I had never flown, but my aunt was determined to retire to Phoenix, even though she had never been there. Friends of hers had retired to there, and she had that bee in her bonnet. My sister also had a bee in her own bonnet: to leave the area where we had grown up for greener pastures. She had been widowed young, had recently remarried and since I was a very small part of the business she and her new husband had, (and were planning to open elsewhere), it looked like I would join the exodus.
I didn’t need much talking into; I was very close to my sister’s daughters and our mother was going as well…plus, my on-again-off-again boyfriend and I seemed truly off, so getting away seemed like a good idea.(I would never have foreseen that the fellow and I would be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this December). My sister was slated to go with our aunt and I knew, no matter what the place was like, we’d end up there. So I was ready to take her place on the plane to see if it Arizona reasonably suitable. (If I had only done the same thing later, we never would have ended up in Idaho, but that is another story).
About a week before the flight, a made-for-TV movie was on about a plane that had a faulty indicator light. The crew could hear the landing gear going down and clicking into place, but since the light was telling them that the gear wasn’t engaged, they kept putting it up and down. Even the seasoned flyers in the seats could hear the gear lowering, clicking in then rising again, but no, the crew kept playing with it until the plane went down in a swamp. Not the best movie to watch before a first flight.
We flew out to Phoenix and I found that I loved flying! I had a ball…in the air. I had some fun being a real tourist in Arizona, but the day we went to Scottsdale it went up to 92F in February, which didn’t shock anyone but me. My judgment call was that this was not the place for us. I did too much, ate and slept too little and there was a lot of stress with my aunt and her friends, so when we went to get on the plane home, I was ill.
The flight was full of turbulence; it sounded and felt like the sides of the plane were being hit with a sledgehammer. The flight had to be re-routed and it took longer to get back to DC, (Dulles). Just before we were to land, I heard the landing gear go down….but not click into place. “Oh, no, really?” I thought. Sure enough, I heard the gear go up and lower and go back up several more times. I looked around; no one else seemed to notice. My aunt was oblivious, thank God; she would have panicked. I was glad that we were near the emergency door as I heard the sequence of the gear over and over, but never hearing a CLICK. People started to mumble that we were circling the airport, and ‘stewardess’ handed out mints. A young officer came out of the cockpit with eyes like a deer in headlights. The attendant went up to him with the pretense of offering him mints, but he only shook his head and went to the back of the plane, while she stood there looking terribly worried.
As I watched this drama unfold, I was amazed that I was the only one who seemed to be aware of our predicament, or at least, no one else who may have noticed said anything, either. I didn’t know if I was too ill to care, or if I was truly secure, but I was incredibly calm, which kind of surprised me, but I didn’t even care about that. Finally, I heard noise below, the officer returned to the cockpit and we landed shortly afterward. Some people with us on the shuttle to the airport looked shaken and or dazed. I knew then that I had not been alone in the knowledge of our danger.
My mother, who was waiting at the gate, looked so relieved that it shocked me. Out of earshot of my aunt I said, “Our landing gear would not go down”. She said, “I know; I was watching the plane. Do you know how long you circled? I kept watching the wheels go up and down, up and down and I just knew that was your plane… you didn’t tell your aunt, did you?”
Strangely, that never deterred me from getting on a plane again; only lack of opportunity and funds have done that. So far, every time I have ever flown, though, has been to or from Phoenix, no matter where I lived at the time. And you know, I really never listened again for the landing gear.