The Main Thing

When you don't keep the "main thing" the main thing, planes crash, and countries can be destroyed when the focus is not on staying united and keeping an eye on the important issues. Today our country is focused on anything but the "main thing." Reducing the deficit, closing the boarder, teaching moral values, getting God back in the classroom, getting mental health under control, patriotism, teaching kids how to think not what to think. The list goes on. Yet there's a political party that doesn't think it should lose elections so they make up an impeachment case against the president who has to spend more than half his time fighting a kangaroo court rather than doing the country's business. The fact that he's been so successful is remarkable considering those who are doing everything in their power to out him from his duly-elected seat.

We can compare what's going on in the country with a single airplane flight 48 years ago. Eastern Air LInes Flight 401 New York to Miami sums our plight in it's tragic trek on the evening of December 29, 1972. It was a perfect night for flying, the weather between these two major cities was about as perfect as it gets. You could not have asked for a better airplane, the Lockheed L-1011-1 Tristar was state-of-the-art of the day and, although recently in service then, has gone on to post and outstanding safety record. I loved flying on them--the most comfortable I've ever flown. This particular plane, N310EA was the pride of the Eastern fleet and only about four months in operation. You could not have asked for a more experienced crew. The flight was in the command of Captain Robert "Bob" Loft, 55, a veteran pilot ranked 50th in seniority at Eastern--in fact he was one of Eastern's training pilots. Loft had been with Eastern 32 years with 29,700 flight hours throughout his flying career. He had 280 hours in the L-1011. His First Officer was Albert John Stockstill, 39, 5,800 hours flying with 306 in the L-1011 and Second Officer (flight engineer) Don Repo, 51, who had 15,700 hours of flying experience.

Everything could not have been more perfect as Flight 401 departed JFK at 9:20 (EST) carrying 163 passengers and 13 crew members on board. The flight was just as perfect as the weather until 11:32 p.m. as the plane approached Miami International Airport. After lowering the landing gear, First Officer Stockstill noticed the landing gear indicator, the green light over the nose gear had not illuminated. They recycled the landing gear three times with the same result meaning that nose gear may not have been locked in the "down" position. Loft notified the tower of the problem and called off the approach and asked for a "holding pattern." Air Traffic Control (ATC) authorized Flight 401 to climb to 2,000 feet and hold west over the Everglades. Suddenly, all the attention was focused on the light as Captain Loft ordered the auto-pilot engaged. Second Officer Repo was dispatched to go down to the avionics bay beneath the flight deck to confirm via a small porthole if the landing gear was indeed down. For the next 80 seconds the plane remained in level flight. But with all the physical activity in the cockpit the autopilot was accidently disengaged totally unbeknownst to the flight crew. Because the weather was so calm no one seemed to notice that the plane began to descend.. In the next 70 seconds the plane lost only 250 feet but enough to trigger the altitude warning C-cord chime under the engineer's workstation. But the engineer was not on the flight deck, he was checking the landing gear and no one else could hear it. In the next 50 seconds the plane had lost half it's altitude. By the time First Officer Stockstill realized the problem, it was too late. Ten seconds after a brief exchange between pilot and copilot the plane crashed hitting the ground at 227 miles an hour and the plane began to break up as it went skidding for 1600 feet.

The pilots and flight engineer and two of the 10 flight attendants, and 96 of the 163 passengers died. 75 passengers and crew survived. The only problem with the airplane was, as it turned out, the nose gear's indicator light was simply burned out. It was the worst single airline disaster at the time and the first crash of a jumbo jet. The final NTSB report cited the cause of the crash as "pilot error." Specifically the "...failure of the flight crew to monitor the flight instruments during the final four minutes of the flight and to detect an unexpected descent soon enough to prevent impact with the ground.

This can be compared to what our political leaders are involved in now. We are not making the "main thing" the main thing. Pray that we can prevent a crash.

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