We were flying to Sioux Falls, South Dakota by way of Denver for a wedding. The plane smelled of feet and iron. The Captain came on and said something like "We have reached cruising altitude and it should be smooth sailing from here on out" when there was a loud BANG to my right.
You can't make this stuff up.
After a minute or two, the Captain came back on and told us the right engine had "substantial damage" and had to be shut down. He then explained that the plane handles just fine with only one engine and we would be heading back to Denver to switch planes.
For my part, I wasn't really that worried. I have been on some pretty dicey flights to and from Michigan in the dead of winter, so I figured they would tell us if we had to worry. The Captain seemed calm and upbeat and the crew kept serving drinks. Fine. Then I realized Jenna had a death-grip on my arm and tears running down her face. I leaned in close to her and tried to say reassuring things as she had her first full-on panic attack.
From this point on, every little wobble and hiccup meant we were all going to die in a huge ball of fire.
The woman behind Jenna started talking about how she was seventy years old and was ready to go if that's what needed to happen. The guy behind me was praying out loud. The couple to our right was holding hands and talking about pounding martinis if we made it out alive. The women in front of us were talking about every plane crash they could ever remember.
It is REALLY difficult to be reassuring when that is going on around you.
"Take control. It's not time to worry yet." And then her breathing slowed. She was repeating a mantra and the only thing I could make out was "I have so much left to do" and something about seeing Gypsy again. I don't think my own words made much of a difference, but they made me feel less impotent.
It was time to land. The plane started bucking all over. There was another BANG.
In this situation, your brain is not your friend. It flashes all kinds of nasty images in front of you and you concoct entire conversations that your friends will have about you and your untimely demise. Your screenplays go unproduced, your family name dies with you and your dog goes unfed. Thanks, brain.
When the wheels touched down I saw a huge fireball come hurtling down the middle of the cabin and wash over me. I watched the seats melt and the bodies vaporize as I stretched my hands out in front of me, a feeble gesture to hold it all back. Then I blinked and everyone was breathing easy, grateful to be down on the ground again.
I turned to find Jenna smiling at me, her face dry now. I kissed her on the head, and everything was okay.
The flight attendant, Melodie, said that none of the crew had ever been through anything like this. She said they train for it and everything went exactly the way it was supposed to. The Captain's name, for the record, was Brad Frost. If you ever meet him, buy him a beer for me. I would look for him myself but I'm going to be too busy producing movies, making babies and feeding my dog.
United Airlines has given each of us a "Sorry You Almost Died, Come Back Any Time" voucher. We might take them up on it as soon as we figure out Captain Frost's schedule. We have so much left to do.