Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Some fine flying

A man at a window-seat started screaming. The alerted passengers on that side of the plane could see why. There was oil coming out of the Boeing 737 jet engine.
One of the stewardesses came immediately to the centre of the panic and ordered everybody to move away from the windows. Another airhostess ran to the cockpit and returned with the pilot. He looked through the window for a while and then said quietly: “Nothing is the matter”.

Some years ago an Alaskan Airline DC 9, the airline doing the flying tomorrow as well, on its way from Cabo San Lucas in Mexico to Los Angeles, had its tail aileron jammed and went into a dive. The pilots were helpless to control the plane and it crashed into the Pacific.

Flying Pilgrim Airlines from Boston to New York City, in a twin propelled small plane, above the Long Island Sound, the aircraft suddenly went into a dive. Like a Stuka it went down. The passengers screamed. Panicked. Sitting next to an unknown lady, we fell into each other arms to give each other a sense of comfort or safety. It is better to die together. What seemed an eternity, the pilot regained control of the plane eventually and levelled it to continue without any explanation to New York. Slightly embarrassed we untangled and pretended nothing happened.

After doing a photo series on HIV in Mwanza at the Victoria Lake in Tanzania, we took a plane from there to the town of Arusha from where were flights back to Europe. The Boeing 737 was loaded to the maximum and the cargo holds filled to the rim with Victoria Lake fish. The plane made a run on the broken tarmac and it seemed to go on forever. Like it was not going to make it. Once off the ground there was a huge explosion. An enormous bang. The plane got out of horizontal balance and continued flying but hanging over to one side. One engine had blown up. Now, in normal circumstances a plane with a blown-up engine returns immediately. But not in Africa! The pilot realized that if he would return to Mwanza he would have to wait for parts and mechanics which had to come from Dar-es–Salaam: a two weeks travel by car. He took the chance to fly on one engine and not to Arusha but to Dar-es-Salaam for repairments. There was a strange energy in that plane during that flight. People were very, very quiet. Many praying. Writing words on pieces of paper.
We landed in Dar-es-Salaam and were asked to go and wait in the airport building. We could see a mechanic on a ladder using a hammer inside the broken engine banging away at something. A European lady had organised a car to drive from Dar-es-Salaam to Arusha as she was not willing to get back into that plane. Although she offered a ride, suddenly she had disappeared and no other option was available than to take the now repaired plane again.

The big British Airways Boeing 747 Jumbo was approaching the runway of Kennedy Airport in New York. But we could see its speed was too high. The Earth approached us too fast. When the nose of the plane should have gone upwards, it remained in a downward position. We didn’t land. We crashed on the runway. An enormous bang and the plane seemed to fall apart. But somehow we and the plane survived. The pilot came on the PA-system and, as a real British person, deeply apologised. He said: “This was the worst landing of my career”.

We had been doing a story on Indians in the Amazon rainforest and as promised the small Cessna plane came to pick us up again.
The local guy responsible for the airstrip, manning the radio and keeping the grass on the runway low, wanted some money from us.
Everybody wanted money from us. And the Government paid him. We refused. No money for him. He retaliated by not informing our pilot about another plane coming in.
We got in the Cessna piloted by a debuting American aviator who was not licensed yet to fly through clouds and swinged around them.
Taxiing on the field we got into a starting position and off we went.
Halfway we suddenly saw a Twinotter coming in to land. Because its nose was up, that pilot couldn’t see us and he went straight at us.
A crash seemed unavoidable.
Our inexperienced pilot banged the controls to the extreme left and we went straight into the jungle crashing between the trees and lianas.

Another Boeing 747 of British Airways landing at Kennedy. It touched down safely.
Rolled out for a while but suddenly the pilot gave the engines the full throttle. Immediately the plane gained speed and actually took off again…
Back into the air. Sitting next to the emergency exit, the stewardess sitting opposite turned pale and white. She took the phone to inquire. She said that another plane had suddenly appeared on the runway.

Recently, in a KLM 747 from Amsterdam to Los Angeles. We were all inside and it seemed ready to go. What were we waiting for ? The friendly pilot came on saying there were still some delayed passengers from other flights to board. Eventually we saw a couple of persons heavily breathing enter and the door was closed. But the plane didn’t leave. After a while the door went open again and some bullies came in wearing jackets with written on the back: “SECURITY”. They went straight to two men, seemingly from Pakistan, and instructed them to be escorted out of the plane.
The men willingly did so after which other “SECURITY”-personnel searched the whole environment around where the Pakistani had been sitting and the bathrooms as well. No bombs were found. Passengers were looking at the scenes in amazement and with fright. After a while the bullies came back and took another two Pakistani out. And again. In total 9 Pakistani men were taken off the plane which landed safely in Los Angeles.

It is a treat to remember experiences of flying the evening before to take a plane again.

1 comment:

Dawn Pier said...

Do me a favor? And remind me NEVER to fly with you!