In the depths of winter my wife and I found ourselves literally running through Moscow's Metro System to catch the Aero Express that would take us to Sheremetyevo Airport, and then home to Phoenix. We were running late, and all the crowds in the metro were not helping. If we missed this train, we would miss our flight and be out a couple thousand dollars. We finally made it to the station just in time to jump on and find a seat. Despite it being winter I was soaked in sweat and exhausted from running while carrying over 120lbs of luggage myself. We quickly grabbed two available seats, the rush of everything combined with the exhaustion of the journey made me miss something important. I am not afraid to self critique, this is the only way to improve and learn. My situational awareness was down and I never looked around to see who was in that wagon with us. From where I was sitting it looked like a train full of regular people trying to catch their flights. I never saw the suicide bomber until it was too late.
As we ate snacks and talked about the long flight ahead the train chugged along through Moscow until the airport was in site. As the train slowed to a stop on the platform we gathered our things and we both did a check around to make sure we had everything. This is when my wife noticed him. Concerned, she made me take a look.
There he was, sitting a couple rows behind and to my right was a man seated by himself. He was wearing a long black robe, had a scraggly beard, and was praying vigorously under his breath. Looking closer I could also see he had a small black box strapped around his head, his arm was tightly wrapped in some black plastic cord, and he was holding something small and black tightly in his hand.
My mind raced, is he about to blow this train up? I quickly told my wife that I loved her as she came to the same realization as I did. We were looking at a suicide bomber chanting his final prayers before blowing us all up. We scrambled off the train as fast as we could waiting for the explosion that was sure to come.
Moving quickly towards the doors that opened into the Airport I kept looking back.
But there was no explosion.
I couldn't wrap my head around what happened back there. I had saw what looked like a suicide bomber, I had moved my family as quickly as possible away from the threat, I was wrong. This was my perception, and it had deceived me.
As we moved through airport security I could see the man far back in the line, no longer with the black box and cord wrapped around his arms, and he was no longer praying. Ironicly, he ended up sitting a couple rows in front of us on the plane to the US. He did not bother anyone on the plane, and he sat quietly reading a book for most of the flight.
I spent most of the flight back trying to understand what he was doing on that train, and wondering if we were the only ones who thought he was a suicide bomber in those tense moments.
When I finally reached a computer Google answered my questions. He was a very religious Jew doing his morning prayers. He was using a device called a Tefillin, which consists of 2 black prayer boxes strapped to your head & arm and connected with a black leather strap.
I also learned that we weren't the first people to think that they look like suicide bombers while praying with the device. In 2010 a US Airways flight was aborted and made an emergency landing because the crew thought it was a bomb. Other incidents have taken place all over the world in places like Australia and New Zealand.
There is a few valuable lessons here.
1. Situational Awareness will save your life, if I had not let my guard down we never would have been sitting near that man. If he would have been a real suicide bomber, we would be dead. No matter how tired, stressed, or busy you are; always take a few seconds to be aware of your surroundings. There is no excuse.
2. Sometimes your perception deceives you. What if I had been on a train in the US carrying my weapon? Would that man now be dead and me in jail? This goes back to situational awareness, had I noticed him the second we stepped foot on that train I would have had a much longer time span to perceive the situation, and my perception would probably also have changed. Instead, I had less than a minute to perceive the whole situation.
Keep your eyes open and be aware, it will save your life.
Jonathan Barbera, Owner
**Images courtesy of google**