Pilot nightmare: Passenger flings open door and jumps out

Here is a scene that I think would take one of the top spots of a pilot’s worst nightmare.

Right when you’re flying 23,000 above one of the coldest places above Canada this time of year, one of your two passengers, the one who has been freaking out, totally loses his marbles, flings open the door and jumps out.

That’s what happened a couple days ago to two pilots who were taking two passengers from Yellowknife to Cambridge Bay in a Beechcraft King Air 200 twin-turboprop.

The one passenger became “unruly” and couldn’t be stopped from forcing open the door and jumping out. That was a horrifying scene, I’m sure.

Then, as if that wasn’t enough, to make things more dicey, there was that open door that wouldn’t cooperate and close again. That meant that the pilot had to make an emergency landing with the door open.

Talk about a wind tunnel. Heavens!

The 20 year-old who jumped is still being searched for and the pilot is too shaken up to talk. Understandably so. [via AP in Newsday.com]

Big in Japan: Why Japan leads the world in suicide

Before you read any further, please adhere to the following warning:

Although it’s the Holiday season, this post most likely is going to depress the hell out of you, especially if you’re living in Japan.

Are you still with me? Alright then, but don’t say that I didn’t warn you.

This week, the Japanese government announced that the number of suicides in the country topped 30,000 for the ninth straight year in a row. Clearly, this was one record that they were not happy to achieve.

At the press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said that a combination of economic hardships and job stress were the leading factors behind the high suicide rate.

Although the government said that employers were obliged to treat depression at the workplace, they are also proposing a range of measures including raising society’s awareness of depression and promoting mental health programs.

In fact, the government hopes that by the year 2016, they will have succeeded in cutting the number of suicides by 20 percent. “This is a problem that needs to be dealt with comprehensively by society,” Machimura told reporters.


The raw data on suicides is, to say the least, all together depressing.

According to government projections, 32,155 people killed themselves last year, which was a decrease of 397 from the previous year.

However, according to data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), Japan’s suicide rate remains the ninth-highest in the world.

(In case you were wondering, Lithuania had the highest suicide rate, followed by Belarus and Russia. And, for the record, the United States ranked No. 43 in the report).

So why exactly do so many people in Japan kill themselves?

Although it’s difficult to objectively measure quality of life, Machimura believes that Japanese people are strongly impacted by financial pressures and job stress.

“Suicide rates tend to rise when there is a recession and long working hours may also have an influence” said Machimura.

However, despite the monumental task ahead, Machimura is convinced that the government can effectively reduce suicide rates. “Suicide can be prevented. A sickness of the heart is a sickness, therefore it can be cured.”


Government findings also indicated that the highest rates of suicide were in the northern prefecture of Akita. The report also found that men are more likely to commit suicide than women, and that Monday was the most popular day for ending one’s life as opposed to a Saturday or holiday.

In regards to methodology, the most common method of suicide chosen by Japanese people is hanging, while young people prefer to asphyxiate themselves on the carbon monoxide from charcoal burners.

The report also highlighted the sad reality that Tokyo train services are frequently halted by people jumping on the tracks.

As I said, today’s post was anything but shiny and happy, though hopefully everyone reading this can take a moment to appreciate the value of their lives, and head into the weekend with a smile their face.

On that note, please do smile – sometimes it truly is the best medicine!

A Canadian in Beijing: Shannon’s Wings

Today is the one-year anniversary of my friend’s death. One year ago today my friend committed suicide and I had never before lost a loved one to the concept of choice. It was shocking, to say the least, and I struggled hard to work through the meanings, the messages, the learning, the processing, the feelings. And, that work is never truly over.

She took to the sky and her wings were hers to exercise, I know. But, we all miss her. We only have the feathers she left behind and a lot of unanswered questions. The word of the year has been: acceptance.

Here I am in Beijing – so far from my little country town (where she died) and Montreal (where she lived) – and yet it feels like Shannon is just next door, living across the hall. As it happens with significant things in our lives, when the time of year comes around again that marks the passing of time since that event, everything seems to be a reminder of her as though she’s really close by. Thoughts themselves seem to manifest outside of my mind into the so-called randomness of life. That is how it has been for me these past few days. Shannon has been in everything my eyes have lingered on; she has been in every conversation that has sparked my interest; she’s even in my lessons at school.

We learned the word for suicide yesterday and it came up again today: Zi Sha 自杀 . Seeing as Bejing is twelve hours ahead of Montreal at the moment, I felt that was fitting. Both days full of reminders to mark one day back home.

I also had a great chat with an artist yesterday about the concept of breathing, cross-species communication, flight. All of these topics were in Shannon’s art and as I chatted with this artist in Chinese in a dimly lit café over cold beers, I felt as though I could have been chatting to her in English on a dimly lit country porch over red wine. Same vibe. Same style of conversation. Language, country, gender irrelevant.

This week began with a visit to a bird sanctuary, as well, which also symbolizes my friend. She loved birds and drew them regularly. She collected feathers and repeatedly photographed, carved and painted a dead sparrow that she found that had apparently frozen to death. It lay frozen in time and it captured her interest in a really special, poignant way. This image has now become symbolic of her life, her yearning for release, her curiosity about the other side.

The bird sanctuary was an accidental discovery. My friend and I stumbled on it while walking around and exploring the countryside. For just 6 kuai a person (with our student cards – less than $1 Canadian), we were able to stroll through the park and visit all the birds. But, nothing is an accident, really. The timing of this discovery was right in line with the significance of this time – a commemoration of my friend.

I took copious pictures of birds from all over the world, not just China. So many colours and shapes and sizes. I was amazed by the diversity of birds in this small sanctuary. Put a sparrow next to an ostrich and it seems uncanny that they’re both birds (Just look at those ostrich feet!) Put a turkey next to a flamingo and it’s hard to see how they’re from the same species! But, they’re all beautiful in their own way… (be nice to the turkeys, now!)

There were these super large birds whose Chinese name I have forgotten. (Does anyone know what they’re called in English?) They were the most interesting to me because they appear to be so animated with their large eyes, their slouched and hobbled walk. (The opening shot on this blog is of this bird and below is its full body.) It reminds me a kid’s cartoon whose name I have also forgotten, or the way judges in court are often depicted with their hunched shoulders, spectacled eyes and long gowns resembling black feathers. The fact that they’re so big also made it possible to read expression in their eyes, which is something you can’t normally do with birds. I told them (silently) that I was sorry that they were trapped in there. They looked at me with disgust. We were both helpless in that moment.

I walked away from their large cage feeling a rush of wanting to release them all – every bird in the park – and let them take to the sky. I know it’s not responsible. After all, look at the effect of starlings on North America just because of one man’s desire to have all the birds of England in Central Park? But, the urge to release a winged creature is something that just rushes up in me when I see a bird in a cage. I want to use my opposable thumbs to help them return to the wide open spaces above it all…

And, of course, along the exit pathway there was a full wall that showed birds that have already gone extinct and when. Many of these extinctions are a result of development, pollution, hunting, and of course a lack of human foresight that led to thoughtless decisions or loss of habitat. It struck me that perhaps it is possible that some of these birds simply went away. Maybe they just didn’t feel like staying in this world in the way that it was and has become. They left.

It’s possible. Anything’s possible.

Shannon’s date of extinction was June 12th, 2006. For me, her face was on that wall too. I miss her.

I miss you.

High Seas: Prefer Murder or Suicide?

We’re not ones to fear-monger, but this story was surprising. Thursday’s The Guardian ran a story about the numerous passenger disappearances from cruise ships over the past few years. It turns out that at least 30 people have simply vanished from cruise ships in the past four years.

Considering the large numbers of passengers on cruises annually, and, while very regrettable,30 is not a large number. What’s shocking is how little is done to solve this disappearances or prevent them. Take the disappearance of a woman from a Celebrity Cruise in 2004. On the second day of the cruise, a steward told his boss that the woman’s cabin hadn’t been slept in. Apparently, nothing was done, and the steward continued to place chocolates on the bed each day, through the duration of the cruise. After the cruise was over, the woman’s things were boxed up and removed from the room. And no one notified any authorities. It wasn’t until her family made a missing persons report that any action was taken. The case is still not closed. Not surprising, considering how cold the trail would become..