The high price of entertainment

This is a really sobering finding. The Transportation Board of Canada has spent the last few years examining the crash of SwissAir Flight 111, which took off from JFK in 1998 and went down off the coast of Halifax, killing all 229 people aboard.

Their conclusion? The on-board fire may have been caused by the jet’s recently-installed entertainment system, which provided “video and gambling games and movies”:

Canadian investigators have concluded that the 1998 crash of Swissair Flight 111, in which all 229 people on board were killed, was caused by sparks from faulty wiring that ignited flammable insulation above the cockpit, crippling the aircraft’s electrical system.

A report released today by the Transportation Board of Canada stopped short of blaming any single factor for causing the fire that doomed Flight 111 within an hour after the plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-11, took off for Switzerland from New York’s Kennedy International Airport.

But the report strongly suggested that a hastily installed entertainment system that provided games for passengers in first class and business class was probably at least partly to blame for starting the fire, perhaps by overloading the aircraft’s inadequate electrical wiring.

This freaks me out. I’m a huge fan of innovative technological roll-outs; I was one of the first to cheer when I heard that Boeing was outfitting some tranatlantic 747s with Wifi. Last time I flew to England, I spent a couple of hours playing the (rather lame, but whatever) games on the inflight system. Now I’m probably going to be overly-paranoid whenever I board and find out that I can there’s a Super Mario knockoff installed on my seat-back.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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