Crash scene, Flight 232, courtesy FAA

In a recent interview on the Santa Fe Radio Café, author Laurence Gonzales explains why failure is inherent in the functioning of complex machines such as airliners, space shuttles, and nuclear power plants. Gonzales is a 2014-2015 SFI Journalism Fellow.

In the interview, Gonzales shares survival stories, including those from the fatal crash of Flight 232 (the subject of his latest book), and describes some of the evolutionary mechanisms that dictate how people behave in survival situations. 

After a lifetime of studying plane crashes, Gonzales hopes to spend his time at SFI pursuing a computer simulation that could model high-energy, modular machines such as airliners. 

“The more complex you make a machine system, the more prone to accidents it becomes,” Gonzales says. “At a certain level of complexity, you get a machine that has catastrophic accidents as part of its normal functioning. At SFI, I’m wondering if there some way we can model this complexity on a computer and see these accidents in simulated fashion, to study them and see if we can design them better. Certainly thought needs to go into these complex machines, because we put our loved ones on them.”

In the broadcast, Gonzales also tells the story of his own near-miss with a fatal plane crash in 1979.

Listen to the interview on the Santa Fe Radio Café website (December 2, 2014)