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The Safest Way to Go?

By Colin F. Boyle

LET'S see. On July 19, 111 people die when a DC-10 crashes in Sioux City, Iowa, after its rear engine disintegrates. Then, this weekend, another DC-10 has to make an emergency landing in Denver after its tail engine explodes in the air.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) decides to check into the matter to see if the DC-10 should be grounded. The conclusion? According to FAA Administrator James B. Busey, the nation's top aviation official, there is not sufficient evidence to keep the plane on the ground.

"It's safe to fly. I would fly in the aircraft today," says Busey, who has held his post for six very long weeks.

Whew! And I thought I was going to have to give up my frequent flyer miles.

How many people have to die in DC-10 crashes before the FAA wakes up? Two rear-engine explosions in less than a month indicate a fairly serious problem, and the FAA would be well-advised to ground the jet until its comes up with a solution to that problem.

There is a precedent for such an action. All DC-10s were grounded for a month in 1979 after an American Airlines plane lost a wing engine during take-off. That accident took the lives of 258 people.

A government-industry task force has been set up to discuss possible changes in the design of the DC-10, which is built by McDonnell Douglas, and other large aircraft, including the L-1011 and the Boeing 747. It is, however, unclear when that group will make its recommendations to the FAA.

For all we know, the two accidents just may have been tragic coincidences, and DC-10s could be perfectly safe to fly. But there are enough similarities between the incidents to alarm frequent and infrequent flyers alike.

Until we know for sure that DC-10s are just as safe as any other airplane, the FAA should ground the plane. The cost in human terms is too great to do anything else.

Recess Success: Humorist Will Rogers was once quoted as saying that no one's life or property is safe as long as Congress is in session. As true as that may be, no one is better off than President Bush now that the federal legislature has gone on its much-anticipated summer recess.

During the first seven months of his administration, Bush had some legislative victories, most recently his Savings and Loan industry bailout plan, which both Houses approved with only minor changes.

But Congress also dealt Bush the two biggest defeats of his early administration by rejecting the president's nominations of John Tower for secretary of defense and William Lucas for assistant attorney general in charge of the civil rights division.

With Congress on vacation, Bush now has the authority to appoint people to acting positions in the administration without Senate approval. Although it is unclear if Bush will name Lucas to a Justice Department post, the president, who has drawn criticism for not filling important positions, should be able to put together the rest of the executive branch puzzle.

But Congress reconvenes on September 6, and the Senate must review any acting appointments before they become permanent. Given the intensity of the investigations into Tower and Lucas, Bush and his future appointees will probably end up agreeing with Rogers' assessment.

Stranger and Stranger: It might just be that the summer heat is getting to me, but do these recent news bits strike anyone else as a bit strange?

The September 11 James Taylor concert to be held in Harvard Stadium was initially planned to be held in the Yard on the day after Commencement. I knew JT was a big star, but I didn't realize he was so big that heads of state, like Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto '73, would open for him.

Chinese dissident student leader Wuer Kaixi, who reportedly wants to attend Harvard, was in Byerly Hall this week to take placement tests and the Quantitative Reasoning Requirement. I hope he passed the QRR. Can you see the revolutionary who turned a nation of a billion people on its ear having to take an introductory statistics class because he scored only a 19?

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