Saturday, October 22, 2016

We Have a Situation Or What Happens Your Airplane's Engine Fails

This week, I attended an out-of-state work related conference.  I arrived late Wednesday night, had meetings from 8 am until 8 pm and then flew out Friday morning at 7.  I was looking forward to getting a bit of work done Friday morning on the flights back to Charlotte.

The plane took off normally and I settled in to catch up on some reading. Then I heard a noise.  We all heard a noise.

OK!  Hold on here for a second.  The psychologist in me has to make clear that what I am going to tell you is how I currently remember what happened.  This was a very stressful experience and although I (and everyone else on that flight) was hyper-alert, memory is a pretty fickle beast.  I'm not sure of the order of events. I'm not sure of the exact words that were used. I only know of the timing of some of the events and some of the words from the texts I sent to Dave and the Facebook updates I sent to the rest of the world on what was happening while it was happening.  Yes, I will confess: I did not have my phone on airplane mode.  I figured if I was going to die, I wanted to tell my husband one more time that I loved him and our children.  And, I don't know? Let Facebook and the rest of the world know what was going on in our plane.

NOW: back to the noise.  There was loud, metallic noise.  It wasn't a boom like an explosion.  It sounded more like someone slamming a car trunk down on a lot of metal debris.

Then the plane lost a little bit of altitude (I think).  And it tilted to the right (I know).

The tension in the cabin increased although everyone wanted to be cool.  There is always some pressure when one is flying not get too worked up over turbulence or weird noises.  But this definitely seemed different.  And when (I think) we lost a bit more altitude, I thought "I love my kids. I love my family.  I don't want to die."

Actually, what I thought was more along the lines of "I love my kids. Not die now. No.  Nope.  No God.  Kids No Go Airport. Wait. Dead Mommy, No.  NOPE. No. No." All of that in a few milliseconds.  Honestly, scenarios quickly played out along with these words and none of them involved wanted me to be dead.  Big fat NOPE.

So we waited. I confess, I grabbed the arm of the woman beside me (traveling with her young teen daughter).  And we waited.  A few folks looked out their windows.  A person a few rows ahead of us looked around and reported seeing the head flight attendant talking on the plane's phone.

We waited a few seconds/minutes/hours/years more.

Then the flight attendant made the following announcement.  I shall provide my completely logical and unemotional interpretation of her statements:

"We have a situation."
((Situation is a euphemism for Shit Is Going Down.  This is the Real Deal Folks, so pay CLOSE ATTENTION.))

"The pilots are working very hard right now in the cockpit to get everything under control and they will report to you when they can about what is going on."
((OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT.))

So, um, yeah.  I have a bit of an "anxiety" issue.  "Really?" you say, "I would have never guessed." It's a brain chemistry thing and when I need to, I take a small dose of lorazepam to get myself back to normal.  My hands were shaking so hard that I could not actually grab the bottle in my purse. It took 3 tries and I almost gave up.  But I finally got it my paws and took 2 pills.  I even offered one to my seatmate who said she was already on enough medication that she didn't think this was a good idea.

The next thing I did (probably because I calmed down) is that turned into Professor On A Plane.  I told my seat mate and her daughter it was going to be ok.  I touched my colleague's (who was sitting ahead of me) arm and told her it was going to be ok.  AND LIKE I KNEW ANYTHING, I told my seatmate that we were going to find the nearest airport and then land.  And then we would all quickly get off the plane and leave our luggage--perhaps we could take our purses--but we should definitely leave our real luggage on the plane.  And then I told her that I just learned something new about myself:  when I'm stressed, I get bossy and I apologized for that and she said that was just fine!

And then I CONTINUED ON saying well, it could not be that big of an emergency.  My colleague later told me that this made the dude in front of me start laughing because CLEARLY SOMETHING WAS UP and this was not a normal event.  What I left out of my rambling lecture to my seatmate and her daughter on why this wasn't an emergency was my analysis of the data that WE WERE NOT PLUNGING TO EARTH so on the scale of "Holy Crap" to "WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE," we were probably closer to the Holy Crap stage.  Although every single one of us were afraid we were closer to the WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE.

Then.  THEN.  THHHEEENNNNN!!!  The pilots came out of the cockpit.

I shit you not.

Both of the pilots came out of cockpit and like a giant thought bubble coming from every one of us, we nervously giggled and thought ''WHO THE FUCK IS DRIVING THIS THING!??!?!?!?!"

Looking back, I realize that they had reached Step #7 of the Protocol of Bad Things Had Happened and they needed to come out and physically look at the plane's problem.  So they asked the folks on the right side of the plane--over the wing--to open their windows.  And they looked out.  And said ok.  And went back to the cockpit.

It was horrible comic relief.  I still cannot tell that part of the story without thinking "Are you freaking kidding me!!!"

Then after a few seconds/minutes/hours/years, the pilot came on the speaker and told us that we had Complete Major Right Engine Failure and we were heading back to the airport.  That did not feel very good.  However, he then reassured us that they had a lot of training on this issue and.... I don't know what, if anything was said next.  Did he reassure us that he was confident that everything would be good?  I don't know.  I remember him saying they had a lot of training on this problem. Or something like that.  But I do not know what was said next.

I do know that I turned my freaking phone on.  One of the many lessons I learned from Flight 93 was that cell phones work on airplanes when you are close enough to the ground.  The first lesson I learned from Flight 93 was to attack the hijackers.  But the second one was that you can text people from the plane at low altitudes.  You shouldn't but you can.

I did not know if the pilots were blowing smoke up our, um, skirts with their confidence of handling this issue, but I knew I was going to tell my husband what was going on and that I loved him.  So I can look at my phone and see that about 25 minutes after we took off from the airport, I texted Dave that we were having an emergency landing.  We had a single engine failure.  And that I loved him.

We exchanged quite a few more texts.  People were crying all around. And then Dave texted that pilots practice single engine landing all the time.  And as far as an emergency goes, this should be routine.  Being the newfound AIRPLANE PROFESSOR BOSSY PANTS that I am, I read that out loud to everyone.  I even told them that my husband had just told me that.  One woman looked back at me and looked so relieved that I had said that.

We landed soon afterwards.  We laughed.  We clapped.  We cried.  The firetrucks had been waiting for us, gave us the once over, and then sent us back to the terminal.  Oddly enough, considering we weren't scheduled for arrival, we had priority and went right back to our gate!!

Dave and I continued to text about how glad we were that I had landed and was alive.  He also texted that engine failure is very rare and that statistically speaking, the next flight should be just fine.  I was still continuing to relay his informational texts to the others on the plane.  With that last text, while some folks appeared grateful for the news, quite a few--QUITE A FEW--rolled their eyes that statistically speaking, we were in like Flynn for the rest of all our flights forever.  I have to say, that makes me laugh.  It's a very "husband" thing to say.

And what a NUTJOB I was to share all that, right!?  What the HELL!?  I hereby apologize to those people who I am SURE wanted me to shut my pie hole on that flight.  I hope the people I reassured outweigh the people I must have annoyed, but I don't know. And there it is.  I am likely to talk and share whatever information or suppositions I have in an emergency.  I am also likely to touch people when they are crying.  Did a lot of touching, reassuring, and crying near the end of the flight.

Ugh.

We waited for about 5 hours at the airport until a new plane and crew flew out to get us from Atlanta.  They had snacks for folks in our waiting area.  We all checked in on each other at restaurants, bathrooms, and the corridors.  Seriously.  Normal barriers to speaking to strangers were broken and we chatted and joked and shared with each other.

We also shocked the new gate crew when it was time to board the plane again.  Our original flight had been very crowded.  The announcer told us that for this flight, "we didn't need to worry about having enough space for luggage; we'd lost a few people over the last few hours."  Oh. My. God(dess).  The entire waiting room broke into loud laughter.  Really!?  Could she have not picked another phrase to say there were fewer people on this flight!?  Again, the thought bubble appeared as we laughed saying "You almost lost a heckuva lot more people about 5 hours ago!!"

So I finally got home last night.  I had absolutely no anxiety on the additional two flights I needed to get home.  I'm hoping it stays that way.  I do know that when I got home, I was shocked at how hard I was crying and hugging my family.  I didn't know I'd been "holding it together" for the past 12 hours.

This morning, I woke up and was excited about how normal I felt.  Then my eyes just started leaking.
I know blogs are weird, right? There isn't a real theme to this one anymore.  But I do know that once I knew we were going to live, I HAD to write this down and get it out of my soul.

I'm writing this on a Saturday.  And no one writes or reads blogs on a Saturday.  But to get past this and heal, I had to bossy pants share with you what happened on my way home yesterday.  Thanks.

3 comments:

Carroll McNeill said...

Anita!!!! On a scale of one to a bazillion possibly scary things that could happen to you in life, this has to be wayyyy up there!! Good to hear that you are apparently "coping well" at this point. But, sheesh -- that moment when you were back on home turf again and got to hug your kids? OMG -- mega-buckets of tears!!!

Tanya and Mike said...

I read your blog on a Saturday. ❤️

JD Eveland said...

Amazing story! I'm not surprised that you handled it so well - I always did admire your take-charge approach!

I can relate. As I commented on one of your FB posts, I had a similar experience back in 1968. Nose wheel in my case rather than engine, but the same foam trucks, etc. I managed to get home to Michigan just in time to hear on the TV Lyndon Johnson announcing that he wasn't running for re-election. It was a long day!

I'm glad things are going well for you. I follow your FB adventures, and I'm enchanted with your children.

Thanks for everything!

JD