Could apply to a CCwer stepping in to help... interesting...
Like all great mysteries, this begins with a corpse. On January 13, 1982, Air Florida Flight 90 smashed nose-first into the rock-solid ice covering the Potomac River just outside Washington, D.C. To horrified onlookers, it seemed impossible that anyone could be alive inside the mangled steel carcass slowly vanishing into the water. But one by one, six survivors gasped to the surface and grabbed desperately at the tail of the plane.
They'd had to swim up past their dead friends and seatmates and spouses to escape. They knew that unless they were pulled out, fast, they'd soon be sinking back down to join them. Just hanging on was agony: The six survivors had fractured arms and shattered legs, and their hands were freezing into claws that slipped from the wet steel.
"Help us!" they screamed. "We're going to die out here!"
They were only 40 or so yards from the Virginia shore but surrounded by an arctic nightmare of jagged ice. Pushing a rescue boat into those shards would be suicide. Piloting a chopper into the whipping snowstorm would be nearly as risky — that's what brought the plane down in the first place.
Would-be rescuers yanked ladders off utility trucks and tried stretching them across the ice. They knotted scarves and fan belts into makeshift ropes and dangled them from the 14th Street Bridge. One man even tried dog-paddling through the ice chunks, hauling a jury-rigged rescue rope along with him. He couldn't get close and was nearly unconscious by the time he was dragged back in.
Twenty minutes after the crash, the sun was going down, and no one had been able to reach the six survivors. They were doomed...until suddenly, miraculously, a rescue chopper came whisking across the darkening sky. It dropped a life ring right into the hands of one of the survivors and plucked him from the water. Then things turned really strange.
The next person to receive the ring handed it over to someone else. The chopper lofted her to safety, then wheeled back.
The man gave away the ring again.
He even gave it away when he knew it was his last chance to live. He must have known, because when the chopper thundered back seconds later, he was gone. The man in the water had vanished beneath the ice.
Who was he? But far more perplexing: Why was he? Why would anyone put the lives of strangers ahead of his own? He couldn't even see the faces of the people he was saving, because they were on the opposite side of the wreckage, yet he made a sacrifice for them that their best friends might have refused.
The one man who knew for sure was at the bottom of the Potomac. The only other clue, it turned out, was twisted deep inside the male psyche.
The science of self-sacrifice
Heroism is one of the last remaining riddles of human behavior. When it comes to root causes and rational explanations, heroism is as baffling as its evil twin, brutality. Actually, psychopaths are slightly more transparent than heroes; we've at least figured out that what makes a psychopath so dangerous is a psychological disconnect, a lack of caring for anyone but himself.
Babbie has a dream experiment he'd love to perform: "I wish it were possible to interview heroes the day before they risk their lives for someone else," he says. "I bet you won't find anyone who can tell you with assurance what he or she would do in a life-threatening situation."
Just the opposite, in fact: Babbie has found that most people doubt or deny they even have heroic tendencies. To demonstrate the point, he likes to read the Boy Scout Oath and Law out loud in class and watch his students squirm when he comes to the parts about being "trustworthy," "loyal," "helpful," and "friendly."
"Virtue isn't respectable these days, and we've certainly seen enough hypocrisy among so-called moral leaders to question what they tell us to do," Babbie says. "But at some deeper level, we still instinctively idolize the kind of heroic behavior we claim is foreign to us, and keep acting on the heroic urges we claim we don't have."
CONTINUED: A riddle in the wreckage
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