**** I added the full story without the link to accommodate my overseas friends who cannot access the link.
A few short days after the Swiss Air flight 111 had an electrical fire and crashed into the Atlantic near Halifax, Nova Scotia, in September of 1998, I boarded a flight in Detroit bound for Providence, R.I. I was talking to a reporter at the local newspaper about my experience and he asked me to write about it. Maybe I could get it printed. Not only did the paper print my article. They gave me front page. The local radio stations also picked up the story with their title, “All news is local news”. Below is my story.
John Sullivan, the 47-year-old Bishop Stang High School boys soccer coach, had finally shaken his fear of flying when he and his wife, Susanne, booked round-trip tickets to visit their son Todd last St. Patrick’s Day.
During a stop-over in Detroit, their flight was delayed two hours due to mechanical problems. Two weeks earlier, Detroit had been rated as the worst overall airport in the country, with an unusually high amount of broken-down planes.
After their five-day visit, Mr. Sullivan and his wife hopped aboard a second-leg flight in Detroit bound for Providence.
John Sullivan had a strong urge to tell his son where “our wills were kept” while loading his luggage into Todd’s car on the day of his departure.
But he brushed it off.
He was just glad to be on his way home.
“I was just beginning to doze at the window seat in Row 21 when a loud BANG! startled me awake. The plane was dark. There was not a sound on the plane. No panic, no screaming, no talking, but, most of all, no engine noise.
At the time, the plane was ascending. Then it began to noticeably lose altitude. I cursed to myself very quietly, so as for others not to hear.
“I took hold of my wife’s hand, and she took hold of a college-bound Japanese woman sitting in the aisle seat. Nothing needed to be said between my wife and I. We have been together for (more than 16 years) and can easily read each other’s body language. If things got worse, I’m sure we would have spoken of our love, but neither one of us was ready to accept our fate just yet. Nothing violent was happening to the plane … but we were all waiting.
“I can tell you that the adrenaline kicks in very quickly and very hard. It is difficult to just sit while your body and mind are screaming at you to do something. All of your senses become razor-sharp, but the feeling gradually fades and a sense of helplessness sets in.
“I found myself thinking of people sitting in airplanes that had crashed and wondered what they were thinking during the last moments. Many of them must have had the same thoughts I was now having.”
Is this going to be painful, or will it be quick? If I survive, will I help people; or will I fight and claw and push everyone out of the way in order to escape? What about my wife? I have to get her out first.
We’ll soon see.
“I began looking out the window for water — a pond, a lake, a swamp, anything that might cushion our crash.”
Buildings, buildings everywhere. There has to be water around here somewhere. Isn’t one of the Great Lakes close by? But the lakes are huge. Suppose we crash too far out and no one can get to us in time?
″‘JESUS, HELP US!’ I heard from somewhere behind.’”
Someone tell her to shut up. She’s going to cause a panic.
″‘JESUS, TELL US IT IS NOT OUR TIME! PLEASE TELL US IT IS NOT OUR TIME! IT CAN’T BE OUR TIME!’”
We’re all praying, lady. Shut up and let us make our own peace.
Why doesn’t the captain say something to us?
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain. I guess you all know by now we have a minor problem. We have lost an engine. It is very rare, but it happens occasionally. Fortunately, we have two. We are approaching Detroit and will be on the ground in about 15 minutes. A plane will be waiting for you at Gate 11 and we will get you to Providence with as little a delay as possible.”
I want to believe him, but I just don’t know. Is he for real, or just trying to keep us calm?
“Quiet again. More than quiet. Deafening silence. Still, no sound of an engine. But the captain said one was working, and we are still flying.
“Deep breath in … haaaam, breathe out …. saaaaa. Haaaam …. saaaaa. Thank you, Dr. Simmons.
“Now, the flight attendants appear. Everyone listening, straining to listen. No one is talking or reading. Everyone has a little card in their hands with a picture of the plane and emergency information. Everyone is giving their undivided attention.
“An attendant approaches a man four rows ahead of us sitting at the emergency exit. ‘Sir,’ she says, ‘are you able to operate the door if necessary?’
“No response. ‘Sir? Sir?’
“The man is looking straight ahead. Frozen. Another passenger across the aisle, who was a member of the New York Jets, changes places with the man, who almost has to be carried from his seat. A strong smell of feces begins to fill the cabin. No one comments or snickers. Everyone understands. All formality is dissipating from the attendants. They look worried. But very professional. We’re going to be all right … maybe. We are still flying but have a way to go.
“Suddenly, the glorious whine of an engine. We are on the final approach. Flaps down.
“We are going to be all right … maybe.
“Close to landing. Runway is beneath us. Flashing lights on both sides. Yellow lights, red lights, blue lights. Fire engines everywhere with silver-suited passengers.
“We are going to be all right … maybe.
“Hold your breath. Touchdown. Don’t breathe yet. Grab the seat. Tighter. Hold on, don’t breathe …
″… We’re all right.
“Brakes on, slowing down rapidly, almost stopped. BIG EXHALE. Now cheer and clap. This is not your usual ‘I’ve had a tough flight’ cheer. It’s more like a, ‘You have just won the $500 million Powerball’ cheer.
“I thought our time had come.”
“The total elapsed time from engine failure to touchdown was about 25 minutes. The atmosphere on board was very surreal, as most of us had resigned ourselves to our fate. We were calm, worried and unhappy, but ready.
“I’m sure many of the Swissair passengers had the same feelings. Some may have panicked, but I think many were in that same surreal state of mind.
“Bless them all, and may they rest in peace.”