I seem to get caught up on blog posts when I am flying around the world. There is nothing like the isolation of a long flight to brew up my writing and creativity. Several years ago, I was returning from Toronto on a New Year’s Eve flight. Suddenly, a rather nervous sounding pilot announced to the cabin crew to take their seats and asked all the passengers to buckle up and listen to the flight attendants. After an uncomfortably long discourse between the pilot and the head steward, we were briefed on the situation. A serious fault with the aircraft required that we immediately divert to Detroit and prepare for an emergency landing. Halfway through instructions, the address system died and the flight attendant had to yell the commands down the cabin, telling us to relay instructions to the back of the plane. “Take out your emergency instruction seat cards,” she said. “Review the ditch position. Practice it now! If your neighbor doesn’t understand, help them practice it now!” Whatever was going on in the cockpit was serious, because we were rapidly descending, essentially bailing out.
Pilots and divers have at least one thing in common. If you still have air, you are okay. I kept calm, figuring that planes, like rebreathers, were meant to be operated in manual mode in the event of an electronics failure.
We came down rather heavily with our heads between our knees and surrounded by flashing lights and sirens. Immediately after landing we were rushed from the plane as quickly as possible into the night. Up until that point, everyone had done very well following instructions, yet with the crisis still apparently facing us, some people tried to retrieve their cabin baggage. Suddenly their personal belongings seemed more important than getting everyone off the plane.
I thought about the parallels to diving again. I’m aware of at least two separate fatalities where divers spent unnecessary time trying to bring broken or useless equipment out of a cave, perhaps sacrificing their lives for a piece of gear. Your dead scooter, empty stage bottle or camera won’t help you get out of a cave or back to a boat in a current. Ditch the useless gear and go back for it later.
I spent New Years Eve in an airport without food, a wallet or even adequate warm clothing. But New Years Day saw the return of my personal belongings from the plane and my return to Florida. It was inconvenient, but I was grateful for the well-practiced skill of the flight crew and happy to get home.
If you see me on a plane today, I’m the geek who always reads the emergency card and scopes out the exits. My wallet is on my body now and so is my warm coat! -- Jill Heinerth