The right stuff in Hawaii

THESE days it seems as if much of the concern about airline safety focuses on ensuring that all the nuts and bolts are tightened to specs and all widgets properly installed. But the recent incident involving an Aloha Airlines Boeing 737 serves as a stunning reminder that all the widgets in the world are useless without a well-trained, experienced pilot at the stick.

Capt. Robert Schornstheimer skillfully guided his severely damaged jet to a safe landing, although about 20 feet of the forward cabin had been ripped off and one of the two engines was on fire. Some passengers called it one of the softest landings they had ever experienced; anything less than butterfly-smooth might have broken the fuselage apart.

To the notion that heroics were involved, the good captain might well reply, ``I just did what any pilot would do under those circumstances.'' But not just any pilot was put on the spot. He was. And he responded with skill and professionalism.

Nor is he alone. Over the last several years other commercial pilots have either avoided or reduced tragedy through their competence, setting a standard for their colleagues industrywide.

To the family of the flight attendant who was lost go our sympathy and prayers; to those injured, our hopes for a speedy recovery. To the federal officials who regulate airline safety goes our earnest desire that they work even harder to ensure that pilots like Captain Schornstheimer get the kind of well-maintained aircraft that allow them to respond to emergencies with confidence.

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