Power of Words...

Posted by redthil On 7/10/2007 07:44:00 PM

Some believe the school-yard taunt: "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me." They're wrong.

I'm not referring to the caustic ones spoken (or received) tainted with sarcasm, irritation, anger or frustration, carrying an emotional punch. I'm talking about simple, everyday, normal word choices.

What I want to emphasise is the unrecognised power of words. the value of the individual word. We take words - language - very much for granted, just as we take our eyes, our power of vision for granted. But both are tremendously flexible and wide-ranging powers - which have hardly been described in any complete way, never mind explained.

The follwing real life incident illustrates the power of words, the different roles which language plays.

Avianca Flight 52

On Thursday, January 25, 1990, Avianca Flight 52 - a regularly scheduled flight from Colombia's José María Córdova International Airport to New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, a Boeing 707-321B, crashed into the town of Cove Neck, Long Island, New York after running out of fuel. 73 out of the 158 passengers and crew on board were killed.

I know that you're wondering as what connection does this accident has with the "Power of Words"... You'll certainly get cleared when you've finished reading this...

The last minutes of Flight 52

Avianca Flight 52 had been in a holding pattern over New York for over one hour due to fog limiting arrivals and departures into John F. Kennedy International Airport. During this hold, the aircraft was exhausting its reserve fuel supply which would have allowed it to divert to Boston in case of an emergency or situation such as this one.

Around 77 minutes after it had begun holding, New York Air Traffic Control asked the crew how long they could continue to hold, to which the first officer replied "...about five minutes." The First Officer then stated that their alternate was Boston, but since they had been holding for so long they would not be able to make it anymore; the controller then cleared the aircraft into runway 22L.

As Flight 52 flew the approach, they encountered wind shear at lower than 500 feet (≈ 150 metres) and the plane descended below the altitude needed to safely descend into the runway. Air traffic controllers had only informed the flight of wind shear at 1500 feet (≈ 450 metres) and not at lower altitude. This forced the crew to announce a missed approach, yet, at this point, the plane did not have enough fuel to make another approach.

The crew alerted the controller that they were low on fuel and in a subsequent transmission stated "We're running out of fuel, sir." The controller asked the crew to climb to which the first officer replied "No, sir, we're running out of fuel." Moments later, the number four engine shut off, quickly followed by the other three. With the aircraft's power supply now drained, the cabin's lights shut off and the aircraft was plunged into darkness. Within seconds, the entire aircraft had lost all power, causing it to plunge into the small village of Cove Neck, New York in northern Long Island, 15 miles (24 kilometres) from the airport.

The aircraft struck and slid down a hill in the town, splitting into two pieces as it reached the bottom. The impact flung the cockpit into a nearby building. Due to the lack of jet fuel, the aircraft did not burst into flames, probably saving the lives of the 85 survivors. In the aftermath, 73 passengers and crew lay dead, and another 85 had been injured.

I think you've got some idea about the connection of this incident with the "Power of Words". Even if you've not figured out the connections, the following investigation report by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) helps you in identifying the connections...

Cause and Investigation

The NTSB report on the accident determined the cause as pilot error due to the crew never declaring a fuel emergency to air traffic control as per IATA guidelines. The crew was reported to have asked for "priority" landing which, due to language differences in English and Spanish, can be interpreted as an emergency to the Spanish speaking pilots but not to the English speaking Air Traffic Controllers. This may have caused some confusion amongst the pilots when the ATC confirmed their priority status. Some NTSB board members felt that ATC was negligent in not providing arriving aircraft with the latest wind shear information which may have alerted the crew to possible difficulties in landing. Avianca Airlines threatened to sue the FAA for the actions of the air controllers, who they felt were negligent in misunderstanding the pilots reports. The FAA countered stating that the crew never declared a fuel emergency until the final minutes before the crash, and had never reported the amount of fuel they had left when asking for priority landing, making it impossible for air traffic controllers to give them correct priority status. It was also determined that the crew never attempted to divert to the alternate destination of Boston despite being aware they would be in a holding pattern for up to forty-five minutes, though this may have been due to the fact the pilots misunderstood their priority confirmation.

The following is snapshot of the actual report submitted by the NTSB... Click on the image to view the enlarged version and Do read it...
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You can download the complete report here

I came to know about the above accident thru one of my fav TV show "Air Crash Investigations -Deadly Delay" telecasted in NGC(National Geographic Channel), which i watched today morning 11 AM. This is the one which inspired me to write this post.

What one word onboard the plane could have saved more lives? I think now you'ld have definitely understood the true Power of Words.

Words create impressions, images and expectations. They build psychological connections. They influence how we think. Since thoughts determine actions, there's a powerful connection between the words we use and the results we get.

Poorly chosen words can kill enthusiasm, impact self-esteem, lower expectations and hold people back. Well chosen ones can motivate, offer hope, create vision, impact thinking and alter results.

Words can hurt you even in the workplace. If you want to be winning at working, learn to harness your word power to work for, not against you; select words that create a visual of the desired outcome; and choose each word as if it mattered. You might be surprised how much it does.

Want better results? Check your words.

References :
http://www.answers.com/topic/avianca-flight-52
http://www.ntsb.gov/Recs/letters/1991/A91_37_38.pdf
http://www.airlinesafety.com/editorials/HumanErrorVsTerrorism.htm - LANGUAGE BARRIERS/NON-ASSERTIVE BEHAVIOR
http://www.flightsafety.org/ap/ap_apr90.pdf

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redthil
Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.
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