Everyone knows Niki Lauda was an absolute badass on the race track. A man who cheated death, defied doctors and nearly won the World Championship all in the same season. The three-time world champ was more than a race car driver and son of bankers. What most people don’t know is Niki owned and airline, Lauda Air.
Started in 1985 Niki Lauda owned the airline until it was absorbed by Austrian Air in 2012. What started as a charter flight service grew into a commercial airliner flying to all ends of the world not named the United States.
It was a 1991 accident though that established Lauda as a complete badass.
On May 26, 1991 Lauda Air 004 from Bangkok to Vienna, Austria crashed. Fifteen minutes into the flight the planes reverse thrusters inexplicably activated sending the plane out of control as the pilots were unable to recover. The aircraft flirted with the sound barrier as it plummeted towards the ground. Over a remote forest in Thailand the plane came apart scattering debris over 6 kilometers.
All 223 souls on board perished.
Niki being a man of honor and a man of reason immediately flew to Thailand to inspect the wreckage for himself. He then attended the funerals of 23 unidentified victims and immediately flew to Seattle to have a chat with Boeing. You know, the largest producer of commercial planes in the world.
The stoic Austrian known for his no nonsense, blunt approach wanted answers from Boeing. Once it became clear the reverse thrusters activated mid air Lauda wanted answers from them. Boeing wasn’t willing to give him those answers.
So Niki went back to England and headed for the flight simulator at Gatwick International Airport. As a licensed commercial pilot (once again, big time badass) Niki hopped in the simulator. In the simulator tried to save the aircraft when the thrusters came on. Fifteen times he tried this and fifteen times he failed. Yet Boeing refused to issue a statement even after they made changes to the thruster system on the planes.
That was until Niki told them to fly a plane, deploy the thruster and prove that the plane could be saved.
‘Take a 767, load it up like it was with two pilots, deploy the reverse thrust in the air and, if it keeps on flying, I want to be on board. If you guys are so sure that people can continue to fly these aeroplanes without being at risk, then let’s do it.’
Boeing immediate went to Lauda and said they couldn’t fly the plane and do that. Niki told them to issue a statement then.
So they did.
Not many people can take on Boeing and get them to admit they’re wrong. Their 737 Max 8 has crashed twice in a year and they still haven’t taken full responsibility. Niki was able to get them to admit they messed up. In the process he likely saved your life as well. Without that incident those thrusters likely don’t get fixed as quickly as they did.
Niki Lauda was a badass. Many people don’t know about his life outside of racing which could potentially be more impressive than what he did behind the wheel. He left this earth too soon but the man lived one hell of a life.
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