As the details of the Italian cruise ship accident, the Costa Concordia, came out this mishap began to bear an uncanny resemblance to the aeronautical pastime of buzzing. The ship was on a pre-programmed course, one that it and other vessels took hundreds of times before. The ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino apparently deviated from the official computerized route. The small island of Giglio was the source of attraction and, according to the ship’s data recorder, the Concordia came within 150 meters (488 feet) of the Giglio coast, much closer than the approved route. The captain had never done this before (he said) but he did have charts on board and electronic equipment showed the rock formation that ripped a 162 foot gash in the left side of the vessel. Schettino admitted to making a “navigational error” when he “ordered a turn too late.”
So why’d he do it? Showboating, if you’ll pardon the pun, comes to mind. According to ABC News, “Italian media have reported that Schettino was close to the shore in order to wave to a friend who was on land. ” The Cruise Critic blog notes that “Giglio’s news outlet says a similar maneuver in August 2011 earned Schettino a letter of thanks from the island’s mayor. Costa’s CEO, Pier Luigi Foschi said that the August sail-by, which was timed in conjunction with Giglio’s patron saint day, was pre-authorized by Costa and local maritime authorities. The ship stayed at least 500 meters (1,625 feet) from the coast for the entirety of the sail-by, added Foschi. …But, citing Automatic Identification System tracking data, which cruise ships with gross tonnage of 300 or more are required to divulge, shipping publication Lloyd’s List reported that the August sail-by “took the vessel far closer to Giglio than the 500 meters claimed by [Foschi]“—and within 200 meters (650 feet) of the “point of collision” on Friday.”
In the aviation world, you won’t often see a buzz job by an airliner on a regularly scheduled run although accident records show that on deadheading legs for Part 135 and 121 operations, the temptation to do something interesting happens often enough that it’s become an educational point for flight operations. Rest assured that the cruise industry will spend a long time studying this mess. For Part 91 pilots could this serve as a really BIG object lesson?
A perfectly functioning ship is driven into the ground by the captain to show off for a friend and innocents are lost. It is highly likely that the captain will be charged with manslaughter and may serve a long jail sentence. In aviation, we’ve seen foreign authorities prosecute pilots for what truly are accidents, such as the collision between a business jet and an airliner over Brazil a few years back. Honest mistakes are one thing. Deliberate deviations are something else. You’ll recall the case of a pilot giving biplane rides a few years back who decided to engage in some “river-running” and tangled with some wires which resulted in the loss of his passenger.
When one gets away with it they’re a hero in the eyes of some (usually uninformed). But the downside risk is so incredibly high that thinking people will think better of the impulse that may infect a few of us. Without being too sanctimonious, we should share the Concordia disaster with the so-called unreachable among us who are prone to put others or themselves at risk. You want thrills? Try bungee jumping with a long tether—that will cure you—Splat!