Friday, May 15, 2009

Flight #666

Here is the beginnng of the Naples trip from Rich's perspective...

Captain's Log.....Stardate 05.09.09
En route to Ft. Myers, Florida to shoot a wedding in Naples, we experienced a little turbulence. I'm not referring to the kind that makes the plane bounce. I'm talking about life turbulence. The kind that makes your mind bounce. It began with the bacon and egg sandwich I ordered at the airport in Atlanta during my lay-over. That sandwich, and its accompanying Ruby Red Grapefruit juice came to a total of $6.66. Clue #1. I shook off the anxious thoughts and headed to the gate. I noticed an off-duty pilot "deadheading" a ride to Ft. Myers on my flight. (Doesn't every air-disaster movie have an extra pilot deadheading on board?) Clue #2. We waited on the tarmac for 45 minutes before finally taking off.....What were they fixing or diagnosing? Clue #3. Again, I wrote off my trepidation to imagination.

The flight seemed uneventful for the first 60 minutes, but the next 15 minutes took 30, and felt like 3 hours. Our approach seemed normal enough, until I noticed we were no longer at 1,000 feet on final approach, but rather 5,000 feet, heading away from the airport. It wasn't as noticeable as an outright waive off over the airport, but we were definitely further from landing than we were a few minutes before. I glanced over at the extra pilot sitting across the aisle one row back. He didn't look nervous, but he was paying close attention. Then we began a series of steep turns, altitude, and throttle adjustments that seemed so peculiar to me. I'm no pilot, but the maneuvers definitely felt out of character for a commercial airliner. I half expected to see the pilots involved in a bar fight rolling around and kicking the controls had I opened the cockpit door to see. The engine noise was alternating full throttle and then no throttle, pressing me into my seat and then pitching me forward in my seat, not once or twice, but dozens of times over the next few minutes. I looked at the extra pilot again. He may have looked nervous. Was that a bead of sweat on his forehead?

We finally headed back toward the airport and our decent was anything but smooth. Still accelerating and decelerating aggressively, tipping side to side. I could hear the concerned comments of those around me, and focused on the terrain outside the window. I wondered if these were the last images I'd ever see. I wondered what people think about before a crash. I thought it was funny to wonder what people think about, rather than thinking about something myself. My knuckles were white, and I quickly downed the last of my grapefruit juice. Was that the last thing I would ever taste? It was delicious.

What separates the survivors from the victims in an aircrash? Luck? Fate? Precise position in the plane? Strength of character? Soul? Morals? Karma? Am I as truly indestructible as I hoped? Was all of this in my head?

We touched down hard and clearly too fast. We didn't slow down for a long time. I wondered if we could. The extra pilot was sweating now, no doubt. And then it was over. Welcome to Ft. Myers. The local time is 11:56am and the temperature is 83 degrees. Hmmmm, no mention of the near disaster. Not a quiver in his voice. Nothing.

As we left the plane, I turned to the extra pilot and asked him if that landing seemed peculiar to him. He looked at me for a long time, and finally said "No." He thanked the pilot as we left the exit near the cockpit. "Thanks for Ride," he said. What did he mean by that?

Still the safest way to travel, and I won't hesitate to fly again. Though I may add hash browns if my bill ever comes to $6.66 again.

~Rich Chesler

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