Nick Matzke posted Entry 507 on September 23, 2004 10:35 PM.
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This isn’t evolution, but it is biology related.

During and after college, I spent several summers working for the Oregon State University Forestry Department, Forest Sciences lab, and for the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.  Many of these jobs involved some combination of measuring trees, surveying vegetation, and otherwise being ecological.  It was great fun, and I think that it’s hard to really understand biology unless you’ve really spent some time out in the field not just hiking around, but carefully examining and identifying some of the ridiculous number of organisms out there.

So anyway, some guy in an office with a GIS (Geographic Information System) usually sets up the survey scheme.  Sometimes the survey points are on a regular grid, sometimes they are stratified random, etc.  Generally, you get handed a list of latitude/longitude coordinates, and have to go out and get to them guided by maps, air photos, and a GPS, and taking care to deal with the various barriers — private land (call up the owner to get permission, or he might shoot you), clearcuts (walk on top of the logs, don’t slip off you might break your neck), poison oak (I’m immune, heh heh heh), Devil’s Club (look before you grab, there are like a million needlelike thorns per square inch), cliffs, rivers, mud, interesting plants to identify, etc.  It’s all rather glorious, actually.  We once had a plot located about 500 feet down a cliff above the John Day River in eastern Oregon (we scratched that one off the list as a “hazard plot”).

Apparently a Forest Service vegetation survey crew in Montana had a really remote location, and were getting flown in.  But the plane they were in crashed.  Read this news story from Tuesday.  Then, read this news story from today.  Amazing.

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Comment #7911

Posted by Mr George on September 24, 2004 8:21 AM (e)

What can you say to that except “S–t!!!”

Comment #7912

Posted by Klaus Hellnick on September 24, 2004 9:08 AM (e)

Talk about incompetant investigators! How could they possibly have mistaken the remains of 2 people for 5 bodies?

Comment #7920

Posted by Bo Johansson on September 24, 2004 11:46 AM (e)

In an aircraft crash, it is not all that unusual to be uncertain about the number of bodies in the wreck. The fire from fuel and light metal components of the aircraft can make it extremely difficult to se how many victims there are.

There was a crash close to my local airport, and even though the airport fire brigade was there within a couple of minutes, it took quite some time for them to realise that there were two bodies in the aircraft. So they spent about 30 minutes looking for the second body that they reasoned must have fallen out of the aircraft.

Comment #7921

Posted by Gary Hurd on September 24, 2004 11:53 AM (e)

It raises three points of interest:

1) the survivors would have been flown to hospitals in ~ 1 day after the wreck if they has stayed at the scene,

2) most investigators don’t like to look too hard at badly smashed and burnt bodies,

3) “miracles” are invoked as explanation of every long odds event.

Comment #7978

Posted by Ed Darrell on September 25, 2004 7:34 PM (e)

Trying to avoid looking like an X-Files investigator, I keep looking for some explanation as to why the two would have walked away from the crash, particularly so badly injured as they were.

There probably is a perfectly logical explanation for how they could have survived the crash, and for why, when and how they walked away. But when that explanation is found, we faithful will note the long, long odds, and say it is in the nature of a miracle, at a minimum.

Comment #7981

Posted by RBH on September 25, 2004 8:04 PM (e)

Ed Darrell wrote

There probably is a perfectly logical explanation for how they could have survived the crash, and for why, when and how they walked away. But when that explanation is found, we faithful will note the long, long odds, and say it is in the nature of a miracle, at a minimum.

But then, of course, the death of the others is also the responsibility of whatever worked that miracle. Selectively saving two as a “miracle” implies that the other three died in direct consequence of the miracle-worker’s indifference to their particular fate.


Comment #7982

Posted by Bob Maurus on September 25, 2004 9:11 PM (e)

To elaborate on RBH’s post, we’ve all seen the wide receiver drop to his knee in the end zone and praise God for his reception/touchdown, and hopefully wondered if He really, in the end, is so inconsequential that he intervenes in football games.

I realize that there are those who believe that God rides herd on everything that goes down, but I wonder if they ever stop to think the whole thing through. For instance, in an accident in which only one of the two participants srvived, it follows that if God saved participant A, he blew off participant B. One can only wonder why.

Comment #7983

Posted by Nick (Matzke) on September 25, 2004 9:49 PM (e)

Howdy folks,

I wrote this post mostly for the “whoa” factor. I suppose I should have guessed the direction it might go with everyone from forensic anthropologists, to skeptics, to theists in the audience…

Anyhoo, if we’re going to be boring and rational about it, GH is probably right, especially when we think about crashing a small, low velocity aircraft rather than a jet. What was more remarkable to me was not the surviving bit, but the fact that everyone thought they were dead and that this was the official media account. GH is probably right there also, there are reasons inspectors wouldn’t look too close. Still, how many times does someone’s death get confidentally reported in the press, and then you pitch up alive two days later? One of those “only in the movies” moments…

Moral of the story? Take your pick:

1. Wear your seatbelt
2. Stay near the crash site
3. Don’t fly in single engine aircraft
4. Don’t give up hope