On this, the 25th anniversary of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill, let’s not forget a key fact of that disaster…
At the time, we believed the ship ran aground because the captain was below decks, drunk.
However, the officer at the helm was quite capable of steering the ship…
…if not sleep-deprived.
That was the conclusion reached in the official investigation performed by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board.
To the misfortune of all, the third mate had only gotten six hours of sleep in the last forty-eight.
He was supposed to have been relieved at 11:45 p.m. Here’s the irony: he said he stayed on, because he wanted to let his relief get some sleep.
In his place, I probably would’ve done the same thing—we like to push on through, to go beyond our fatigue. It’s a sign of strength—of mental toughness. An accomplishment. So we believe.
Here’s another irony: because sleep deprivation can severely impair our decision-making ability, we may think we’re capable of pushing on through, of performing the task at hand…
…just like the drunk who says he can still drive.
[NOTE: I found the boat in the above photo while walking along the spit of Homer, Alaska. The Pratt Museum of Homer features an excellent exhibit on the Exxon Valdez oil spill.]
© 2014, Michael R. Patton
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