Emergency Landing: 5 minutes to think about life’s essentials

sky_with_puffy_cloudsI have not posted lately–despite my intention to post at least twice a week.  That is because my work life is ramping up after a brief early-year drought and I’ve been busy traveling.  

Which brings me to my topic:  Upon take-off out of Newark Liberty Airport last Sunday, the left engine of the 757 caught on fire and we were forced to make an emergency landing.    Overall, it was not a particularly dramatic event–no oxygen masks popping down doing a dance in front of my face.  No flustered flight attendants telling us to brace for impact.  Except for the loud bang, the ensuing rocking back and forth, and the slight quiver in the voices of the pilot and the attendants, it felt quite routine, actually. In probably about 5 minutes, we were back on the ground safely.  Afterwards, the pilot briefed us by saying the event had been “very serious, but we were able to correct it efficiently.”    Bravo!

This was actually my second emergency landing.  My last one was about eight years ago, and we had to return to the Phoenix airport because of a broken slat–not as serious as an enflamed engine.   We had had time in that case to dump fuel in the desert.  In this case, we didn’t have that luxury–we “landed heavy,” meaning with a full tank–making me sense that this landing was more urgent.

Ironically, though, I was much more fearful during the first one.   In the one this week, I had an almost dispassionate line of thinking which went, “This could be really serious.  I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s possible that this aircraft is doomed.  If that’s true, I am living the last few minutes of my life right now.  Should I try to use my cell phone to call home?  Should I try to text a message?  To whom?”  My husband came to mind first, swiftly followed by my four children.  But I oddly wasn’t really frightened–it was more of a heightened alertness of living very much moment to moment.    But I felt a real need to communicate with my loved ones.  Since we were instructed not to use our cell phones, I thought I would write a message and leave it in my purse–perhaps it would survive me.  I knew I didn’t have time for much–no time for wise words of advice.  And I didn’t have time to write several personal notes, as much as I would have loved to.   “Take care of your siblings.”  Or, “Remarry with my blessings.” So the only thing I did was scrawl on the back page of my DayTimer:  “Sunday night.  I love you guys!”  Kind of a final group hug.

When I got back down to terra firma after a safe landing, I swiftly called all members of my family, but had to leave messages to all but one of them.  My second son voice-mailed me back saying, “Wow, what an experience, Mom!  Glad you’re back safely.  By the way, I don’t say it often enough, but I love you.”

He felt what I had felt–that it would be a shame to miss a last chance to say I love you.    They’re just three words, but after weighing all my options in handling the possibly last few minutes of my life, they were all that mattered.


In preparing for this post, I wanted to see if others had similar thoughts in this situation, so I googled “What goes through your mind during an emergency landing,” and from what I could see, I was not alone in only wanting to connect with loved ones.  A few people said they prayed.  I’m surprised I didn’t think of that.  Maybe if we had been in flight longer, I would have–I actually carry a rosary in my bag, and it probably would have come in handy, once I had taken care of writing the love note to my family.

My thought process was more similar to that of Terri from Calgary–who wrote about her emergency landing last September in her blog, Windlost.  

I thought about my Mom a lot, and was so happy I’d just spent a week with her (under rather stressful circumstances – an entire week spent at hospital attending to my Dad who is going into a wheelchair, showing signs or dementia, losing control of his body, and may need to go into a nursing home…). Happy I had seen my Dad and Grandma and aunts that I love…

You think about people most of all. And then you think about how hard you are on yourself everyday, for so many reasons, and suddenly realize how precious you are. You just suddenly have all this LOVE for yourself, all this thanks for your life. I didn’t feel any regret. I just remember thinking that worrying about my weight is stupid. All the time I spend beating myself up for being a few pounds more than I should be is utter nonsense. That worrying about a job, a house, all that material stuff is really irrelevant.”

Amen, Terri.  

On my return trip from O’Hare yesterday, I was in the airline lounge, and the man in the computer kiosk next to me was talking on the phone.  The last thing he said before hanging up was “I love you.”   As I walked to the gate, I passed a girl on a cell phone, who was saying as I passed, “I love you.”   It was so nice to hear–and it reminded me that I need to be more generous that way and say “I love you” more often.  Life  doesn’t always give you a 5 minute warning to cram it in.