The Tricks Used by Pilots, Surgeons & Engineers to Overcome Human Error – Facts So Romantic

When Germanwings Flight 4U9525 crashed into the French Alps in March it did not take investigators long to determine the reason: Co-pilot Andreas Lubitz had been suffering from depression and crashed the plane as a means to commit suicide. But that doesn’t tell the whole story; investigators needed to know more. Why was he allowed to pilot a jet full of passengers despite his treatment for mental illness? How did he manage to lock the pilot out of the cockpit? What faults in the system allowed that fatal combination of circumstances to occur?

Such questions have become routine following major accidents. They reflect an understanding that in any complex technological system the human is but a single component, albeit a crucial one. People often blame human error for accidents when they can’t find a mechanical cause. But that’s too simple, as the investigators of Germanwings and other tragedies know; for mistakes rarely happen in a vacuum.

For most of human history, the notion of “human error” did not exist, in the sense of mistakes that cascade into technological accidents. Certainly our ancestors made their share of errors, but there was only so much damage that a slip with…

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