When a Pilot Takes his Life...

Owen Zupp - Friday, March 14, 2014

When a Pilot Takes his Life...

By Owen Zupp

It’s kind of numbing. A news story about a familiar face for all of the wrong reasons. The mind flicks back to other times when that face wasn’t frozen in a photograph, but laughing at some borderline joke in happier times. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that a fellow pilot has taken their own life.

When my old airline failed, two faces that I’d shared a flight deck with did not survive to build their career or a new life. For reasons known unto only them, a sad and lonely end was the only option that they perceived to be left on the table. Still my memory is of one leaning out of the window of a 737 waving merrily at his family in the terminal. The other is doing an incredibly good impersonation of a lead singer from a renowned rock band. That is how they will stay with me forever.

Yet for all their inner conflict, these pilots remained absolutely focused when they flew. Perhaps that is one of the qualities of a 'good pilot'; the ability to attend to the task at hand despite any other pressures that might exist. I saw this same quality in my time as a paramedic and unfortunately a number of those magnificent people could not find a way forward either. It is an admirable professional quality, but at a high cost to some individuals.

Pilots are task-focused and derive satisfaction from completion and progression. When the spectre of a failing airline or a stalled career raises its head it flies in the face of everything that has been striven for. Still, the matter is much more complex and beyond the grasp of someone like me. From where I sat, my mates had other issues to contend with outside of the workplace and I’ve always thought that the airline’s collapse was a possible contributor rather than an outright cause.

Unfortunately there are no non-normal checklists for life’s adversity. That very quality that strives for a sense of command and focus on the flight deck doesn’t necessarily translate into everyday life. That is not a failing; it’s just the human condition. If that battle gets tough, PLEASE reach out to somebody and let them know; someone who may be able to offer support and another perspective. Please.

My memories will always be of my friends in happier times, but I wish with all of my heart that they weren’t just memories.

Rest in Peace Andrew. Clear skies mate.

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