The fateful day we lost three of our 9 lives

Loudspeaker – “This is the final call for Sardine Can Airlines, calling all passengers to please rush like muddled cattle to gate thirteen and a 1/2. Please pack away newly acquired overpriced Duty Free booze and stupid gift trinkets into your overnight bags packed with elephants. Glug back all juices and snacks on your person (which you remortgaged your house to buy) before boarding, otherwise into the bin they will go. Wheelchair Assisted passengers will be stranded in the airport building until the last second – its our ruse to see who can run fastest.

Keep your boarding pass on hand, together with your passport, and remember to look as miserable, ugly and old as possible for the customs officials to recognise your photograph”.

Intercom – “Keep your boxing gloves out to ensure the person who has stolen you pre booked seat moves instantly. Fasten all chastity belts, extinguish all happiness, stow away freedom of movement and take any pill to put your extremities to sleep – ladies and gentlemen welcome to the prune zone of chapped skin and withered dreams”. Hooray, 20 minutes later the mighty bird sailed up up and away – destination la la land.

I became a marie biscuit with trapped boxing gloves – so much for that idea! A whale was squeezed between the armrests, which we played this is my space game for, Orca won – go figure! My shoulder must’ve been a pillow lookalike – she settled in comfortably, further irritating me with intermittent snorts. Shudder to think what else was going on that was also screaming for release. Not cool!!!!! Don’t invade my personal space eugh. Turning into a tortoise lookalike, grumpy scaly face et al, I escaped, contortionist style, over the headrests, to freedom flicking out the pins and needles. Good lord flying is an unbearable privilege – economy class clones all stare enviously down the aisle towards first class individuals drinking champagne. To add insult to injury, my husband’s legs actually belong to a giraffe and the only space that fitted them was across my leg room. It was bloody awful and I had to wonder what he would have done if I was a stranger – strapped his feet around his ears ???? Imagine! Please sir, we need you to sit up straight as the rules request. Say what. Sorry, we can’t hear – and can you speak Giraffe & Hyaena please.

Seriously, I must give credit where credit is due – all airline staff who have attended to our every needs have been more than awesome. Kind, cheerful, tolerant, helpful and not even throttling us when we ran the 200 metre sprint to catch the closing doors because we selfishly lost track of time shopping for stupid gifts at the duty free. The Pilots always dress up for us ladies and do the cat walk for early boarders, making lady passengers envy every wife waiting back home for them.

After nearly 24 hours of sleepless, uncomfortable and mind numbing flying, with 800 strangers, we were cruising over a beautiful patchwork quilt of farmland, across to the White Cliffs of Dover, then soaring above London Tower – what a stunning ending to a tedious journey. The United Kingdom was welcoming us in with sunshine peeping through grey clouds and giving us a birds eye view of where we would spend time with family and friends for a few weeks.

That fateful day – and how life ‘happens’ in threes.

Bing bong, Intercom – “Ladies and gentlemen set your seats in the upright position, stow away the tables squeezed under your boobs and fasten seatbelts. Thank you for flying with us – all 800 of you, brave now-unrecognizable drooling, farting, drinking, toe-jam sharing barefooted creatures, who we’ve squeezed into 1000 sardine cans welded together, added wings to and flown you across the oceans in. Please feel free to rate our comfort and service on the form provided, and throw it into the bin on your way out because there is nothing we can really do – we just work here, hoping to see the world whilst pretending you are nice and seeing to your every need. Stuffing oversized suitcases into the overhead cupboards whist we giggle watching mammoth making way to seat 85A as the gates close, reducing hopefuls , seats 85B & C, into Frankenstein and co”.

NARROWLY MISSING ANOTHER PLANE – AND WHAT FOLLOWED :

Outside the windows the sky was abuzz, kinda like flying ants on a misty evening. Aircraft stacking due to runway congestion, we were slightly ahead of schedule awaiting our turn to land at Gatwick Airport. On the fourth tour-de-england passengers became grouchy and irritable – ‘alright already’, lets get there! Under our seats a crystal ball was flickering and flashing strange glimpses into the future reflecting travellers turning into ghostly white, wide eyed gloops and fuel turning into gold.

The descent began, down down down, dots became buildings, bridges found names, ants turned to people in colourful clothing, wing flaps fighting the wind, bouncy bouncy through the lifting air. Then the ground whipped by and green morphed into blades of grass. My fists turned white gripping the armrests (I’m not cool about landing), invisible brake pedals on the floor working full time, all eyes on the tv screens fixed to seats in front of us – filming views below the plane.

  • “Woaaaaaaaaa – Chris, there is an aeroplane UNDERNEATH us on the tarmac, look” – a huge plane, we could almost see each nut and bolt, could see the wigs on passengers on board. We overshot the Boeing who was on the runway in our place …… plane creaked and groaned, straining against gravity, wing flaps shuddered and the whole plane trembled – hours passed in seconds, fast became slow motion, I felt no emotion whatsoever! Not death nor fear. Blank. We were moving horizontally, bottom hanging, the g-forces pulling our brains from rebellion & unclicking seatbelts, attempting to stand or scream. All eyes glued to our drama movie unfolding. Suddenly we felt the strength of the engines pulling this almighty beast upwards, lifting, more twisting metal and creaking seams’ noises (to us – who knows really what happens but humans put sounds into boxes don’t we). “This is your Pilot speaking” ….. bla bla fishcakes about the crash that nearly was, followed by more bad news.

Once again we had to stack to land so had to divert across the city to Heathrow Airport – and hope to get there – we had USED UP all but a sniff OF OUR FUEL circling and circling to land. The Captain was calm and communicative at all times, we were in good hands, but we realised he could do no more than the plane had in her for us all! Still no emotion. Ascending into the abyss above – up up up, minutes later an ear-popping descent. Nobody could breathed not twitched an eyelash. Eight hundred sardines – all statuesque! WE MADE IT – kiss the landing strip of Heathrow. Unglamorously we sat for nearly 3 hours at a “pit stop” to refuel.

  • “This is your Captain Save the Day speaking , we are about to return to Gatwick, thank you for your patience” ……buckle up, we are outta here phew. Orca scratches noisily through plastic packets, elbowing me out of the way, then chomping something smelly and loud. Seriously! Grrr

HOWEVER, this is the moment the doctor diagnoses triplets …. our calm and collected Pilot explained yet another quite serious dilemma. These ginormous planes’ tyres have not been designed to withstand the heat of 2 landings in such a short space of time. THE TYRES WERE TOO HOT.

The wheels and landing gear would therefore need to ‘hang out’, underpants off, to cool on the short return flight back. It sounded like Mick Jagger was also dangling outside – rocking and rolling, guitars screeching out of tune, drummer hired from deepest africa – as we dragged across the sky back to land at our original destination. Action replay, dragonflies turned into planes, ants into brightly clothed people, green to blades of grass swishing past the windows, here come the painted white lines – all aligned, down, bounce, smooth landing – the majestic beast careened forward, on and on and on and on – with wailing FLASHING FIRE ENGINES beside us, …… tarmac end in sight, still blades of grass SWEEPING past our windows – please stop there is no more runway. Rigid, wide eyed and bushy tailed we froze in our seats. Emergency vehicles spun around us protectively …. and …… we CAME TO A HALT. Drama over!

Patchwork quilted fields
A birds eye view of the Thames

If cockpits could talk I wonder what they would tell us about that day.

  • Spontaneously the passengers of Sardine Airlines erupted, clapping, cheering applauding. WHAT A FANTASTIC PROFESSIONAL COCKPIT TEAM! They train a lifetime for these unenviable situations, and worse, and this team was REMARKABLE.

The following day “we” were on the Internet’s BBC News.

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Like childbirth – no doubt most of the travellers this fateful day will climb aboard an aeroplane again one day – the pain will be forgotten as the joy supersedes the anguish.

What came out of this experience, for me, is that these events happen so fast that there isn’t really much time to fear, watch life flash past ones eyes, or take any action. It is WHAT IT IS in that moment.

Thank you for flying with An Elephant and Me, join me another time to read how we escaped a terror plot at an international airport by the skin on our chinny chin chin ………

Go and look at “The Scariest Flight Stories, according to Flight Attendants” …. if you have a morbid curiosity. Might as well – by the time we can all take regular normal international flights we will have forgotten these stories in the blurr of vaccinations and recouping savings we used to survive the pandemic.

https://flyxo.com/blog/top-6-spooky-aviation-legends-scary-stories/