Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A United Airlines pilot delivered a pre-flight speech in which he instructed passengers how to overpower any hijackers that might be aboard.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, 2001]
Origins: This piece apparently began its Internet life on
On that same day, this tale was incorporated into a larger Washington Times article calling for a more proactive response from passengers in the face of a hijacking. The author of the Washington Times article, Peter Hannaford (identified in the piece as a public affairs consultant) used neutral voice throughout the account, thus avoiding directly stating that he'd either been witness to the events described or that this was someone else's story. Less-than-careful readers, however, would have been left with the impression that he was delivering a first-hand account of events he'd personally experienced.
All questions of authorship aside, did the described events take place? Was this a case of "what should have been said" rather than one of "what was said"? According to Associated Press, it is indeed a true story:
Kathy Rockel was amazed when her United Airlines flight last weekend began with an extraordinary message from the pilot: He informed passengers how to rise up and fend offThe online community has been quick to seize upon this tale, and it has sped rapidly from one inbox to another. Folks feel helpless in the face of cataclysmic events, and a tale like this works to repair their compromised sense of control. The notion of "everyone working together to overpower the bad guys" is highly attractive in times of crisis in that it reframes the terrifying into something that can be combatted and effectively dealt with, provided each person does his part. (Which, of course, isn't always the way of things. But it's a comforting thought nonetheless.)
"Everybody on the plane was applauding," said Rockel, a medical transcriptionist traveling from Denver to Washington, D.C.,
These kinds of stories perform a vital function at times like these — they help to empower a citizenry that has been left feeling helpless in the face of tragedy and the potential for more tragedy to come.
Barbara "united we stand" Mikkelson
Last updated: 13 April 2008
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