Two weeks ago, I went to a work conference in Rochester, New York with four co-workers of mine to help present on a massive site redesign that I was but one small part off. Because I don’t discuss my job on this site, I will leave it at that, but feel like I need to document the story of our travel there for future reference.
Our journey to Rochester looked to be rather uneventful on paper, leaving the Omaha, Nebraska airport late morning, then arriving in Detroit early afternoon for a short layover before hitting the second leg to arrive in New York in the late afternoon or thereabouts.
Things were rough from the start in Omaha, as we got on the plane and proceeded to simply sit in place for nearly forty-five minutes without much of an explanation for why it was happening. Soon, the pilot came on and told us all that we were going to be waiting a bit longer because there was a repair that needed to be made on a door of the plane (something about a washer). So, we sat for quite a bit longer, and as I watched out the window of the plane, I saw pavement damp with rain slowly dry completely before another light shower came through and made small puddles again. After approximately an hour and a half on the ground, we finally rolled out onto the runway and took off without any issues.
About three-quarters of the way into the flight (after drinks and overpriced snacks had been served), the stewardess walked to the front of the cabin and picked up the phone to receive a call. Sitting in an aisle seat, I watched her as she talked and saw her eyes widen just slightly as it went on for a couple minutes. Within seconds of her hanging up the phone, the pilots voice came on over the intercom and laid out the scenario.
He stated that there was a minor problem with the plane, but just to be on the safe side we would be making an emergency landing in South Bend, Indiana. He said that there was nothing to be alarmed about, but that we should listen to the stewardess as she explained the procedures for said landing.
After he had finished, the stewardess was in the spotlight, and she became noticeably more nervous. We were told to remove our glasses if we were wearing them, take any pens or sharp objects out of our pockets, and to return seatbacks to their upright position and store everything we had under the seat in front of us. After she explained these things, she came back to the emergency exit rows (one of which was right in front of me) and removed the safety covers from the doors so that they could be removed in case of any issues. While explaining this to the people in the emergency row, she became increasingly excited and reminded them several times not to open the doors and thrown them out until she explicitly gave the order.
She then returned to the front of the plane and went through the proper crash-landing position for everyone on the plane. We were to hold our arms crossed on the seat in front of us while resting our heads on our forearms. Then she explained that if there were smoke or fire in the cabin, that the emergency exits and the paths to them would be lit. At this point, we were still twenty minutes or so from landing.
With everyone braced in their positions (a position that isn’t exactly easy to hold for fifteen minutes, I might add), the captain again came on over the intercom and repeated his words about the landing being more of a precautionary measure than a drastic one. There was a problem with one of the engines, so instead of risking things he was shutting it down and we were going to make a detour. He also told us that we shouldn’t be surprised or scared to see emergency vehicles on the runway when we land, as they were just there for precautionary measures.
With all this in my head, I tried to keep calm. I breathed in through my nose and out through my mouth while looking out the window and trying to gauge how long it would be until we were on the ground. I looked over at a co-worker of mine (who was buffered by another passenger I didn’t know) and made some lame joke about how I, “maybe should have ordered a rum and coke earlier” but nobody heard me and I was left to my own thoughts again while looking out the window and watching the ground get closer and closer.
Because of all the information that I had been given (and my own feeble deduction skills), I figured that the plane wasn’t going to simply fall out of the sky, but if anything happened, it would be when we landed. Thoughts in my head ranged from videos of planes skidding across runways on their belly’s to the scene in the movie Fearless where the plane breaks apart and catches fire. I thought about my wife and my family and my dogs and really just tried to stay calm. I could hear muffled voices saying prayers around me, and tried to listen for anything mechanically that sounded out of order.
With all this tension built up, I strayed from the crash position and looked out the window until we were several hundred feet off the ground, then finally turned my head away and braced myself with all my might for the moment of landing.
When it finally came, it was remarkably uneventful, albeit with a whole heck of a lot more wheel braking than engine thrust reverse (obviously). There was a split second where I imagined the wheels and landing gear ripping off due to sheer force, but they held and we eventually slowed down and taxied to the waiting emergency vehicles. Nervous laughter and sighs filled the cabin and there was a noticeable bit of euphoria in the air.
While waiting in the very small airport (which ended up turning into a saga unto itself), my co-workers and I watched as the flight crew (including the pilot and co-pilot) walked by us and we gave them a small round of applause. They were all very young (a quarter century or less by my guess), and they nodded a small acknowledgment and went on their way.
Personally, I wanted nothing more than to get in a car and simply drive home at that point, but we instead waited until the plane was fixed before finally making it to our initial destination (Detroit) nearly ten hours after we were originally scheduled to be there. The last legs of the journey were far less eventful, and despite the reality of a rather calm landing (and diversion), we became known by the end of the conference as “those guys whose plane just about crashed.”