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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Emergency Landing on Friday 13th or How I’ll Never Mock Cecile About Her Fear of Flying

Here it is turning and it doesn't feel good when it stops.

Two weeks ago our lunches touched upon the topic of flying. My colleague and friend Cecile shared that she would have to fly often in February and that this makes her anxious because of her fear of flying. She also said she feared flying back from Tirana on Friday 13th. I can be bad in such circumstances and as I have never suffered from travel anxiety or from a ‘Friday 13th’ syndrome I didn’t miss the opportunity to tell some stories of air accidents. I only mentioned those ones with a happy end but still….

Well, I totally forgot that it was Friday 13th yesterday. I started the day with a nice snowy view of the Albanian mountains over the Ohrid Lake, I had a nice breakfast with my colleagues and friends Ana, Elisa and John and a good two hours of an interesting meeting with a clear possibility of a new meaningful regional project. Then we took a nice car ride from Ohrid to Skopje along the Shar Mountain with my colleague Viktor from Banja Luka.

I just calculated that last year I had 40 accident-free individual plane flights. This simply made me quite oblivious of the forces of gravity and thoughts about our fragility did not cross my mind while on a plane. I have mostly been pre-occupied with the aesthetic aspects of flying, the contours of the clouds and the view of the landscapes from high altitude.

Everything started just fine yesterday, we boarded the propeller Bombardier Q400 plane and we took off without any problems. We quickly gained altitude and I took out my laptop even before the security lights went off. However, just a minute later someone on the right side of the plane said that the engine stopped. An unmoving propeller engine is quite frightening in the air as it is designed to turn in the air and not stay motionless. The stewardess rushed to the cockpit and then immediately announced ‘Tajekosztatjuk hogy….’ – ‘We are informing you that….’. This simply prolonged the anxiety of all the passengers 90% of whom did not understand Hungarian, of course. The lady, quite pale and worried, announced that the right engine failed and that we were returning to Skopje for an emergency landing. Later she told us that nothing like this has happened to her before.

I have to admit that the next 10 minutes were not very pleasant for anybody. I folded my laptop as I decided that writing a project proposal is not very relevant at this point. Of course, I got a bit scared as everyone else as the plane, slightly tilted to the right as no engine supported it on this side, started descending a bit too quickly for my taste. Some reassuring voices said that these planes can land with only one engine (hope dies last). The British man next to me had his eyes closed, the history of the late Roman Empire in hands. The woman on the right started worrying about her connection flight to Milan and everybody was looking at her with unbelieving eyes. I was surrounded by Dutch who kept their spirit and who gently told this woman that security is our first priority and that we’d better land first before worrying about our Friday night plans.

The rest is not very interesting – we landed, of course they didn’t know what to do with us and kept us waiting in a strange space, of course no one spoke good English, of course the Malev representative spoke bad English in a quiet voice….

I must admit that there is a feeling of exhilaration and a big relief when everything finishes. It must be similar, in a lesser degree, to what soldiers feel after coming back from battle and it must have something to do with adrenaline.

As there were few Macedonians I was interviewed by some TV…..Aren’t journalists like vultures sometimes? I didn’t believe they would broadcast it but an hour later I received text messages from two Macedonian friends who watched me and said you should never fly on Friday 13th and that I ought to celebrate.

I will never mock Cecile about her fear of flying....

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