I have lead a very chequered life and traveled through the length and breadth of our world, in fact, I would aptly fit the phrase been there done that. During the course of my escapades, I have come across scenarios where a normal person would have panicked and totally lost it. It is this particular trait of having the presence of mind and being able to act according to the circumstances makes us the so-called intelligent species. To illustrate this point, I would like to narrate a very unique and life-threatening event that occurred during one of my journeys/travels.
I had to catch a flight to NYC in the early hours of the morning, which is commonly referred to as the Red Eye. Characteristically I am one of the few passengers who like to be at the airport well in advance of the scheduled departure. After completing the formalities of the security, check-in. I sauntered over to a place away from the maddening crowd to contemplate and think about my sojourn to the Big Apple. Time passed and very soon I was boarding the flight and assigned to my seat, just near the right wing of the aircraft.
I always dread the co-passengers because I have experienced many facets of human nature right from utter disregard to selfishness and boorish bordering on Impudence. So I was elated to see a young lady engrossed in a book (accounts to be exact) and I was sure that this would be a nice peaceful flight without any disturbance from her. What I could gather from first impressions was that she was a sophomore at one of the Ivy League colleges.
What I did notice and admire was that she was also an I-Phone User like yours truly. After the usual Paraphernalia of In-flight safety instructions. We were finally in the air, cruising along at an altitude of 20000 ft.
The drinks cart came along and I had my usual glass of red wine/vodka on the rocks/gin and tonic/ after a gourmet meal, everyone was fast asleep, catching up on forty winks. I had closed my eyes, till I felt a hand on my shoulder, and saw the stewardess/air hostess smiling and asking if I would like a liqueur or a coffee. I agreed instantaneously to a cup of coffee, (one spoon sugar ) I mouthed a word of thanks as I could see, that my co-passenger was fast asleep on my shoulder. The air hostess reached out to put her head gently back in her seat, but I refused by saying that it was not a big deal.
Soon after, she returned with the coffee according to my preference and also a small pillow for the girl’s comfort and mine too.
I estimated that we had done about an hour’s flying when I saw the cumulus clouds. Clouds always have a mesmerizing and calming effect on me, the fluffy cotton shapes seem to me like the faces of all the people that I have had a chance to meet in my lifetime.
It was at this instant that I noticed a spark. At that time because of the prevailing atmosphere, I thought it to be a figment of my imagination. I may have dozed off a little when I awoke with a start as my shoulder was aching.
I turned around to see that my co-passenger was still in the same position and had not even stirred. Upon sensing my discomfort she woke and realized that she had been using my shoulder as a pillow. With a shy and bashful smile, she leaned back into the centre of her seat. I smiled, looked away and saw the spark again. I was caught in a quandary of emotions. I realized that if I reported this, and it turned out to be nothing I would be considered slightly imbalanced and paranoid.
But since this has happened twice now, I decided better to be safe than sorry. Because life was always more precious than an Ego or Self-Respect.
I stood up and walked down the aisle, where the air-hostess was reclining. She looked up and greeted me with a polite smile ” Look I am sorry if I sound foolish, but I think there is something wrong with the engines. ” By this time I had the attention of all the flight attendants.
One of them brusquely asked me how did I know, was I an engineer, an aeronautical one or a pilot? Ignoring her skepticism I turned to Belinda, who had served me the coffee earlier.
”There appears to be a spark that is not seen at all times but happens at irregular frequencies.”The woman named Monica in no uncertain terms told me to go back to my seat, and they would look into the matter.
At that point, she appeared to be right. My co-passenger must have sensed my despair, so she asked what was wrong and I assured her that it was nothing of importance.
Belinda came smiling and said, “Please, don’t mind my colleagues’ words, but I appreciate your concern “.She also mentioned that she would look into it. I expressed my thanks as she had been more helpful just by listening and believing
After half an hour, Belinda returned and asked if I could come to their chambers, and we went back in order to avoid being overheard by the remaining passenger.
Looking at their faces, I realized that I was right. Although it was such a precarious situation, that all this while I was indeed hoping that I had been wrong!
“The captain has requested an immediate clearance to descend to an altitude where the aircraft can be managed if God Forbid anything may go wrong.”
On the other hand, my mind was replaying the aircraft accident scene from Final Destination , as if it were a video playing with the repeat button broken.
Black humor I know, but humor manages to keep at bay the feeling of impending doom, even if the comfort provided is as fleeting as a small wisp of smoke.
“Also a request has been issued to the ATC in the vicinity for permission to land at the nearest airport.” And in unison, they all commended my fortitude and courage in being able to ascertain the situation and report the problem.
When I returned, the seat belt sign was on, with the Captains voice on the intercom stating “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain Aashna Kaur. We have descended from our original flight level and we are going to land at the US air force base, in the next fifteen minutes. I would request you to not be armed as this is nothing more than a routine check. This would ensure that your flight carries on uninterrupted, comfortable and without delay. Thank You.”
We were approaching as one could see a well-established and heavily fortified base. There were already three to four emergency vehicles lined up on the runway with the flashing lights.
It is a known fact that air force bases have short runways, as they are not geared to handle commercial aircraft so we were in a perilous situation. Accolades and kudos to the Captain and Crew who handled the aircraft with such expertise that we were able to land unscathed and without the emergency chutes opening.
It was later confirmed from the horses’ (Belinda’s) mouth that it was indeed a touch and go situation. A few yards more and the aircraft would have plunged into the river. With great fortitude comes great courage and I lived to tell this tale.
If the spark had not been noticed? If we were in no man’s land or over some ocean? If the engine had caught fire and burnt-out, what would have been the consequences?
The airline never acknowledged that it was a problem and maintained that it was just a precautionary and routine landing.