Can Earthquakes Be Felt From the Air?

Weekly Writing Challenge: Living History

For my post today, I decided to deviate a bit from the normal political mindset and take part in a weekly writing challenge given by The challenge?

“Your challenge this week? Write about a current event from your own unique, subjective perspective. Show us how history is something we are part of, not some external event taking place in a palace, office, or war zone far away.”

Being only 31, there are not very many major historical events that I can claim to remember, however there are two in particular that I will remember vividly for the rest of my life. One is 9/11, of course, and the other is the Earthquake that devastated Japan in March of 2011. To begin my story, I will have to explain what I do for a living a little first. I am employed by a company called ARINC, and I am a radio operator. My job is to provide radio communication between flights over the Pacific Ocean and Air Traffic Control located on the ground in Oakland California, and I work the overnight shift.

TsunamiMy shift that night started a little less than an hour after the Earthquake struck, just as the Tsunami’s were rushing to shore. I remember thinking as I walked into the building (before I knew anything had happened) that it was just going to be another boring day… Then feeling the floor drop out from beneath me when I saw the footage of the devastation on the big screens that were projecting the news to us. At this point, I was a relatively new operator, and unfortunately for me, that particular night I just happened to be the operator assigned to the area handling flights going from Guam and Honolulu into Japan, many of which were scheduled to land in Narita, an airport that was now closed. I remember thinking “What in the world is going on!?” and “God I hope they replace me with a more experienced operator… I don’t know if I can handle this…” No such luck…

My frequencies were a bit chaotic that night, and I felt like this was my “trial by fire,” so to speak. On top of trying to deliver multiple rerouting clearances and Tsunami warnings (not fun, let me tell you) for flights having to be diverted to alternate airports, I was also trying to juggle my own emotions, which were ranging from fear that I would somehow make a mess of things for the flights, and horrible sadness for the lives that were currently being destroyed as we all watched on the screens. I was also trying to keep up with the time-line of what was happening so that I could answer the questions of airplanepilots, who really had no other way to find out what was going on. There were questions like “I heard there was another earthquake in Hawaii? Are they diverting flights from Hawaii too?” and “Were there tsunami warnings for Guam and Manilla (in the Philippines) as well? Will we be able to land there?” Rumors were flying around (no pun intended), and addressing them isn’t necessarily part of our job description, but it is definitely a courtesy to provide as much information as we can, especially in situations like this. I thought I was confused, but I can’t imagine the confusion the pilots must have felt, not knowing where they were going to be able to land, and whether they’d have to turn around or not. I definitely didn’t envy them their position that night…

Needless to say, I made it through the night with my job intact, and didn’t make any noticeable mistakes. I think some of the biggest lessons I learned that night are that no matter how bored I get on those monotonous nights things can always take a turn for the worse, that keeping a cool head is a necessity, that sometimes we have the luxury of being set apart from those situations and can provide an important service for those that aren’t, and finally that I can have at least a little confidence that I can do my job sufficiently. I know that mine wasn’t a big part, but that night I certainly felt like a part of the greater world community, as if I were somehow connected to all of these people who were experiencing this chaos first hand. I never want to be a part of something like that again (would anyone?), but if I am, I hope that I am in a situation where I can help someone again, even if it is just in an insignificant way.

Written By: James Garcia (10/16/2013)

One thought on “Can Earthquakes Be Felt From the Air?

  1. Pingback: Playing God | Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me

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