On a wing and a prayer


Ten minutes from my destination on Tuesday night the pilot said: Due to a technical fault with the aircraft we are returning to Brisbane. We had been in the air for more than an hour by this stage and faced at least the same amount of time again to get back to where we started. Bloody brilliant.

The pilot gave us no more information. The air host and hostess people knew nothing either. So I immediately thought (as any logical person would in my opinion): What sort of bloody technical fault? If there is something wrong with the plane, why aren’t we landing straight away? For the next 30 minutes or so, with each and every ebb and flow of the engines, I wondered whether this was in fact it? Was I about to die on a reasonably small aircraft in the middle of Central Queensland two days before my brother’s 30th birthday? That would be very shit. I hoped he would still have his party.

My brain went over and over all the morbid possibilities as I watched the flight crew like a hawk for any miniscule signs of alarm. Maybe they are hiding their fear, I thought? They are trained to do that. I scanned their faces as they whispered at the front of the plane, trying to decipher whether they were secretively trying to disguise the fairly obvious fact that we were flying towards an inescapable, horrifying death.

Maybe we have to go back to Brisbane, I thought, because there are more emergency services there who can help us to survive the crash landing? I was glad I had flat shoes on. Indeed, I pondered, whether the landing gear was stuck inside the plane and we would have to land belly-first on the runway while murderous sparks spewed like brimstone from the aircraft’s underbelly?  It was all rather depressing.

I was very tired, but didn’t want to sleep in case I slept through my own passing. In hindsight that was ridiculous because who actually wants to be awake while they are dying in agony, burned alive by searing jet fuel? But I must admit I was heartened by the fact this was the first flight in many a moon that I was seated at the back of the cabin. I had read somewhere a few weeks before that the further down the plane you are, the better your survival rate. When you add that to the fact they are generally also the cheapest seats, well, what’s not to love? Premium economy arseholes won’t be so smug then would they?

But as I looked around the cabin with my super-spy, but trying to be nonchalant, vigilance, I noticed that all of the other passengers seemed pretty damn calm. Hmm, I thought kind of rationally, maybe I should relax – just a little. The crew also started serving drinks again – we all got a free soft drink, woo hoo – and I overheard them (with hearing that had strangely become razor-sharp) complaining that they would have to work a 12-hour shift now. They were not happy about it.

Jesus, I wasn’t happy having spent half an hour pondering whether my life was about to end. But I hadn’t been afraid. In fact, I felt nothing but a sort of fatalistic acceptance. The timing was very average though. Maybe it was never in the cards for me to make it to 40, I thought? And just before I closed my eyes for the remainder of the journey home again, I realised I was very proud of myself for not panicking.

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