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Is Noah Shannon's story in the NYT true?
May 18, 2013 11:08 PM   Subscribe

Noah Gallagher Shannon has a piece in Sunday's NYT about an emergency landing at Philadelphia. Something about the story makes me think that it might be fictional. Can anybody prove that the story took place as he describes it?

I'm not at all an expert in aviation, but some of the details about Shannon's story ring false. Specifically that:

* Electricity on a plane would be turned off in preparation for an emergency landing.
* Nobody noticed that their flight had been circling around Philadelphia for two hours before the landing
* Philadelphia in particular has "the best standby emergency personnel."
* An airline would give gifts after an emergency landing.

Unfortunately Shannon doesn't give many concrete details about the flight to try to track it down. He says that the intended destination was Denver, and that Philadelphia was not on the way to Denver (so the originating airport must not have been in the northeast). The flight involved a problem with the landing gear, but the flight landed safely anyway. He doesn't provide any information about when this flight happened.

Can anybody find any independent verification of an emergency landing at Philadelphia involving a failure of the landing gear?
posted by crazy with stars to Media & Arts (53 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
* Electricity on a plane would be turned off in preparation for an emergency landing.

Can you explain why that would ring false to you? It seems like reducing the risk of an electrical fire would be one of the steps on a crash preparation checklist.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:25 PM on May 18, 2013


Yeah, this really doesn't pass the smell test for me either. Commercial passenger planes are designed to handle belly landings with little issue (example). They turned off the engines? Bullshit.

If you don't get any solid leads via this question, you could ask on the forums at airliners.net and they'd probably get to the bottom of it in no time.

One thing to check: if this story is real, it'll be on The Aviation Herald.
posted by zsazsa at 11:28 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's some stuff in the comments on the NYT site from people who have similar doubts, if that helps.

But yeah, it rings completely false to me too. The captain coming out of the cockpit to "yell commands" really got me because:

a) He must have a hell of a voice to yell back through first class all the way to the back of the plane
b) Maybe he should have been, you know, flying the plane, and letting one of the flight attendants "yell commands?"

And you totally nailed it with no one noticing the plane had been circling for two hours. That pushes it over the edge into pure comedy.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:34 PM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm willingg to give the writer some slack for misremembering details or not understanding what was happening.

I was actually in an emergency landing a couple years ago, flying from Cleveland to Oregon. There was an engine failure indication on the 737 and we were diverting to Helena, Montana. This was a red eye, so all the cabin lights came on, and the flight attendants woke everyone up in a very direct manner. The captain made an announcement about the situation, that the plane was shutting down one of the two engines, and that we would be landing in about 20 minutes. The flight attendants shifted to take-charge mode: we are going to give instructions and you will follow them. They described crash position, and they made sure that the exit row passengers knew what they had to do, and would do it when told to (I was a couple rows behind an exit row).

We did not circle the airport dump fuel, but landed planes directly. I recall that the lights were on the whole time.

The landing was actually pretty smooth and without incident, other than the fact that we woke up half the emergency services in Helena to be on the tarmac just in case. That airport also didn't
normally handle big planes, so we had to wait a bit for them to wheel out the stairs to us.

Anyway, the Times story didn't strike me as very wrong, maybe a little confused and dramatized.
posted by chengjih at 2:50 AM on May 19, 2013


*Yeah, that circling for two hours --- and NONE of the passengers noticed?!? Sure, like THAT's likely.
*The pilot coming out to talk --- intercoms, people, use the intercom. Plus, like drjimmy11 says, he must have great lungs to be audible at the far end of the plane. The pilot would be WAY too busy for that kind of foolishness, as well as 'giving orders' like that being exactly what the flight attendants are there for. (And the pilot's underarm sweat stains being visible? Where in the plane was the author seated? Had to be the very front row.)
*Turning off the electricity --- oh yes, let's turn out all the lights (including emergency lights, since the author says it was pitch-black!) in an emergency situation with people who will probably panic at some point. Good idea!
*The plane was supposedly diverted to the north --- um, there are LOTS of nice big airports all up and down the east coast: being diverted to Philadelphia would only make sense for weather reasons. And I don't buy that Philadelphia "has the best emergency personnel" bit.
*The passenger who claimed she was with FEMA --- first off, I don't know a single woman who has EVER had to "dump her purse out" to find her ID (it's a cute little stereotype, but that's ALL it is), plus why the hell is she dumping anything out in the soon-to-be-dark aisle for everyone to trip over, especially without the flight attendant stopping her?
posted by easily confused at 2:51 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


"As we level out to land."

With the engines cut off?

Pure D bullshit.

Not to mention all the visual description AFTER the lights have supposedly gone out.
posted by spitbull at 3:47 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oddly, a small plane from Philadelphia belly-landed without wheels in Newark yesterday, but it seems like this happened after this peculiar piece was published.
posted by Scram at 6:08 AM on May 19, 2013


Here is a list of aircraft that landed without engine power. It's a very short list and most events entailed fatalities.

Deadsticking a passenger jet landing when your engines work fine? Not even close to likely.
posted by spitbull at 6:46 AM on May 19, 2013


oh yes, let's turn out all the lights (including emergency lights, since the author says it was pitch-black!) in an emergency situation

Not to mention all the visual description AFTER the lights have supposedly gone out.

To be fair, the author never says that the interior of the plane was "pitch-black." At the beginning of the story, he mentions how "White clouds blanketed the sky floor," suggesting that the alleged incident happened during daylight, so there could be sufficient light through the windows to see what was going on even if the interior of the plane were relatively "dark" as he later describes it.

The detail that leaps out to me as implausible is when the flight attendant tells the author, "You're in charge of getting these rows around you evacuated in 10 seconds." Even the author calls that charge "impossible."

Although I can't prove it's fictional, Shannon's description of the "girl" seated next to him reads to me like a convenient (and misogynist) caricature, a bubble-headed foil for the deeper-thinking male author. We first see her "flicking at her nails" (what does that even mean?) "while she paged through a fashion magazine." Later she appears to have no idea what FEMA is. Towards the end, she cries and mutters prayers while the author remains calm and observes the scene.

Can anybody find any independent verification of an emergency landing at Philadelphia involving a failure of the landing gear?

I haven't been able to. I followed zsazsa's link to The Aviation Herald and sampled some stories. After noticing that the reports generally mention the originating airport, the destination airport, and the airport where a diverted plane actually landed, I did a search for Philadelphia and Denver (the emergency landing airport and original destination airport mentioned in Shannon's story). None of the results match. The site's banner claims that it covers "Events from Jun 19th 1999 to May 18th 2013," so it's possible that the alleged incident happened outside that time range, or that it happened as described but Shannon changed the names of the airports involved.
posted by Orinda at 7:51 AM on May 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


We were on a flight from IAD to SFO a couple of years ago, and an engine ate at least one goose very shortly after we left the ground. No one on the crew shouted. No one from the cockpit came out and said or yelled anything. All communication was via the PA system and it was given calmly. The plane was fully loaded with fuel and we did not circle for hours or dump it, but of course our landing gear worked fine. Touchdown itself was uneventful, though it felt "heavier" than usual. Emergency services surround the plane, and after a few minutes we returned to the gates.

That's my only (ever, I hope) experience with an emergency landing, and based on that, I don't buy the author's version.
posted by rtha at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2013


You should email your questions to magazine@nytimes.com

I know for certain that the Lives column goes through the fact-checking process, and that process ideally involves trying to independently verify all the author's claims. (I don't know anything about this particular column.)

Your query will definitely be taken very seriously, and you'll get a response.
posted by neroli at 9:43 AM on May 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


The more times I read through that, the less believable it gets.

Row by row the lights snapped off, huh?

All of us have been in planes that have briefly lost electrical power, because it happens at the gate on a regular basis as the switchover from engine to ground A/C power is done. Every time I've seen that happen, the entire plane goes dark at once. I suppose the crew muse have some way of shutting off the lights in banks. But I do not believe the crew would disable the intercom and emergency lighting in a gear up landing, let alone kill the engines (losing control, lift, power, and the ability to go around if you miss or deploy reverse thrust if you don't) well short of being over concrete runway. None of it makes sense intuitively. I'm a big aviation buff and spent a little time just now both trying to find examples of a deadstick AND gear up landing in a commercial jet where no one died (Sullenberger, and that's on water, because he couldn't make it to Teterboro or back to LGA by gliding even if he had airspeed and on a reasonable line of approach to Teterboro, just a few miles away) and also looking for any evidence of this actual episode, finding none. Sulleberger was also carrying full tanks. Why on earth would someone who thinks they are about to land gear up give up their only possibility for a do-over well out from touchdown? Surely the fire risk is outweighed by the loss of control of the airplane. MeFi pilots, do you know any differently?

And ok, you've got enough fuel to spend 2 hours burning it off, but not enough time to fly by a control tower somewhere for visual confirmation that your gear are in fact down and locked? Or enough evidence from the rate of fuel consumption and handling that the gear are down and creating, as they do, very significant wind drag?

The New York Times has some explaining to do here, I think. These aren't minor details. The whole deep philosophical tone of the piece depends on the situation being scary as shit in real life, not just in the author's mind.
posted by spitbull at 11:15 AM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


A bit more: Shannon is 25 or 26 years old (he was 23 in 2011 according to his college newspaper) He describes himself as an adult in the story. So the actual episode must have happened, if it happened, within the last decade, certainly, and most likely within the past 6 or 7 years.
posted by spitbull at 11:30 AM on May 19, 2013


> I know for certain that the Lives column goes through the fact-checking process, and that process ideally involves trying to independently verify all the author's claims.

Yeah, while the story does sound very fishy, I'd be surprised if after all the problems they've had with reporters making shit up, they wouldn't have verified this as best they could. But that's a pretty thin reed to lean on. I'll be curious to see what turns up.
posted by languagehat at 12:05 PM on May 19, 2013


Apparently he was on NBC News as well..."Author noah gallagher shannon survived an emergency landing several years ago and coincidentally writes an account in this week's "new york times" magazine."

Don't assume this was a jet. It could have been a turboprop with only 30-40 seats. On first read I was picturing a large jet and the story seemed strange, but if you think about a smaller commuter turboprop with a total crew of 3, the details are more believable.

The author does not say that no one noticed 2 hours of circling. Also, the author was asleep ("I woke to a nudge"), so his telling of the events is skewed by the fact that he was not initially aware of what was going on. Possibly embellished, sure. But not completely unbelievable.

The "best standby emergency personnel" comment is a lady's opinion...not given as fact. The real reason could be many things. Philadelphia could just have been the most convenient airport to have to shutdown a runway for 8 hours.

For the gifts, again if you are picturing a major airline with 200 passengers, that seems unlikely. But for a small regional commuter airline that had 30 people on board, it doesn't sound that far fetched.
posted by ghostmanonsecond at 12:05 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


From a city in the southeast to Denver is not going to be on a turboprop.
posted by spitbull at 12:06 PM on May 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


More fun: he describes the FEMA woman as sitting on the aisle, and the "cute girl" flicking her nails as sitting "next to me." And yet Noah is sitting in a seat where he can "slump back against the window." So is the FEMA woman on the opposite aisle seat and the cute girl in the aisle seat next to him, or is he in the window seat, the cute girl in the middle seat, and Ms. Fema on the aisle, because if they are three abreast, that also ain't no turboprop he's in, or anything smaller than a 737 or A300. (Regional jets and t-props are 2/2 or 1/2.)

And hmm, the engines keep "humming" after they are supposedly powered down. That sounds like a jet in low power mode, not a t-prop, where the props are either spinning or not.

Curious. OP, great catch.
posted by spitbull at 12:14 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


And man, with engines shut down and electricity off, how are they running the hydraulics for the control surfaces? Even presuming there would be some way to "level off" in an unpowered controlled descent in a jet (I can't picture how that would work aerodynamically) you would need some source of power to control the hydraulics to make the control surfaces of any use.

Here I really don't know the mechanicals involved, but surely those hydraulic systems need power, and they aren't optional if you're going to glide in for a landing while rapidly losing airspeed. So there would be no way to shut off all power even if it did significantly reduce fire risk. You can't fly a plane with no power at all and neither thrust nor control surfaces. It wouldn't glide in for a smooth deadstick landing unless you killed power very, very close to the runway, basically almost as you were touching down (and not before subdivisions start coming into view, as he writes). It would lose speed, stall, and fall straight from the sky, or more likely pitch over and corkscrew into the ground. Right into those cute little houses.

I think there are like 4 famous cases of pilots landing commercial jets like gliders where no one died in all of aviation history, and a couple of those involve water landings where there is a big margin for error (you can set down anywhere, it's not crucial to line up over a concrete strip). Presumably in each of those cases there was backup control for the hydraulics. Or in Sioux City, where the hydraulics were shot but the pilots had 2 working engines and thus thrust for steering and altitude control (but still like 160 people died). Basically, there is no way I can imagine that a commercial plane would land without its engines in Philadelphia and everyone would walk away that would not make the news. For several nights in a row. So if this incident was never reported to the FAA and kept quiet, there's a real story right there.

Any pilot who pulled that off would be as celebrated as Sully Sullenberger. He (we know it's a he in this case) would not be silent about the accomplishment.
posted by spitbull at 12:41 PM on May 19, 2013


Thoughts on Shannon's age and when this might have happened --- okay, he's 25/26 now. He mentions 'should have called his mother', about not having bought a wedding present, and how he should have gotten the cute girl's number: all of which, to me, indicates he was an adult traveling alone, most probably in the last 4-5 years.
posted by easily confused at 12:46 PM on May 19, 2013


If the author is simply mistaken about the engines shutting down -- if in fact the only emergency was the announced possible landing gear failure -- then the story doesn't seem as far-fetched.
posted by secretseasons at 1:21 PM on May 19, 2013


Or the whole thing is shot through with similar exaggerated details, as seems more likely.
posted by spitbull at 1:25 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The story is about his experience, not the factual truth. It's quite possible he misunderstood a lot, and it seems he wasn't really curious about what happened in the immediate aftermath. That is one well-known way of reacting to extreme duress.
I can also understand why he might have changed the flight details. The way he writes about the other passengers and the flight attendants might cause some grief. Remember, these people would also be experiencing their worst nightmare at the time, and would be very unhappy with his description. It might even have been the NYT lawyers who asked him to change the details.
posted by mumimor at 2:11 PM on May 19, 2013


We shall see. I wrote the Times to ask. It seems to me that if there were details changed on purpose they should say so; it is represented as a true story; and the most obviously exaggerated elements of the story are the basis for his representation of the experience as especially traumatic. It's one thing if the plane actually landed in Baltimore and not Philly. It's another thing entirely if the engines were never shut down and the Captain did not in fact have to shout his announcements to the passengers and the lights never really went completely out and there never really was any actual danger at all, just the fear. The landing gear was in fact extended and fine, so this is a "ha ha we were so scared of nothing" story, not an "OMG I survived the worst thing ever" story.
posted by spitbull at 4:42 PM on May 19, 2013


And man, with engines shut down and electricity off, how are they running the hydraulics for the control surfaces?

using the RAT.

Even presuming there would be some way to "level off" in an unpowered controlled descent in a jet (I can't picture how that would work aerodynamically)

that'd be when the ground effect became apparent.
posted by russm at 4:47 PM on May 19, 2013


If it landed with the landing gear, would it really make news? And it's possible that the other passengers did notice it was circling, and he was asleep, or had headphones on, or wasn't paying attention.
posted by barnone at 4:59 PM on May 19, 2013


And ok, you've got enough fuel to spend 2 hours burning it off, but not enough time to fly by a control tower somewhere for visual confirmation that your gear are in fact down and locked? Or enough evidence from the rate of fuel consumption and handling that the gear are down and creating, as they do, very significant wind drag?

neither drag from gear in the airstream nor visual inspection from the tower can guarantee that all the gear is in fact *locked*.
posted by russm at 5:34 PM on May 19, 2013


Thanks russm, you seem to know this stuff. So: is a jet pilot going to kill the engines when still well short of tarmac for a belly landing, and if so is that not a big deal and a rare thing that would have to be reported to FAA?
posted by spitbull at 6:21 PM on May 19, 2013


using the RAT.

Curiously, the page you link to lists cases where the RAT was employed, none of which have more than two points in common with the story in the NYT. Of course, it could be that there are a lot more cases where the RAT is employed that aren't listed.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:21 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


The story is about his experience, not the factual truth.

Actually, it's presented as both.

I can also understand why he might have changed the flight details. The way he writes about the other passengers and the flight attendants might cause some grief.... It might even have been the NYT lawyers who asked him to change the details.


This really doesn't make sense to me. People write about their experiences in traumatic situations all the time, and I've never heard it argued that it's necessary to change details of non-identifiable other people to protect their feelings when nobody would be able to identify them from the description anyway. No, that doesn't make sense.
posted by Unified Theory at 8:12 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not clear to me that by powering down, he means that the engines were completely shut off.
posted by chinston at 8:48 PM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


spitbull - I have 4 years of an Aero Eng. degree under my belt, but never worked in the industry. for the purposes of this discussion I'm just some guy with a slightly higher than average knowledge of fluid dynamics and aircraft engineering.

I'm not sure where I stand on this story. overall it seems sorta hinky, but a bunch of the things people here are jumping on seem pretty reasonable to me.
posted by russm at 9:42 PM on May 19, 2013


> Oddly, a small plane from Philadelphia belly-landed without wheels in Newark yesterday, but it seems like this happened after this peculiar piece was published.

I saw that and had a big double-take too. Turboprop, 31 passagers, but yeah, no way this could be the incident breathlessly described for the NYT.
posted by desuetude at 10:04 PM on May 19, 2013


Oddly, a small plane from Philadelphia belly-landed without wheels in Newark yesterday, but it seems like this happened after this peculiar piece was published.

In the article, the plane actually does land with wheels. The landing gear worked in the end: "Then the wheels kissed the ground like any other flight, brakes squealed and we rolled to a stop."

That's why I'm not sure if it would end up being reported by any kind of mainstream press - flights have potential issues all the time, but unless they end up badly, they aren't reported. They're probably documented by FAA or similar, but it's not going to make news every time a flight has an issue that doesn't result in any kind of damage.
posted by barnone at 7:13 AM on May 20, 2013


I was on a plane once that made an emergency landing, because the cabin smelled like burning wires.

No one seemed to notice that we were landing at the wrong airport until we were on the ground surrounded by firetrucks, but it was nighttime so perhaps if it was daylight people might have noticed. I didn't even get a coupon for a personal pan pizza, just pita chips.
posted by inertia at 10:22 AM on May 20, 2013


it should be very easy to verify what happened. flight number -> avherald.com . the site is dependable like few others. I am sure the nyt editors are already on this. (this post was featured on jimromenesko.com today as well.)
posted by krautland at 2:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


NYT Mag editor responds:

Shannon was on Frontier Airlines Flight 727 on June 30, 2011, from Washington to Denver. It was an Airbus A320. The author sat in seat 12A. This flight was diverted to Philadelphia. The F.A.A. reports that the pilot declared an emergency because of a low-hydraulics indicator light and that upon landing, the plane needed to be towed to the gate. Frontier Airlines confirms that an Airbus A320 experienced “a maintenance issue on departure from Washington DCA. The flight diverted to Philadelphia due to easier access. The aircraft and all passengers landed safely."
posted by neroli at 5:15 PM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]


Thanks for sharing the update, neroli.

I have been searching avherald.com for every combination of the flight details I can think of, but I haven't been able to find a report on the incident. Can someone else find it? Or is the Aviation Herald just not as complete as we thought? I'm not trying to question whether the incident happened; if the New York Times verified it with the airline, well, that's fairly definitive. But I'd still be curious to read an independent report of the incident.

Looking at the seat layout of a Frontier Airlines A320 explains one detail that had seemed dubious to me: I didn't think the author would be able to see and hear the captain if he stood at the front of the plane while the author was seated in an exit row. I thought the exit row would be too far back and the bulkhead between economy and first class would block the view. But it turns out that the plane in question doesn't have a first class bulkhead and the over-wing exits are at rows 11 and 12, not too far back.
posted by Orinda at 5:55 PM on May 30, 2013


This thread and other doubters in an essay about this in Inside Higher Ed.
posted by secretseasons at 4:47 PM on June 3, 2013


* An airline would give gifts after an emergency landing.

My parents once had a flight in the early 90s where the pilot thought the landing gear wasn't going to deploy, so they did a full foam landing strip, and crash position for all passengers, but it landed ok on the wheels. They did get a bunch of gifts in the form of free travel vouchers with the airline, but they never flew again due to fear.
posted by mathowie at 10:16 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I've search AVHerald, the NTSB database, and the FAA incident database. This event doesn't exist in any of them. That means that if it did happen, it was so minor that no one was interested in it.

* Electricity on a plane would be turned off in preparation for an emergency landing.
Not that I've ever seen or heard of, and I read tech manuals for fun at work. Especially if it was something minor like a hydraulic problem, they're gonna want the electrics for back up systems and, you know, the hydraulic pumps. And if you decide you need to go around and shoot the landing again for whatever reason, why on earth would you shut stuff off? The ONLY reason I can think of off the top of my head would be a massive fuel leak, which is not consistent with this account. Also, if you look at the recent accident at Heathrow (this guy here) a fuel leak and engine fire both occurred and there's no mention of shutting power down.

More likely, they probably followed normal landing procedures which (on every commercial flight I've ever been on, anyway) includes shutting off the cabin lights.

* Nobody noticed that their flight had been circling around Philadelphia for two hours before the landing
I suppose if he'd been asleep it's possible he missed it. It's not hard to tell you're just going around in circles, though - I've been on flights where we've been in holds for half an hour or more with no word from the cockpit, but people can tell.

* Philadelphia in particular has "the best standby emergency personnel."
Maybe after the fire services there failed to break open a UPS airplane that was on fire which eventually burned to the ground? The NTSB found after that accident that the fire rescue service was severely out of practice with their equipment - a common problem with airport fire rescue, actually, due to the relative lack of on-the-job experience compared to municipal firefighters. They had a brand new cutting truck designed to pierce the hull of the plane and blast water inside, but no one knew how to use it. Not what I would consider "the best", but maybe they've gotten better since 2006.

* An airline would give gifts after an emergency landing.
Not out of the realm of possibility if you've been stranded in a city you weren't expecting to be in. I can imagine getting a voucher for the food court at the airport if you're going to be there awhile. Credit towards a future flight? Sure, why not.

is a jet pilot going to kill the engines when still well short of tarmac for a belly landing, and if so is that not a big deal and a rare thing that would have to be reported to FAA?

Not usually, no. Small airplane will do this sometimes because striking the prop on the ground (or a "hard stop" of the engine) requires you to tear the whole engine apart and inspect it for damage, which is very costly. If you know you're doing a belly landing and you have your wits about you, this is a good way to several tens of thousands of dollars in damage. A properly executed belly landing actually won't damage the airplane all that much otherwise.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:33 AM on June 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Annnnd . . Patrick Smith, of "Ask the pilot," has weighed in.

It begins thusly, and goes for the jugular later. As I thought, a commercial pilot confirms this story was mostly bullshit.

A Flight of Fancy
Patrick Smith
"Ask The Pilot"


A silly story in the New York Times magazine gets some well-deserved flak. May I chime in?

June1, 2013

The story in question, written by a young, Brooklyn-based writer named Noah Gallagher Shannon, is this one.

Meanwhile, Conde Nast’s Clive Irving has joined The Atlantic‘s James Fallows in ringing the baloney bell on Mr. Shannon’s scary account.

Allow me to join the chorus:

Shoddy media coverage and overheated analysis of aviation incidents is nothing new. This particular essay, though, belongs in a category of its own. Shannon doesn’t give us a story about an emergency landing. He gives us an embellished tale about his own hysterical reaction to a manageable and ultimately harmless problem.

. . . .

It gets meaner.
posted by spitbull at 12:16 PM on June 4, 2013


Also see Clive Irving in the Daily Beast:
"No, Noah Gallagher Shannon, Your Plane Was Not Going to Crash"



But we do learn this from the Fallows/Times exchange. There was an actual flight:

Shannon was on Frontier Airlines flight 727 on June 30, 2011, from Washington to Denver. He was in seat 12A on an Airbus A320, and he explained that the pilot had declared an emergency because of a warning light indicating low hydraulics pressure.

Dude just experienced an emergency no one else noticed.
posted by spitbull at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2013


In the MetaTalk thread, someone posted a link to a flight-tracking site with info for the flight in question; the duration of the flight is listed there as only 42 minutes, which makes it hard to understand Shannon's claim that the plane had been "circling Philadelphia for two hours burning fuel and prepping personnel on the ground."
posted by mediareport at 7:14 AM on June 5, 2013


Update today... Patrick Smih of Ask the Pilot and Cockpit Confidential fame has seen the maintenance records for the Frontier A320 now.

The landing gear was never a problem. One hydraulic system out of three had low reservoir levels, but it was just a faulty indicator. No one on the flight was in danger. They did not circle to dump fuel. The sweatstained captain with the dangling cap was made up. No one was panicking or "not sugar coating" things. No one cried in the next seat.

The only risk was having to roll longer on landing if the right thrust reverser failed. Oh the horrors. We might take longer to stop.

The story is massive exaggeration crossed with outright fabrication. Any other newspaper would admit it just was not true, but the Times can only come up with "it's what he felt."


Noah Shannon Gallagher is a fabulist. He joins James Frey on Oprah's couch.

FPP answered. The answer is no. I win.
posted by spitbull at 4:09 AM on June 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Lot of great comments here -- it's abundantly clear that Shannon exaggerated key details of the story, most damningly the length of the flight and the exact nature of the problem. Thanks everyone!

I'll leave the thread open in case any other details surface.

Here's an interview with Shannon posted today.
posted by crazy with stars at 11:26 AM on June 14, 2013


Boy, the process by which a piece gets picked for the Times new fiction section (formerly Style) is exposed as an old boy network in that interview, huh?

So much hinges on the meaning of the word "True" in the original FPP question. I can see no definition of "true" under which Shannon's piece is cleared for takeoff. He was truly afraid, even though nothing was truly wrong, so I guess that's the true part. But every vivid detail in the story has turned out to be an exaggeration or a falsehood except the cities involved. The seating pattern I mentioned above, which he still hasn't explained, also can't be true in a 3x3 A320. He still says the captain "came out in the alley" (weird way to put it), but not a peep about the "not gonna sugarcoat it" quote or the sweatstains or the dangling cap, let alone the content of his purported speech to the passengers, which could not possibly have involved the words "landing gear." (The only landing gear implication of the hydraulic system involved is that it affects nose gear steering, which only means you can't turn the plane *once* you've safely landed. Seems unlikely the captain would have mentioned this as a reason for the diversion.)

It is telling that Mr. Shannon is apparently a student of postmodern literary fiction (as well as a member of the boys' club that passes freshman level writing through a chain of editors up to the Sunday Times).
posted by spitbull at 11:52 AM on June 14, 2013


That was a pretty good and forthright interview. I feel sorry for the guy.
posted by Unified Theory at 1:04 PM on June 14, 2013


Responses from the NYT Public Editor: June 4 and June 18
posted by pjenks at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


FYI: the NYT "Public Editor" position was created specifically in response to the Jayson Blair fiasco.
posted by neroli at 10:58 AM on June 18, 2013


Jim Fallows published his interview with Shannon in the Atlantic last week.
posted by yclipse at 6:03 PM on June 20, 2013


The magazine editor Hugo lindgren has updated his response (imo insufficiently) to the incident here.
posted by crazy with stars at 7:43 AM on June 21, 2013


Hugo Lindgren is rumored to be leaving the NYT. Could this story be partly to blame?
posted by crazy with stars at 7:20 PM on November 11, 2013


Confirmation here.
posted by crazy with stars at 1:44 PM on November 13, 2013


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