Raked by the Spotlight

Wow, the last 36 hours have been interesting. My publicist asked me in a phone meeting if I wanted to write a piece tying Fireball to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. My first inclination was, of course I don’t. In no way do I want to exploit so obvious a tragedy, but some hours passed and she queried me again, prompting me with an article about unsolved air mysteries.

I banged out 500 words in 17 minutes and sent it off; in no time at all she told me Fox News had asked for an exclusive on my op-ed. And so was born my first national byline. Within minutes I was asked for radio interviews by Fox national radio and Voice of Russia, and then Relevant Radio in Minnesota. A national op-ed and three significant radio interviews resulted from the gut feeling of my publicist that my expertise connected with research into the 1942 crash of TWA Flight 3 in Nevada could be informative and maybe even important to this global story.

Sean Hannity saw the op-ed and asked me to appear with him on Fox TV today, but then the story shifted from air disaster to air what-the-hell? prior to my 6:30 P.M. interview slot at the studio in downtown Pittsburgh, and I was “pushed” to an indeterminate point in the future.

In the radio interviews of the past 24 hours, I have been asked interesting, thoughtful questions about air transportation in general because the current mystery is do deep, so engrossing, that humans struggle to grasp it. Sure there’s historical context related to TWA Flight 3: commercial air transportation still isn’t an exact science, and in a void of information, wild speculation fills that void, and pilots are highly trained and worthy of the benefit of the doubt, and most important, until we know otherwise, we keep hoping for a miracle.

Then I’m asked about Fireball, and I’m reminded how incredible this 1942 air mystery is, how enduring, and all of a sudden seasoned radio professionals are stunned, mesmerized, asking for more and more about something that’s 72 years old.

All I want to do is keep spreading the Fireball message: so many angles, so many people to honor—from those on the plane to first responders to investigators; so much relevance to the audience of 2014 for a story that originated before the middle of the last century.

No, we haven’t yet figured out air travel. Yes, fragile humans continue to strap themselves into tubes and wings and launch themselves into the upper atmosphere and rely on other humans to see them safely down again. I continue to watch with the rest of the world as this latest aviation mystery unfolds, and marvel at the ongoing mysteries of flight.


  1. It is, indeed, ironic, Robert, that shortly after your release of a book about an airline disaster mystery that occurred over 70 years ago the world’s attention should once again be rivetted by yet another great mystery and presumed tragedy of the skies. Today, with the absence of any information about what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, that void is being filled with theories.

    Just as, over the years, the mystery continued over why those 22 souls, including a famous actress, inexplicably died on Mount Potosi on a clear night near Vegas so long ago. Hopefully this latest incident will not turn out to be another Bermuda Triangle.

    In any event, Robert, I realize that it must be a crazy time for you, not only promoting Fireball, but also being interviewed by the media for your knowledge on commercial air travel, as well as helping to bring this current baffling 2014 mystery an historical perspective regarding that other air tragedy which, likewise, so shocked and mystified America mere weeks after its entry into WWII.

  2. I was watching CNN this morning and thought about your book, Robert, which I have yet to read, and also about the differences between air travel in the 30s and 40s, and air travel now. I guess what is concerning about the Malaysian flight is that there are so many more navigation tools, modes of communication, and technological developments that make flying safer and planes easier to trace. Despite the Malaysian flight’s disappearance and the recent sudden landing in Philadelphia, flying today is safer than driving a motor vehicle. When I watch old films that feature flight, I wonder how people overcame their fear of the risks involved in flying.

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