Tuesday, June 23, 2009

“Brace Brace, Heads Down, Grab your Heels”

It’s taken me a while to write up this post. And then it’s just a collection of the memories of that day and situation. Not really structured.

It’s been a long time since I had been in any sort of emergency. Life prepares you to handle them, but you are never really sure how you would react. But on that day, which started as normal as it could be, for an early morning flight to Mandalay I found that I was strangely indifferent to impending doom.

That morning, I was half asleep through the entire check-in process right up to the point of getting into my seat on the plane (as I had this journey dozens of times).
And then blank, I had a nice nap, and as always I awake right before landing at Bagan, I always want to catch a glance at the temples and pagodas.

Then the unusual process starts.
The pilot circles the airport for a few times, affording a lovely view of Bagan, before he heads off to Mandalay.
A minor technicality, the captain says!
He is in control, the captain says!.
We then circle Mandalay airport burning up all our fuel, while emergency preparations take place onboard and on the ground.
I have all of this on video.
Everything turns out ok.
The pilot brings the plane down on one of the smoothest landings that I have ever experienced and the cabin erupts with happy applause.
Some of the passengers are quite shaken. The crew was as professional as ever that I have seen. Bravo to the Air Bagan crew that day. I suppose that in the movies the aircrew members panic for the benefit of the audience, because there was none of that, that day.

The thing in the movies about your entire life rushing before your eyes right before calamity strikes!, I found out that it’s real and it happened to me there and then, and I thought – oh S**t, this is gonna be the end of my life?
My thoughts rushed to take stock of my entire life, it was fun! My wife and daughter would be Ok, everyone I cared about would be Ok without me in their lives. And my only regret was that I would not get too see my wee little daughter grow up to become whatever she would be.
I felt a little sad about that.

I remember a scene about my father who had a fatal liver condition, one morning he was busy scribbling away and then he showed us what he had down. He had written his own obituary, and seemed to be rather satisfied of the result.
So that decided it for me, if I was to die, I would experience the entire episode from the point of a detached human-behavior studying scientist, and as always I regard myself as I observer of human behavior under extreme stress.

Then I noticed;
It was 2009, the 9th day, at 9:00 am, could the total number of people on that flight total to a number that could add up to a 9? (Example - 63 people: 6 + 3 = 9, 45 people: 4+5=9!! I would not be surprised).

Flashes and excerpts that I remember;
“Due to a technical inconvenience we will be diverting to Mandalay International Airport.”
“Everything is under my control!”

The pilot puts the plane into a series of gut wrenching maneuvers to dislodge the anything (the ‘whatever’, they won’t tell us) that is stuck!
“Hey, look at the fire engines all rushing for out for us!”
“They have stopped all air traffic from Nyaung Oo, HeHo and Yangon airports, and the entire Mandalay Tada Oo airport is preparing for us to land!”
The plane is circling the Mandalay airport to reduce the load of fuel it has onboard. (can’t they flip a switch to dump the fuel?) Probably to reduce the size of the potential fireball that we could possibly create I think.

The air stewardesses are preparing the emergency exits. And arranging so that Myanmar passengers to sit beside them and taking positions there.

They are asking us to practice the brace position and checking if every passenger is able to do it.
They are asking us to remove all sharp items from our pockets and ladies to remove high heels and the sort.
They are asking all the passengers who are wearing spectacles to take them off and put them into the seat pocket in front (Now I am technically blind).
After the plane landed we mentioned to each other that “Today is a good day and nothing could ever top this, at least for today”.
One of the passengers cracks a good joke, and I tell him “That’s a really good joke but sorry for not laughing!”
I meet the pilot and ask him the truth of the matter and he replies that the panel light that indicates that the front nose landing gear had deployed properly, did not light up. And that’s why he flew to Mandalay airport to ask the control tower to take a look for him as he flew over it. So then he executed the smoothest landing that he ever did.

My wife thought I was making part of all this up until she saw the videos, and then she said that I was so cold blooded to makes jokes about all of it when I could die in a few minutes.


  1. Real scary and that's why some people fear flying.


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