A Death Fly-By

I need to apologize for last week’s absence.  I really wanted to talk about how “Love Actually” is one of my favorite love movies in time for Valentine’s Day even though that movie is set around Christmas.  It opens with scenes at an airport and Hugh Grant’s voiceover talks about how when the Twin Towers fell on September 11th, those last minute messages were filled with love.  Those airport scenes (which also close the movie) are of people hugging and kissing their love ones.  Incidentally, my reason for missing last week’s blog was that I was on an airplane, flying home (when I wasn’t being delayed – mechanical issues) from south Florida.

This week the topic is a time when we were scared to death and feared for our lives.  Unless I’m wrong, in which case I fear my blogmates are going to kick me off for good.  Please don’t!  Incidentally, my greatest brush with death – aside from when I was a kid and really ticked off my parents – involved an airplane.

“Folks, this is the captain speaking.  We have a small problem.”  Um.  No.  You don’t.  If you feel the need to tell me about it, it’s no longer a small problem.  It’s a major problem.  “We think it’s just a burnt out light bulb, but the indicator light for the landing gear is not coming on.”  We’re 10,000 feet in the air.  No.  This is NOT a small problem.  “The tower is going to have another plane fly under us to take a closer look.”  So what am I supposed to do?  Look out the window and wave as it passes by?

Now this was back in 1993.  I had just left Florida (my real home) to fly back to California (my temporary Navy-assigned home).  I remember my mom crying at the airport as if it were the last time she was ever going to see me again.  I remember thinking how ridiculous she was behaving.  And then the captain came on with his so-called small problem.  About an hour before, the gal in the window seat next to me asked me how much long the flight would be because she was jonesing for a cigarette.  (This flight was from Charlotte to Los Angeles.  The middle segment of a JAX-CLT-LAX-SFO ticket.)  Now, I don’t smoke, but after what happened after the captain’s little announcement, I was ready to take up a new vice.

So after the other plane checks us out, “Nice tail,” the flight attendants start doing their little bit about emergency procedures.  You know the one about exits, seat belts, and all that stuff they do where no one pays attention at the beginning of the flight?  Well this time we paid attention.  Then they had us PRACTICE unlatching our seatbelts.  We were also shown brace positions.  And when we got the signal, we had to assume those positions.

“BRACE! BRACE!  HEADS DOWN, STAY DOWN!  BRACE! BRACE!  HEADS DOWN, STAY DOWN!”

It’s been 19 years, and I still recall the tears and the fears going through me all at once.  I kept telling myself, “It’s just a burnt out bulb.  We’re going to be fine.  Oh my god, what if we’re not?  Mom acted like it was the last time I’d ever see her.  What if it was?  Oh god.  I’ve only been married 2 months.  I’ll never see the love of my life again.  I want to live.  It’s just a burnt out light bulb.”  Repeat several variations of the same mantra.  I felt ridiculous for crying.  I think I scolded myself as reassurance that everything would be okay.  But this was all I could picture:

Our landing was one of the smoothest I’ve ever had and the cheer that erupted when we touched down still gives me goose bumps.  I remember looking out the window and seeing all the firetrucks following the plane to the terminal.  I remember the flight attendant’s shaky voice as she tried to do her usual end-of-flight spiel.  I remember getting off the plane and stopping at the bar for a vodka and cranberry and the bartender’s question.  “Would you like to make that a double for only a dollar more?”  Did I look that bad?  And where was my cigarette-needing seatmate?  I was ready to buy her a drink in exchange for one of her cigarettes.  I answered, “Hell, yes.”

The funny thing is that I still had to get on another plane immediately after that.  And I did.  And I was fine.  And shocker of shockers…I still love to fly.

About Micki Gibson

Young Adult fiction writer
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10 Responses to A Death Fly-By

  1. Micki,
    I can RELATE! A couple of months before my first-ever flight in 1980,I saw a movie about a plane that crashed because the landing-gear indicator light was not working. They did not realize that it was actually lowering, so they kept puttting it up and down until they were too low and crashed in a swamp.
    I flew from Washington, DC(Dulles, actually), to Phoenix with a crazy aunt.I found that I loved to fly! A few days later, we made the return flight, but I was feeling very unwell.Nearing home,(my aunt lived on the Maryland side of DC; I lived in the Virginia suburbs), I could hear the landing gear trying to lower, but not clicking in…(darned movie; ignorance would have been BLISS!) I was fighting off being sick and I knew if I said anything to my aunt about my concerns she would panic and possibly crack open the emergency door, which we happened to be sitting near. The pilot said nothing to us, but we could tell that they were delaying our landing as a stewardess passed out mints. A young officer came out of the cockpit, wide-eyed.I watched.The ‘stew’ walked up to him on the pretense of offering mints, but he just shook his head and walked to the back.He came back through after a while and we landed. I wanted to kiss the ground! My mother greeted us all upset; she had ben watching the plane, somehow knowing it was ours, as it circled and the landing gear would start to lower and then raise, not getting all the way down. Apparently, the young officer hand-cranked the gear into place.All this drama and my aunt never knew…I did not see any indication that anyone else knew, either, although I am sure that I was not alone in keeping a silent prayer going…and yet I also still like to fly!

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    • That’s a wild story, too Tonette.

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    • Micki Gibson says:

      OMG! Now that is a truly scary story. The thing I’ve realized in stories like yours and the one where Capt. Sully (can’t remember his exact last name) landed in the Hudson River is that they are trained to handle these emergency situations. While most of the time, they’ll never need it, it’s nice to know that they’ve been prepared and will do what it takes to keep their passengers safe. As long as the airlines continue to make my safety a priority, I can handle delayed flights and tiny packs of peanuts.

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  2. jeff salter says:

    Wow, terrifying tale. I cannot imagine ME getting right back on another flight … so soon after that near-event. Not even with a double Vod-Cran.
    You’re a brave lass, Micki.
    And, by the way, there is a new sched. for the blog topics. I sent it out a couple of weeks ago. It’s an attachment to the email referencing same.
    This week is ‘open topic’ or ‘free-space’ or whatever we’ve decided to call it … so you’re still GOOD. And I would not have missed this story for the world.

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    • Micki Gibson says:

      I saw the other schedule a while back and didnt’ see too many changes. Plus I thought this might have been the topic on the one. Funny thing….my husband is flying home from Las Vegas RIGHT NOW. Let’s hope all the indicator bulbs are fresh. 🙂

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  3. Wow. What a story. And you’re still jumping on planes all the time. Go you!

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    • Micki Gibson says:

      My first flight wasn’t until I was 17. Flying seemed to be something only rich people got to do, so I was super excited for my first flight. And while I wouldn’t say I’m rich, I think I still retain a little of that awe for frequent flyers. “Wow. Those people get to travel a lot. They must be rich.” Even if my butt’s parked in a middle seat in the back of the plane, I still feel like I’m lucky and one of those rich people from my childhood.

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  4. danicaavet says:

    The first time I ever flew, I was 24 and flying alone to Minnesota. I remember being scared and excited and omg, we’re leaving the ground! Hello…I have a problem with heights. Not only am I short, but I’m from south Louisiana…in other words, it’s flatter than flat here and I was in the sky. I freaked out a good bit, but I do enjoy flying. Except for the not-having-control-of-everything bit. If I had my pilot’s license, I have no doubt I’d fly myself everywehre.

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    • Micki Gibson says:

      I keep hoping the hubby will find some time in his schedule to get his pilot’s license one day for that exact reason. At my first teaching job, my department head and her husband had a private airplane and they traveled EVERYWHERE! She was a very classy lady (probably still is) and I remember how much she enjoyed flying. It still amazes me that a big ol’ metal tube weighing so much (especially with my luggage) can manage to get off the ground despite how many TV specials and physics demonstrations show how it works. I get the not-having-control-of-everything bit, but I think that’s why I like it. If something goes wrong, it’s not my fault. And as my friend Mary says, “If the plane’s gonna crash, order a double and chug it on the way down.” LOL

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