I've been re-watching old episodes of the Canadian air crash documentary series Mayday (repackaged as Air Crash Investigation in the UK and under similar titles elsewhere) off and on over the last few days. This show is maddeningly sporadically available in the US for some reason, and I haven't been able to keep up with it via Internet parrotry for a few years now, so I haven't seen the last four series, which makes me sad.
Our topic today is therefore from an episode which originally aired several years ago, and concerns a man named Hans-Ulrich Lutz. Unless you're an aviation safety nerd like me, you've probably never heard of Hans-Ulrich Lutz. He was a pilot who worked for a now-defunct Swiss regional airline called Crossair, and if it weren't for the way in which his career and his life finally came to their convergent end, he would be a hero to imposter syndrome sufferers the world over.
You see, Captain Lutz was... you know how statistically there must be a worst airline pilot in the world, somewhere, some hopeless no-talent shmuck who met all the bare-minimum requirements, was just ever so slightly not too bad at it to hire, and has been frantically faking it and just barely getting away with it ever since? Well, until November 24, 2001, that was Hans-Ulrich Lutz. In 2001, he'd been a pilot for 37 years, and had, based on all available evidence, never been any actual good at it. And yet, he never quite managed to get fired.
Once, while captaining a sightseeing flight in the Swiss Alps, he managed to get so lost he spent several minutes talking on the radio to the airport where he was supposed to be landing, getting increasingly frustrated that the controllers there insisted they couldn't see him circling the field. Only when alarmed passengers started asking the flight attendants why the road signs they were seeing in the streets below were in Italian did anyone realize it was because he was circling the wrong airport... in the wrong country.
Another time, Lutz somehow managed to retract the landing gear of a Saab 340A turboprop commuter airliner while it was parked on the apron at Zürich Airport. Wrote the aircraft off completely. Astonishingly, even this could not induce Crossair to sack him (although they did allow as how maybe he shouldn't be a training captain(!!) any more).
The Swiss airline pilots' union must be formidable indeed.
Alas, this inspiringly persistent incompetent—who, with his near-40-year career and his silver-haired air of settled respectability, would otherwise soon have retired and become a permanent a beacon of hope to all of us who feel like we're utterly in over our heads at all times—finally managed to achieve performance worthy of his talents on November 24, 2001. Late that evening, in bad weather, stymied in his hopes of flying his usual automated ILS approach by the latness of the hour and a new noise bylaw at Zürich, he flew an Avro RJ100 regional jetliner into a hill four miles short of the field while attempting an inevitably-poorly-executed VOR/DME approach on the other runway instead.
Getting yourself killed in the process of finally running out of bullshit luck is bad enough form; taking two members of your crew and 21 poor sods who were just trying to get to Zürich with you is inexcusable. And so, alas, we poor overextended imposters of the world are still without a hero we can call our own.
Benjamin D. Hutchins, Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief, & Forum Mod
Eyrie Productions, Unlimited http://www.eyrie-productions.com/
zgryphon at that email service Google has
Ceterum censeo Carthaginem esse delendam.