The one we watched the other night was entitled “Pilot Betrayed” concerning a Scandinavian Airlines flight that crashed shortly after take-off from Zurich. The plane had been left overnight in freezing temperatures with the wings still containing fuel. Despite the plane being de-iced “clear ice” still remained on the top surfaces of the wings which was not spotted by the captain or ground personnel.
As the plane took off, large pieces of ice slid off the wing surfaces and slammed into the fan blades of both engines causing them massive damage. This caused the engines to surge which in turn caused them to start to break up just 25 seconds into the flight. Both engines failed soon afterwards with the plane only around 1,000 metres into the air.
The pilot of the plane responded by putting the plane into a steep dive to attempt to build up speed before placing it into a steady glide once they had emerged from the cloud layer. The higher speed would enable the pilot to keep the plane in the air for the longest possible distance without stalling. He then requested a return to Arlanda airport and started the procedure to try to restart the damaged engines.
The pilot then noticed a clearing in a forest and decided the safest option would be to put down within the forest clearing performing an emergency landing. As the plane approached the clearing it caught some of the trees, slicing off a large part of one of the wings. The plane performed a 180 degree turn and landed on the ground tail first, breaking into three parts before coming to a stop.
Some people were injured, a few of whom had quite serious injuries but no one died. The captain and crew were praised as heroes for the way they handled the emergency. No one had died, everyone made a full recovery and everyone patted each other on the back and got on with their lives.
Captain Stefan G Rasmussen, today, is the man most affected by the events of that day. He is deeply moving as he speaks of the occasion. He describes how, once the dust had settled, he took off his pilot’s cap and began to help the shocked and tearful passengers from the plane. He tells of his relief when he realised all the passengers and crew were unharmed standing with him in the forest clearing.
The man who was thrust into the spotlight and branded a hero nearly 30 years ago is still tearful as he describes for the cameras the events of those few minutes that made him a sort after hero. He speaks of the events that have changed his life so completely, remembering every detail, having lived them thousands of times since.
He speaks slowly with a dignified way about him; “Even though I’m proud of what I did then, life has not been easy since. I was freed as a pilot at the age of 44 years with the title “hero” and it has damn been no desirable position. Nobody has stood in line to hire me. Not even from the aviation industry. People might have thought that I was overqualified. But I’m just an ordinary person who has had a very unusual experience.”
As he is speaking he looks over at his “memorial wall” – framed photographs of his life. Many from the period just after the crash; during the press conferences soon after the incident, wearing a support collar and describing the events for the first time. Another photograph of him smiling as he receives the Knight’s Cross for his heroism. He is seen being pictured with other dignitaries during his time as a Danish Conservative MP.
This later career in politics, just like his flying career before it, abandoned because the psychological aftermath of the accident is just too big for this man to cope with. He was diagnosed with “posttraumatic stress disorder”.
Today, he works as a Councillor and has spent time lecturing but as his fame has dwindled with the passing years so has interest in this fascinating man.
“When I look at it today, the crash gave me many great experiences that I otherwise never would have had. It also changed my outlook on life. I feel I got a second chance and learned to appreciate life more. But the media bustle was difficult to handle. People have accused me of bathing in the attention. It’s not the way it is and I do not understand their jealousy. I have not – nor have I ever tried to live up to the stereotypical image of a hero. I cry easily, as I showed back then, and I have for example spoken publicly about what to do if you have urination problems. It’s anti-hero-ish and not very manly. I have always done what I felt was right. And I do not regret any of it despite the fact that it probably has had consequences.”
As the programme finishes the announcer speaks of Stefan G Rasmussen and how there is a layer of bitterness that lies over his hero status. Despite this, his approach to life is good. When he is not giving lectures or sitting in the council chambers, he finds joy in his two great passions – playing golf and tending his garden.
Asked about his first love – the passion for flying – he smiles and just lifts his hands in a shrug.