Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Jolly Old England
The boss sent me on a junket to England. The plane was filled with rival reporters, so when we got to Manchester I played sick. Then I met my escort, furnished by the British government, and we went to the airplane manufacturing plant. I was met with some hostility but I confirmed that the Rolls Royce engines were not to blame -- it was the weakness of the fuselage that had exploded over Rome, killing 200 people. It was this disaster that prompted Eddie Rickenbacher, the president of Eastern Airlines, to cancel a contract for planes. I rejoined the tour and suffered through some embarassment about my weak stomach. But I had my story. When I got back to Houston I called Rickenbacher and he confirmed the cancellation. Then, to my chagrin, the lawyers for the newspaper cancelled the story, saying it was unsafe. All that time wasted. Six months later, a New York newspaper published the story. All of this led to reinforced fuselages on airplanes. It made it safer to fly.