Flying – The Safest Way Of Travelling.
We all know, that flying is the safest way to get from A to B. There’s no need to worry – statistics don’t lie, pilots are very well trained and planes are usually well maintained. But if you decide to fly to curious locations, the weather conditions are bad or you share the plane with weird fellow passengers, incidents do happen. And if this is the case, chances of survival are slim.
My first flight was at the age of 20: it was with an African Airline (I can’t remember the name) from Lome (Togo) to Lagos (Nigeria). I was pretty afraid of flying and the fact that the pilot loaded the luggage himself into the 20 seater didn’t help either. The short flight was smooth, but I was still scared until we landed. The next flights (which were a lot) were all without any sort of incidents and I almost forgot that something could actually happen…
Incident #1 – Garuda Indonesia.
Our first flight incident was on a flight with Garuda Indonesia from Europe to Singapore. Flights those days used to stop for refuelling in the Middle East. When there was this big “bang” in mid-air, I knew something was very wrong; the plane shook a bit but continued flying – without any kind of announcement. Nisa (luckily) didn’t realize anything was wrong – she just continued watching TV. During the decent to Abu Dhabi, the pilot admitted a “little” problem: one of the engines blew up and there would be a delay until the engine was fixed. After 8 hours of waiting, we boarded again. The take-off was fine and the pilot announced that everything was fixed. But not for long: All over sudden, again a big loud “bang” frightened the passengers. The same engine gave up again (with a huge fireball) . One might think that we would have returned to Abu Dhabi. No, this didn’t hinder the pilots to continue to Singapore. The rest of the flight was ok, but just before arriving in Singapore he announced that passengers who were continuing to Jakarta would have to wait for a new aircraft. The plane was obviously very kaputt.
Incident #2 – Malaysia Airlines.
Another incident (which was not so bad but still a bit scary) happened during a flight with Malaysia Airline. We were flying from Sydney to Kuala Lumpur and a fellow passenger started to get really mad. At first he (just) shouted at his poor wife but the he punched the guy who was sitting in front of him and began running around the aircraft, shouting at everybody. He seemed to be in lack of drugs or on an overdose, no idea. The little Malaysian flight attendants had no chance against him, and everybody was dead quiet. When he went to the toilet, it was their chance to get him; so they locked him in. But this made him even more furious. He totally demolished the toilet and broke the door. Luckily by then two tall guys (looking like football players) had the courage to grab him and wrestle him down. They strained him onto the floor and chained him with seat belts – he looked like one of Steve Irwin’s captured crocodiles. There was a doctor on board who gave him some tranquillizer because he didn’t stop screaming. He spent the remaining 6 hours of the flight on the floor, guarded by the two brave guys who took care of the situation. After landing in Kuala Lumpur, everyone had to remain seated until some grim looking police officers arrived and guided him off the plane.
Incident #3 – Dragon Air.
Another incident happened during a flight with Dragon Air from Hong Kong to Shanghai. The weather was really bad and the plane was struck by turbulence, when all over sudden there was a great “bang” (like a huge explosion). I looked at my sister Andrea and we both knew something pretty shitty must have just happened. But there was no smoke or fire and the plane continued flying. It was dead silent for about 2-3 minutes until the pilot announced “Hello ladies and gentlemen, please don’t worry, the plane just was struck by lightning. This is quite common, everything is fine and we will soon land in Shanghai.” After the landing, I really had the feeling that I just escaped disaster.
Incident #4, #5, #6 & #7 – Merpati Nusantara Airlines.
#4: We were flying from Kupang to Ruteng. After hours of waiting in Ruteng for the fog to lift up, we were able to depart. The flight itself was pretty scenic, but during the descend, we could see that the airstrip was still covered in fog. The pilot managed to land but he also tipped the wing into the grass. It didn’t rip off, but I wouldn’t have wanted to fly back with this plane…
#5: Next stop: Bima. With these small Merpati planes, delays are normal so we weren’t surprised that this was the case with this flight as well. After a few hours, we were finally ready to board the aircraft. We could already see the plane from far and well, we were not happy with it. Not only did the propeller plane look like it just came out of a deep sleep but as soon as we stepped out of the bus, we saw oil dripping out of one engine, lots of mechanics running around, arguing, still fixing & screwing on the engine while we climbed into the plane. Nisa almost didn’t board it and to be honest, I didn’t feel that comfortable either. Taking off was … well as expected: bumpy, noisy and uneasy. Nisa was sitting by the window and usually you can see right through the propellers but she nudges me and said that it started getting slower and slower. Up in the air (maybe after 10 minutes) the engine slowly gave up and the propeller stopped running. The steward ran up to the pilot, discussing the situation (and everyone could listen) when all over sudden the steward said: “We have a technical failure and have to return to Bali again.” He said it in a very strange way (not the usual happy flight attendant way), so we knew the situation was serious. But it was somehow clear right from the beginning that the plane was ready for a bigger repair. So we landed safely and I can’t tell you how relieved we were. We were then told that we would have to wait overnight until the machine got fixed … Since we didn’t want to set one more foot on that plane, we changed our destination.
#:6 Bali to Kupang with a Boeing 737. During boarding in time, everything was fine, but this plane was bound to not reach its destination. After about half an hour, we didn’t manage to get any higher than about 1.000 meters. At first I joked around that we must be on a scenic flight until the announcement: We were having troubles with the cabin pressure and we had to return to Bali…
#7: This time we wanted to explore the region of Raja Ampat in Irian Jaya.Getting there took us a couple of flight: Bali to Makassar and then Makassar to Sorong. The Merpati flight to Sorong was quite bumpy and you couldn’t see much because the sky was covered with thick clouds. No land could be seen during the descent, therefore the landing approach was going to be difficult (I might add at this point that Sorong Airport does not have landing lights – so if the pilot can’t see, he even won’t be guided by those lights). After circling for half an hour, everyone started getting a bit nervous (we all know that these little planes don’t carry that much petrol), when the pilot braced himself and went down through an air pocket that opened up – it was one hell of a hard landing, with screeching tires and smoke billowing from underneath!
Incident #8: Air France.
Once we encountered technical problems on an Air France flight from Paris to the United States. We were already 3 hours into our flight, when all over sudden a funny noise occurred. The pilot decided to abort the flight so we headed back to Paris. Nobody said a word or demanded anything until the planed touched down at Charles de Gaulle. We were never told what the problem was…
We’ve had a couple of other little incidents as well, but nothing worth mentioning here :) These were our most severe … and luckily everything always turned out fine.