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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Silent Cell Phone and Other Musings (LONG!)

Disneyholics have strange triggers. One thing that's always guaranteed to take us back, mentally if not physically, to the Happiest Place on Earth is the monorail "doors opening" announcement:

"Please stand clear of the doors. Por favor mantengase alejado de las puertas."

It's a classic. Anyone who's ridden the monorails in Disney World knows the announcement, and it's a favorite among Disneyholics.

So I found the recording online and made it the ring tone for my cell phone a while ago. Did I mention I love the Disney monorails? I even have the T-shirt.

I've kept my cell phone on silent since Sunday. It started out because I read the news as soon as I woke up, and couldn't stand the thought of having the phone ring with that particular ring tone right then.

Then I started finding out more information about Austin Wuennenberg, the 21-year-old driver of Monorail Purple, who died in the crash. I found out he was an only child whose dad died of cancer when Austin was 2. I found out his mom used to leave the TV on so that when Austin came home after a late shift at Disney he'd turn it off, and she'd wake up in the morning and know he's home safe. Except she woke up on Sunday morning and the TV was still on.

I found out he had a loving girlfriend who's struggling to understand what happened and why. And that he LOVED his Disney job and was the quintessential perfect Disney Cast Member. Helpful, cheerful, conscientious. There is a video shot by a guest who rode with him up front in the monorail several days before the crash. Practically every person who watched it has cried. This guy was what Disney is all about. And he was smart, to boot. Friends describe him as brainy. His aunt said people always had high expectations of him and he'd meet or exceed them.

I am still keeping my cell phone on silent, in memory of this remarkable young man. His funeral was today, I thought I should keep it silent at least this long.

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Here's something that really got me today: The NTSB report of the crash events states that Austin tried to reverse the train when he saw Monorail Pink barreling down at him.

Somehow, all this time I had the irrational hope he never knew what hit him. But the thought that he saw it coming is really upsetting. Some online discussions commented on the fact that he might have been able to jump out if he hadn't tried to reverse, but, knowing he had passengers right in back of him (there was a family in the first car of the monorail) he tried to get them to safety. If that theory is correct, he should be hailed as a hero even more than he already is.

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There were no mechanical failures involved in the accident, per the NTSB, and as speculated (see my previous post) the accident happened during an attempted track switch. Given that no mechanical failures were found, but the switch never happened, I'm guessing someone (or several someones) will have to live the rest of their lives knowing that whatever it is they did or didn't do that night resulted in someone's death. There must have been, however, quite a cascade of problems to pass through all the safeties and redundancies in a system with such an amazing safety record. I mean, the monorail can be shut down manually from the platform, according to several past pilots (Disney monorail drivers are called pilots). And there's always someone on the platform, to the best of my recollection. What HAPPENED??

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This might be the most jarring aspect of the accident to me -- that it happened at all, in a system that carried over a billion people in 38 years of operation without a single fatality, until Sunday. It doesn't change my trust in the safety of the monorail system one bit, but it is astounding that something like this could happen. And seeing the picture of Monorail Pink's rear cab embedded in the driver's cab of Monorail Purple looked, to me, obscene, for lack of a better term. I mean, imagine seeing a favorite book or toy mutilated. It's obscene. It shouldn't happen. I think, in part, that's why I can't wait to ride the monorail again in August. I need my life to be right again, though it feels selfish right now to say it. The lives of Austin's family and friends, especially his mom, will never "be right" again, though I hope they attain peace and comfort, in time. For me to complain about the affect the accident had on me seems...wrong. Really wrong.

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I'm thinking tonight, also, about the driver of Monorail Pink, who had to be checked at the hospital after the accident, mostly (according to some reports) because he was so distraught. I saw an interview with a former pilot and read online comments from former Disney monorail pilots who describe a very close community which takes safety ultra-seriously. I can't imagine what it feels like to be the direct cause of a fellow pilot's death.(Though he may not be at fault? I'm not clear on whether he could have known he wasn't switched in time to prevent the crash).

1 comment:

  1. I don't blame you for keeping your phone on silent in honor of Austin. It really would be just too much to hear your ring tone right now, dear, dear Dee. Everything that you've written about this boy (and he IS a boy . . . his mother's boy) just grabs my heart. He was even younger than Jay was when he died. It just doesn't seem fair; however, I'm sure the Lord has special things for him to do in his new Home. Hope he and my boy have already connected!

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When not planning my next Walt Disney World vacation, I write about medicine and science for various publications. I'm a bookworm and have recently fallen in love with knitting. I am owned by 2 dogs, 1 cat, and a 12 year old son who loves Disney as much as I do.