I had a fear of flying for many years. We didn’t fly a lot when I was younger, and once I was almost left in an airport on the Washington DC trip (buying Cheetos as a snack when the plane suddenly switched gates. good times). But I can’t really pinpoint the fear to anything other than the fact that something as big as a plane gets up in the air and takes people places, even across oceans, seems crazy and unnatural.
But the travel bug caught in college and much traveling about in questionable planes, trains, and automobiles (notably the chicken buses of Central America) had mostly cured me of fears.
But a tradition I stick to is praying during take-off. Stream of consciousness-type prayers, as mine always are, along the lines of “Hey God, thanks for this trip! I’m so excited! I can’t wait to see my little brothers. I hope I remembered to pack everything. Nashville is going to be so awesome. I can’t wait to wear my real cowboy boots.”
Friday night, when my sister Sophia and I boarded a red-eye Delta flight to Atlanta to spend Spring Break with family, I was praying those words about ten minutes after take-off, when suddenly the first engine on the wing outside our window, where we sat in Row 20, Seats A and B, exploded.
There was something like a flash or a fireball. There was a loud BOOM and the whole plane jerked and vibrated. I immediately started crying, grabbed my sister Sophie, and alternated between “Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus, Lord Jesus,” and hysterical sobbing.
We spent the next five so or minutes staring at the wing, expected it to snap off or explode into flames. I waited for the plane to start careening out of control, for it to drop thousands of feet. I mentally went through the oxygen bags coming down, turning my cell phone back on, and calling my mom to say goodbye.
Looking back, at no point did I feel overwhelming peace, or feel like angels were around me, or ready and excited to see Jesus. These are things I firmly believe will be a part of my death experience, so I guess that was a good sign.
I mostly just thought I was going to die, that it was going to be painful, that it was unfair, and how would my family find out, and they’d be so upset, and I would miss out on so much. I would never get married, or have kids, or go to Spain. I hated that I wasn’t in control, that my little sister had to die with me, but at least we were together. She was remarkably calm until we landed, since I was doing a helluva job freaking out for both of us. I wished the pilots would say something. I wished the guy sitting in our row would be a little more encouraging than shouting “Holy F—!” every few minutes.
Finally the flight attendant came on and said that the pilots were obviously busy, they weren’t sure what happened, please stay calm, they’ll let us know as soon as possible. A few minutes later we could feel the plane turn and start descending hard and fast. The landing gear pulled out loudly beneath my feet, freaking us out again, and then we braced for the landing. I thought death might happen then – we would blow up in fire then. But we didn’t, and we all clapped and cheered for the pilot.
Finally they came on the intercom and let us know that the engine had blown. He knew we wanted to get off the plane, but we had to wait until the firefighters inspected us.
Thirty minutes into our adventure, it was already over. We had spent more time in security than in the air. We deplaned, called our parents and cried, called our boyfriends and cried, got our tickets refunded, and waited for mom to come pick us up.
In many ways, we were lucky. It happened right after take off, so to return to land was much easier. I’m not sure how or if they dropped some fuel before we landed, but it happened very smoothly and safely, compared to what could have been. And since then, I’ve read that planes can fly without an engine for about 100 miles before needing to land at an airport.
My feelings have been scarier. These last few days I find myself easily overwhelmed with emotion. I just want to eat, drink, shop, walk, sleep all the feelings away. Maybe not the healthiest thing. I’ve never felt that kind of fear before, I’ve never been so scared of anything, so sure I was going to die and so angry and disappointed and sad about it. But we’re okay! We’re alive! It just feels weird. I feel weird.
I’m headed to the mountains and having a little snowy retreat to just relax, cry it out if I need to, maybe reevaluate my life if I feel up to it. :) Is this a little “carpe diem” shake down from God? I don’t know. But I’m glad we’re all okay, I’m glad Sophie was there, that my family and friends have been so supportive.
- What’s the Safest Seat in an Airplane? (gizmodo.com)
- Plane Shui Explains Mysteries Behind Airplane Seating Preferences (flightnetwork.com)