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Jewish World Review Oct. 29, 2001 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Bob Greene

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Don't say that we
weren't forewarned -- MAYBE we shouldn't be so confident that things are really going to change.

Maybe we shouldn't pat ourselves on the back quite so heartily as we tell ourselves that now we truly understand the severity of the dangers, and now we are willing to sacrifice our free-and-easy way of living in the name of protecting our society.

Why should we remain a little skeptical, even in these terrible days?

Consider this.

Diane M. Kezerle, a secretary with the Arthur Andersen accounting firm, was doing some research on a personal project at the Joliet Public Library, near her home.

She was going through some microfilmed copies of the Joliet Herald-News -- the item she was looking for was in the paper of Sunday, Sept. 27, 1970.

As she was looking at the old film of the newspaper, she noticed another story, near the one she was interested in. The headline of this unrelated story caught her eye:

"Bulletproof Cockpit Doors Asked to Thwart Hijackers."

The story, written by the Copley News Service, had a Washington dateline. Remember, this was 1970. It began:

"Airline pilots have demanded bulletproof cockpit doors and bulkheads to thwart would-be aerial hijackers."

The story reported that Charles Ruby, president of the Airline Pilots Association, had written to the Federal Aviation Administration asking for "action now" to protect passengers and flight crews. He said what was needed were bulletproof partitions separating the cockpits from the cabins, bulletproof doors with electromagnetic locks, bulletproof windows, and a sliding panel in the cockpit doors so pilots could use defensive devices.

The news story said that "almost every incident of air violence has seen a demand to enter the flight deck and to confer with the captain." By making it impossible, or at least extremely difficult, for a hijacker to get into the cockpit, the story quoted the pilots' official as saying, the FAA and the airlines could avoid situations in which violence toward the cockpit crew could lead to tragedy.

As Diane Kezerle read this 31-year-old news story she had stumbled upon, she said, she "was just heartbroken. All that time ago, the pilots knew this was necessary. If the terrorists on Sept. 11 had not been able to gain access to the cockpit, the pilots could have steered those planes away from the buildings, and saved all those lives.

"I don't know why no one acted on these suggestions," Kezerle said. "Was it a matter of economics? Was it a matter of airline safety going out of the news when something else came up? I don't know if anyone has the answers, but 31 years ago, the pilots were telling the government what needed to be done."

The pilots' proposal was quite detailed -- right down to the kind of equipment best for communicating with the passenger cabin from behind the locked cockpit door, and the type of hinge pins that should be used on the door for safety reasons. In their letter to the FAA, the pilots said, "the materials required are currently available, lightweight and relatively inexpensive. The technology is available and extensive modification is not necessary."

Kezerle kept looking through the microfilms; she found another story published the same month -- Sept. 26, 1970 -- in which then-Secretary of Transportation John A. Volpe and then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover announced that hundreds of armed FBI and Treasury agents, along with FAA air marshals and trained military personnel, would be riding on U.S. flights to make sure passengers were safe. Volpe said that, in addition to the armed air marshals, "the most important single thing would be preventing a potential hijacker from ever getting on an airplane."

Thirty-one years ago, they apparently knew what was necessary. And yet, 31 Septembers later. . . .

The Airline Pilots Association, in its 1970 letter to the FAA, said that for the protection of passengers, crews and the American public, no halfway measures should be acceptable, and that the U.S. government must be "the international leader in security measures."

Otherwise, the pilots of 1970 said, hijackers could do something to the cockpit crews that would "mean certain disaster for all aboard the airplane."

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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