By: Peter A. Lawrence
Professor Rosenbaum has always expressed his disapproval of the duty to rescue, and rightfully so. Our society remains supportive of the idea that when one is in great danger, others should take all measures to help a fellow human in distress. However, the legal system punishes people who fail or exacerbate a situation while attempting to rescue those in distress. The relevance of this debate has arose recently when I review to similar incidents with different outcomes.
US Airways Hudson River Plane Crash Incident: Chesley Sullenberger, a US Airway pilot, who successfully carried out the emergency water landing of US Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River offshore from Manhattan, New York, on January 15, 2009, thus preventing any loss of life. There were 155 people on the plane. The Pilot was praised, glorified, and lifted to a celebrity stage in our society for his heroic actions in successfully rescuing the passengers. The emergency began when bird-carcases clogged the engine, thus leading to a burn-out.
Turn to foxnews and you will get a heroic attempt turned into a media thrashing.
A similar incident occurs weeks later (almost a month). Icy-sleet and winter conditions doomed a commuter flight on the way from Newark to Buffalo, NY. Like the birds in the Hudson River incident, the plane’s engine failed to make passage under such harsh conditions. However, the pilot in this incident was blamed not just by FOX News, but other media outlets for causing the plane to crash.
“The commuter plane slowed to an unsafe speed as it approached the airport, causing an automatic stall warning, these people said. The pilot pulled back sharply on the plane’s controls and added power instead of following the proper procedure of pushing forward to lower the plane’s nose to regain speed, they said. He held the controls there, locking the airplane into a deadly stall, they added.”
Later they say, but we are in the early stages of the investigation. This makes no sense to me. How can we blame a pilot who reacted aggressively under harsh conditions. There was no ocean within the area to land the plane safely. Immediately we turn on those who fail to rescue because society must find fault with someone. Why must we scold this pilot! She may have failed to follow procedure, but the investigation is at such an early stage that we immediately call the pilot the fault for the accident and fail to account the icy-wintry conditions. I understand society must hold a standard, but placing the reasonable person standard on this pilot is unfair. We fail at what we do sometimes, we’re not perfect as human beings. So why can’t we take into account the circumstances and realize that a reasonable person wouldn’t know how to react in such a situation. Would a reasonable pilot land the plane in the Hudson River? Would a reasonable pilot allow hijackers to overpower him/her without putting up a fight? The reasonable person test fails, and it fails miserably here. This poor woman who did everything she could is no longer seen as a hero or credible pilot, she is dead. Now her memorial is being tarnished but society’s use of the mythical reasonable person standard. I acknowledge her efforts, despite the deviation from procedure. There is no proof that if she complied with procedure, 49 people would have been saved. Society needs to re-think its moral standards, because in many cases we are strongly lacking in that of it.