Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Flight 447 and the Titanic

The Atlantic Ocean rises to consciousness this week after silently swallowing 228 people on an airliner from Brazil just after the death in England of a 97-year-old woman, the last survivor of the Titanic.

Almost a century apart, the disasters recall the fragility of human life in the face of all the technological advances of 21st century life.

Sitting in the vast darkness over an ocean has become so safe and familiar that Flight 447's sudden disappearance sends only a ripple of anxiety around the world. Few may board a plane to cross an ocean in coming days with a twinge of worry until all the facts are known, until its freakishness is explained, catalogued and consigned to a category of events as unlikely as being struck by lightning.

In 1912, Millvina Dean was a two-month-old baby when her parents boarded the Titanic for its maiden voyage. She died this weekend, a survivor celebrity whose nursing home bills in recent years were paid in part by Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and James Cameron, the stars and director of the 1997 movie about the disaster.

Between now and then, sudden mass death has become so familiar that, unless they have the political significance of 9/11, events like the fall of Flight 447 will persist in the public mind for only days or weeks until they are somehow explained and pushed out of awareness, uncommemorated by movies and recollections that last a hundred years.

Unlike the Titanic, the airliner from Brazil will sink from mankind's memory without trace.

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