “WHY?” that intrigued me.

Air New Zealand had started operating scenic flights over Antarctica only two years before in 1977 – and they had seen great success.  People flocked to the opportunity to spend a day cruising on an 11-hour non-stop round trip originating from Auckland down the length of the country then to see the beauty that Antarctica offered. The flights offered first class luxury and a stunning view over the endless ice in the continent to the south.

On that day, however, something would go tragically wrong.

At around noon, the pilot, Captain Jim Collins, flew two large loops through the clouds to bring the plane down to about 2,000 feet and offer his passengers a better view – something he’d done numerous times over countless prior flights without a second thought. Assuming he was on the same flight path as previous flights he didn’t – and wouldn’t have – foreseen any problems.

On board the plane, people were busy taking photographs, or filming, inside the cabin and out of the windows. Many of these photos were later found in the wreckage and could still be developed, some of them taken seconds before the crash.

But instead of ice and snow in the distance, what the crew saw was the mountain right ahead of them. Shortly before 1pm, the plane’s proximity alarms went off. With no time to adjust, six seconds later the plane ploughed straight into the side of Mt Erebus.

Obviously, the technology that we have today didn’t exist then and, after hours of waiting and confusion, the assumption back in New Zealand was that the plane must have run out of fuel. Wherever it was, it was no longer in the air.

In the aftermath of this tragedy, and in the investigations that followed, it was discovered that someone back at Air New Zealand had altered the flight coordinates by a mere two degrees (a fact that the pilots were completely unaware of), which would put the plane 28 miles east of where the pilots assumed it was going to be. Here’s what hit me: two degrees.  A seemingly minor alteration that brought about an awful tragedy.

That got me thinking, small things in our lives, if not corrected, become big things. Always. Even seemingly trivial aspects of our lives can create ripples – and sometimes full-blown waves of consequences.

As you navigate whatever is ahead of you in your life – a project, a relationship, your career – are you too busy to recognize that you’re off course?  Do you know, where are you going and when you’re going to get there?

If you’re off course, how long have you been off course?  How would you know if you are on the right course? How often do you check your guidance system? Heck, do you even have a guidance system? What feedback are you receiving to potentially correct your course?

Asking these questions might help you avoid getting off track on your goals, or help you get back on track if you’ve gone astray without even recognizing it.

Michigan Legislative Consultants is a bipartisan lobbying firm based in Lansing, Michigan. Our team of lobbyists and procurement specialists provide a wide range of services for some of the most respected companies in America. For more on MLC, visit www.mlcmi.com or connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.