It was June 12, 2005. I remember well because it was our nation’s Independence Day when I have to leave for contract work in Dubai. Everything was normal, very nice day, bright, sunny and few clouds. Quite a comfortable ride, I assumed, as t’was only about an hour flight from Philippines stop-over to HongKong before finally going Dubai. I remember the British accent of the pilot announcing our flight, making me more comfortable, sounding very professional on the job. Lemme’ skip to the action-packed part.
I’ve earlier glanced at the screen’s flight status display, I believe I saw like 39,000 feet altitude, which somehow stuck to my mind. I just sipped an orange juice, my cup is still have full and I was still savoring the taste of what I just drunk. I wanna have more sip when suddenly, an inconvenient fall, I remember saying “Whooooaaa”. I expected it to be the same experience I had before, gone and steady in just few seconds but this time, there’s a second, longer “Whoooooaaaaaa……”, a much longer fall. I remember still holding on to my orange juice looking forward to enjoying the final gulp. I remember I had a more dangerous shudder while on flight before, complete with scary squeak of the plane as it encountered turbulence but it was stabilized in few seconds. Unfortunately, this third time seemed to be an eternity. Here are the scenes that stuck to my mind as the plane was on free-fall:
- I felt inconvenient even though I had my seatbelt on. I felt like I’d be thrown out so I’ve to hold tight to my arms rest.
- I saw my seatmate’s feet near my elbow in the arms rest, somehow added discomfort to the already scary free-fall. He was in my left side, his head then was stuck on the ceiling. He was there for sometime, then I thought: “What if he fell back, he could break his foot”. So I elbowed his feet back to his side of the chair and he still hang in there for awhile as the plane kept falling.
- The stewardess in my right windows-side, front row, had her feet on the handle of the food cart where her hands were earlier. She was delivering food, pouring hot drink as I remember. They were still serving food as the free-fall started. Good thing for me, I’ve already finished my food and was only enjoying my orange juice when the free-fall started. I glanced at her head too that was stuck on the ceiling. I guess just the same situation as my seatmate though she has more open, dangerous place. I’ve earlier seen her jerked awkwardly on the first two shorter free-fall.
- I heard a lady crying out so loud to her creator. Pardon my honestly sharing what then goes to my mind: I felt like getting up my seat, go to her and slap her face and tell her: “If that’s the way the God you worship makes you behave in a situation like this, I praised the God I worship who gave me peace instead”.
- Then I remembered asking myself: “Do I get to see you this soon, Lord? Is it my time yet?”. This is not the first time I’m in the face of death so somehow, bit composed in dealing with the chaos, not to mention the rather abnormal reaction to such an intense, life-threatening.
- Then I thought: Oh well, we’ll fall on the sea, it’ll be fine. Then I imagined water coming in, again I asked myself: “Would I end by drowning”. I remember looking around searching for my escape route, somehow had breaking the window in mind but I settled on giving in to “His will, not mine”.
I think that was all I had in mind during the free-fall. I can’t say exactly how long was our free-fall but I believe we were falling somewhere between 2-5 minutes. As the plane steadied, I remember seeing our altitude then was like 19,000 feet, which made me believe we fell halfway through our altitude. I consider it a miracle we survived the free-fall, at least the plane stayed level as it fall, it did not shiver, it was a smooth fall.
After that and the plane seemed to have leveled off, chaos continued, even sounded worse, lots of shouting especially from kids. As it seemed to me the shouting rather added a lot more discomfort, I let out a very loud “Sssshhhhhhhhhh….”. That somehow lessened the noise as the parents were made aware of it and tended to their children, comforted them and kept the crying at a more manageable level. As the captain announced complete control of the plane and the passing of turbulence we encounter, everyone seemed to be relieved hearing his calm voice. I made it a point though to put my trust more on the Almighty rather than on mere human regardless of how professional sounding it may be.
Then the deal with the aftermath, suddenly plenty of garbage all over. We were still having our food when the free-fall started, and all of them, ended up on the plane’s floor, except for the cup in my hand. Then I felt something dripping to my head, well guess what, my half-full orange juice is now on the overhead cabin and is dripping back to me. So just to have an idea on how fast we’re falling, imagine the cup half-filled with juice in your hand, and quickly remove your hand such that the liquid gets out of the cup. I don’t wanna let go of that orange juice, I still wanted to drink it but not anymore. So I ask the steward for tissue paper as he passes by me. He was back in few seconds handing me over kitchen paper towels, which I used to wipe out the orange juice splattered on the overhead bin right above me. I remember the steward passing by 3 or 5 more times with big black garbage bag in both hands, going to the back of the plane.
I normally remove my seatbelt when I’m eating but that time, for some reason, I thanked God I put on my seatbelt. Had I not had my seatbelts on, I would be in a very dangerous position as the overhead bin above is in uneven, it would be disastrous if I get stuck in there, I could’ve easily broke my neck or shoulder or my feet as I fall down. So after this incidence, I always see to it that I’m holding on to something when on flight, as you can’t really predict what could happen. I don’t think those air pockets could be detected by any radar. Better safe than sorry, right? Oh well, we just can’t help but be complacent, afterall, chances are so slim, right?
It was such a relief for us all when we finally landed. We’ve seen and heard ambulances as the plane was on taxiing to our docking station. As the plane finally stopped and the door opened, emergency medical team came in with their gadgets. Instead of providing comfort though, seemed to be they just added more stress and panic by asking in a frantic way: “Are you hurt? Do you need to go to hospital?”… I guess for them that was just the normal way of dealing with near-disaster experience. Somehow I expected medical team to be rather more comforting and caring, speaking slowly assuring people that all would be well. Instead, what I’ve seen was medical team in a hurry, speaking so fast to the point of even scaring the people they’re dealing with, doing business as usual without the slightest hint of care for people they’re supposed to be taking care. No wonder I’ve seen one of the medical team having a silly grin and bit shaking his head as he takes blood pressure. Found out later the reading was so high I guess he could hardly believe too.
It was actually the couple beside me that had her blood pressure checked. She already had high blood history so the experience we survived and the way the medical team handled the aftermath, simply got her blood pressure way up the scale. Unfortunately for them, they’ve to stay and get to the hospital. Her for her blood pressure and her husband beside me who felt ache on his neck. I told him at least he don’t have to worry about his foot as I put it back. He wasn’t able to remember me doing so but still thanked me. The way I see it, had I not pushed his foot back, it could’ve broke as he fell back to his seat with his foot on our shared armrest.
Then another countryman seated at the other row told me he was looking for his document in a plastic folder. His passport and other important document were in that plastic folder. He said he put it just beside him and now he can’t find it. I was afraid it got messed with the garbage all over the place and is already inside one of the big black garbage bag. We informed the steward that busily passes us every now and then. This is just another example of how chaotic our scene was, such that a big plastic folder of significance can just get out of your sight without you being aware how it goes. It sure was a relief later hearing from the guy he’d found his document.
As we got out of the plane, I found the stewardess that got stuck on the ceiling, with neck brace and bondage on her left limb. I believe she goes out first, limping. I also found out the old lady she was serving got minor burn for she was serving her hot coffee as the free-fall started.
As we walked outside the plane on our way to the gate of our connecting flight, I’ve seen a countryman with what looked like blood spelled all over his shirt. As I spoke with him, he told me it was just grape juice. What I had in mind then was that the airline should’ve at least given his a new shirt so as not to look so bloody.
So we survived that harrowing experience, myself to be able to blog about it. What about the missing jet, what if they had similar even bigger encounter putting them behind survival point, who could tell the story? I’m not saying this is what happened to them but if it did, I bet no one will have the time to call for SOS. And if they had a more intense encounter than what we had, who could survive to tell the story? I won’t be surprised if the plane’s found at the bottom of the sea within few flight minutes off their last reported position.
How the transponder got disabled is a big mystery, assuming it could not be easily turned off by accident. I don’t think it is one of the switches above the pilot’s head because then, it could be hit if seatbelt’s not put on when the free-fall happens. There are many possibilities as to how a big passenger plane could get lost. I’ve blogged this experience since I haven’t heard stories of similar angle. Given a wish, I wish just something else happened and that all of them are fine somewhere and would soon be found and be back to their normal life. So help them God!!!