Our Air Canada AC161 plane nose dived to 10,000 feet in a hurry.
“F**k me!” exclaimed Norm, the neighbour to my right. He’s Daddy to a 6-week old baby boy. Our previous conversation revealed baby and Mommy stayed back in Toronto for a couple more weeks but Norm had to get back to work.
Just moments before, everything was normal for the 220 passengers on board. No turbulence. No drama.
The peaceful drone of our Toronto to Vancouver flight was punctured by a loud bang and the opening of our overhead compartments, exploding oxygen masks through the ‘flood gates’ holding them back from years of neglect, now dangling right in front of our confused faces.
The pilot – in his professional but hurried tone – pierced our confusion with alarming news over the loud speakers, ”We’re experiencing loss of cabin pressure. We need everyone to be seated and buckled. Please put on your oxygen masks now…”
He informed us that the plane needed to make an emergency descent down to 10,000 feet as soon as possible, and a few other details I failed to catch due to the commotion of seat belts buckling and nervous muttering from passengers throughout the cabin.
Looking to my right, Norm wrangled the oxygen mask over his face. I followed suit. Looking past him, I saw a concerned Mother, deep-tanned from her vacation, assisting her 2 young children with their oxygen masks. The other passengers, now adorning their own masks and tightening seat belts, looked around the cabin, perplexed.
Passengers in shock and disbelief held on with nervous anticipation as the plane performed its steep descent. The emergency door seals in the back of the plane had loosened and caved to loud wind noise pushing its way into the cabin.
The passengers were surprisingly quiet. No one was screaming or freaking out, not aloud anyways. It could have been our response to the shocking reality of our situation.
“It’s like a scene in the movies…”, I thought to myself.
“Is there anything in my carry-on that I need?“, my thoughts ramble on. How silly. Like anything could matter at this time.
“Am I ready? Is this it?“, as flittering images of my Sarah and our children flash through my mind.
NO. Damn it. I hated admitting to myself I wasn’t ready to go. It can’t be, not now. I want to see Sarah and the kids again. I had one more connecting flight before savoring the embrace of my wife of 14 years and the delightful hugs of our two children. We were starting a one-week vacation together as soon as I arrived from my weekend conference in Atlanta.
Norm’s sniffing interrupted my thoughts. His oxygen mask was off his face and he sniffed the air, curiously.
Interrupting the smooth flow of oxygen to my system, I lifted my mask to sniff the air too.
“Fumes!”, I blurted.
Squishing my face on the window to my left, I squinted my eyes at the wing to hunt for any fire dangers or blown engines. All safe here. Norm and I figured the fumes exited from the much neglected oxygen masks compartment.
The pilot burst through the speaker system again.
“We’re requesting everyone stay seated and buckled. We apologize we cannot make it to Vancouver and have to make an emergency landing in Winnipeg. Ground crews will inspect the plane there. Emergency vehicles will be on the tarmac awaiting but just as a precaution.”
Minutes passed, and finally, we could feel the touchdown onto the Winnipeg tarmac about to unfold. We’re coming in fast…
Rubbing my hands on my jeans, clammy from nervousness, I was glued to the view outside my window. “God, help us!”, I prayed.
I’ve never been so thrilled to hear tires kissing the tarmac…Screech…Bump…Whurrrr…TOUCHDOWN!!
We’re safe! We made it! Thank you, God, we made it! I joined the other passengers in clapping and cheering for joy.
“Can I kiss the ground now?”, I asked Norm jokingly.
Speed-dialing Sarah, I shared the good news of our safe landing with her. It felt good to hear her voice again.
“Thank you… thank you… thank you…”, I repeated to the flight attendants and pilot – who seemed quite shook up after this ordeal – and shook their hands with deep appreciation as I walked off AC161 with the other 220 passengers, blessed to be alive to see another day.
It would take another 6 hours before another plane and crew could be ready to fly us out of Winnipeg. Our midnight flight flew with many exhausted passengers to Vancouver, many happy to be back home. My connecting flight to Kelowna early the next morning only gave me 3 hours shut eye. It didn’t matter. I really missed Sarah and wanted to hold her in my arms again.
Upon arrival in the Kelowna Airport, I raced to meet Sarah. We embraced, kissed, and shared tears of joy. I savored the warmth of her embrace, and the thrill of kissing my lady once again. Hand in hand, we walked out of the airport to be greeted by the bright morning sun, fresh air, and a new day.
Have you (or do you know someone who has) lived through a terrifying life-and-death experience? How did the experience impact you (or them)? How do you (or they) approach life, family, friends, work and pleasure now?