Saturday, January 28, 2017

Emergency Landing!

Thursday was a long, full day for Luke and me.  After I taught lab, and he finished his calculus class, Christine dropped the two of us off at the airport.  We were flying to Nashville for a college visit down in Huntsville.  It was a direct flight to Nashville, landing at 6:05 Central, so we anticipated getting down to our friends' house in good time, maybe around 8:30, since we hadn't checked any bags.

Luke and I were both in window seats in the last 2 rows of the airplane on the left side.  It was really windy when we took off from DC, so I was a bit worried the flight might be delayed or really bumpy or something.  Not to worry though!  Everything was fine, and not even that bumpy.
Luke fell soundly asleep on the flight, and I read a book on neuroscience, The Tell-Tale Brain by V.S. Ramachandran.  I took this dark picture of my dinner that I had brought, since I was proud that I was even being whole30 compliant on the plane, with my chicken, raw veggies, guacamole, and orange.  I thought that would be the most interesting thing of the evening!

As we started our descent, the pilot said something about landing soon, and that it was 43 degrees on the ground.  As we got closer to the ground, he said, "We'll be landing shortly, and it will be an emergency landing.  Please remain calm."  He was utterly calm, and so all of us were just like, "Whaaaat did he just say?"  The first thing my mind thought was, "This must be a drill or something."  But then the steward, who was sitting right behind us, starting shouting, "KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND GRAB YOUR ANKLES!  KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN AND GRAB YOUR ANKLES!" over and over and over again.  Well, that was alarming!  I never even looked out the window or anything to see what was happening.  I couldn't even imagine what the problem was--landing gear failing to descend?  Brakes not working? Who knew?--so I was wondering if we would go cartwheeling across the runway when we landed or something.  That was the scariest part.  Well, we landed just fine, and taxied to a stop.  Fire trucks were waiting, and they started spraying us with that foam flame retardant stuff before we even stopped moving.

As soon as we stopped, the steward changed it up and started yelling, "GET UP AND GET OUT OF THE PLANE!  LEAVE EVERYTHING!"  over and over.  They didn't open the doors over the wings, I assume because of the fire trucks spraying, so we all had to go out the front door.  Since Luke and I were in the back 2 rows, obviously it took awhile for us to actually start walking, and I totally could have grabbed my tote bag.  As it was, I only had my phone in my pocket, and I left everything else.  Luke had his wallet and phone, but he left his backpack.  Fortunately we both had on our sweatshirts.
We followed everyone else out of the plane and onto the side of the runway.  There we had to line up single file so the flight attendants as well as the pilots could go up and down and count us all. The fire trucks continued to spray down the airplane.  Talking to other people, we found out that an engine had caught fire--the engine right behind Luke and me, on the left side of the airplane!  Neither of us had looked out the window and seen anything, but other people reported seeing flames out their windows.  This article says there was never any fire, but that is not what people were saying who were on the flight.  Anyhow, we all got out, and the airplane didn't burst into flames, so whew!

We stood on the runway for approximately forever (actually 20-25 minutes), waiting for buses to come.  It was so cold!  The wind really whipped around out there, and we were not dressed for cold weather.  Other people didn't even have their jackets, if they were stuffed in overhead bins or whatever.  One poor man stood out there in his sock feet, since he took his shoes off for the flight and had to abandon them.  It was all just so very surreal, like a weird dream or something.  A very cold, weird dream, lol.

Finally the buses arrived and took us to the terminal.  First we were taken to what looked like the one international gate, where you would go if you had to go through customs.  We waited there for a little while, and eventually they decided they could take us to a regular gate, where we could sit in regular chairs, instead of hard folding chairs.  So we went to a gate and waited.  And waited and waited and waited.

Occasionally a very nice airport representative would come give us an update, like, "The FAA has cleared the airplane to be moved back to the terminal, and then we can get your stuff back to you."  And then later, "Well, we also have to wait for the NTSB also have to clear the plane, and now we're waiting on them . . ."  I had eaten my little dinner on the plane, but by this time it was after 8:00 Nashville time, and literally all the shops/restaurants in the A terminal had rolled up their sidewalks and closed.  Of course, a lot of us didn't have any wallet or money anyway, so we still couldn't have bought anything if they were open!  But Mr. Nice Airport Man went to another terminal and brought back bags and bags of Burger King hamburgers for everyone.  Even though Luke is not a fan of Burger King, he managed to put away several of them, which kept him from starvation.  I was really regretting not grabbing my bag at this point.  My phone was running low, and my book was in there.  What do people do without books to help them wait?!  I wandered up and down the hall of the terminal, looking at some really neat art exhibits made by Appalachian artists.  Luke watched a pro basketball game.  And we waited and waited and waited.

FINALLY they got all the approvals they needed to be able to move the plane, so they started towing it at a glacial speed over to the terminal area.  They stopped in a few hundred yards away from us--you can kind of see the dark plane shape in the picture above.  There was a flurry of activity around it--baggage carts circled it, some vans pulled up around it, there were 2 pickup trucks--surely things would start happening now!  Well, not so fast.  We watched people with flashlights head up the stairs, into the plane.  After a long time, 2 employees started walking back toward the terminal.  They had backpacks slung over each shoulder, and they were towing little suitcases in one hand, and carrying maybe a duffel bag or a shopping bag in the other.  We were all like, "You have got to be kidding."  I honestly don't think they could have come up with a slower way to unload a plane if they had tried!  But the employees trudged back and forth with a few carry on items each time, like sherpas.  When they finally climbed the stairs and made their way inside to the gate, Mr. Nice Airport Man would take a piece of notebook paper from them, which they had written each item on, plus the row they had found said item in.  Then the passenger who wanted to claim the item had to describe something in it, or show something that said he was in that row, or dig through the bag to find identification that looked like him, or something.  Then he would sign the piece of notebook paper by his item.  You can imagine how long this all took, even though it was a small plane with only about 60 passengers!  

Finally the last stuff was loaded into a van (which had been there the whole time, just saying . . .) and driven over to us.  Of course, that's where Luke's and my stuff was.  We were both *very* relieved to see our stuff, especially me, since that's where my wallet was.  I have since contemplated keeping at least my driver's license and credit card in my back pocket during landing.  And for sure, I will always have my shoes on!  Anyway, we finally got our stuff at 10:00 Central time, and we headed over to get our rental car.  Thankfully there were no hiccups there, and we were finally able to be on our way.  It took a little over 2 hours for us to drive down to Huntsville, and boy, were we tired!  We got there about 12:40.  Jenny stayed up to let us in, and it was so good to see her face, and then to collapse into bed!  What a crazy adventure!  We were really thanking the Lord for watching over us.

Luke and I flew back today (Saturday), and I have to say, I was nervous when the plane started descending on the first leg of our flight.  I kept waiting to hear the words, "Emergency landing", but fortunately they never came.  We landed, taxied up to the gate, and got off, just like normal.  So I wasn't so nervous on the second leg.  And I left my ID and credit cards in my wallet, lol.  I did put on my hoodie--and I would have tried to grab my bag . . .

1 comment:

Beverly said...

Wow! What an adventure! One I'm sure you could have done without, lol. Glad everything ended up OK, but I can feel your pain just reading the words "waiting and waiting and waiting."