The big news today in Spain (where I have enjoyed all the events at the Passenger Terminal Expo on which I will report shortly) focused around the false tweet of a water ditching, originated either by the 112 Emergency Line of Grand Canaria or the Control Center of Grand Canaria (they both blame each other for originating the false news).
An amateur photographer, Javier Celard, also briefly thought there might have been a ditching, looking at the giant yellow cranes of what was actually a tow-boat in the distance. He rushed home to grab his camera and capture the moment. By the time he returned to the beach, and snapped his photo, the rescue services had already been deployed.
Mass confusion ensued between the various emergency and rescue services. For its part the control tower insisted it wasn’t missing any aircraft. Just about everyone else who picked up the news on Twitter, caused the situation to balloon. For his part, the amateur photographer may have contributed because of his provocative distance-shot loaded onto Instagram with the eye-catching caption: “Water landing off Grand Canaria?”
Shortly after posting his Pic and Tweeting about it, the photographer zoomed in on the picture and realised that it was not an plane, but just a ship with very large yellow cranes set at such angles that, from a distance, they formed a shape similar.
None-the-less, Celard’s fifteen minutes extended for a few hours, with all kinds of news services approaching him for permission to use the picture, including the venerable BBC.
It appears from reports to El Pais, that the news spreading through Twitter seemed credible precisely because Grand Canaria’s 112 services first sent a Tweet stating:
“Canarias Control confirms aircraft has fallen in the ocean two miles from the coast of Grand Canaria around Jinamar. The number of Passengers onboard is unknown.”
Only eight minutes later, Grand Canaria’s 112 services Tweeted:
“With regard to the possible aircraft accident, SAR, Aero Control and helicopter GES confirm that it is a tow ship pulling a craft.”
It was too late. The Tweet had made its rounds and mass confusion spread with the fuel of general panic associated with recent news. Some even went so far as to assert that it was a Tui aircraft with 150 passengers on board. No one knows who really came up with that. Pandemonium.
Unfortunately, as El Pais points out, today happens to be the 37 anniversary of the tragic accident off the Tenerife airport of Los Rodeos in which 583 people were killed when two Boeing 747s collided.
In light of recent events, it is understandable that response to any news of a fallen aircraft might be reactive by the general public, but such Tweets by officials are utterly incomprehensible.
Though we all rely on Twitter to spread news quickly when it is most needed, we must be mindful of the possibility and repercussions of spreading misinformation.
In Spain, an investigation will take place to find out who was really behind the false report. Claims are that aircraft taking off in the area reported to the tower that they had spotted a plane in trouble on the ocean when they were taking off, but no one is sure of anything. No one admits responsibility.
The official judgment, for now, is that Canaria’s Emergency 112 services should take the blame. Aprocta (The Spanish Association of Professional Air Traffic Controllers) is quoted by El Pais as saying that 112 Emergency services: “activated a mechanism without verifying it with anyone. It is an imprudent and very grave move which has put many professionals at risk. You cannot lie in this field.”
Twitter is an impressive unifying global communication tool, but it may be time for our industry to take a back seat on the Tweet.
Returning to established formal protocols for emergency communications, before unleashing false news on a nerve-wracked world, seems like a sensible alternative to today’s chaos.
The Cormorant, from the Multraship Towage and Salvage company, which was mistaken for the fallen aircraft, is by all accounts well and moving on.
English readers may like to know that “Tuit” is a common spelling for Tweet in Spanish.