Sunday, May 6, 2012

Marooned In The Sky: A Tragicomic Yarn

In the early decades of the 20th century, when lighter-than-air flight was more common, it sometimes happened that a dirigible passing too close to a power line would be pulled in by the magnetic field generated by the electricity and get stuck to the line.  Electricity was expensive back then and the technology for delivering it was clumsy, so it was a big deal to turn the electricity off, affecting thousands of customers, in order to free the craft.  While local officials argued over procedures the crew of the craft might be stranded in the air for hours.

On one tragic occasion a member of such a crew, overcome by anxiety, suffered a heart attack in the air.  Upon learning of the news a gallant technician on the ground took up a fire axe, cursed the bureaucrats and chopped right through a cable.  He suffered electrical burns in the process, but the stranded craft was freed.  Despite this heroic effort, however, the crewman died before help could reach him.  Since then dirigibles have been legally required to fly much higher.

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