Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Emergency Landing

From the news...

"An Air Canada flight out of Trudeau Airport was forced to return because of a problem with the landing gear hydraulics. Flight 155 to Calgary took off Sunday evening. About forty minutes in to the flight, the pilots discovered the hydraulics problem and decided to turn the plane around and return to the airport. The hydraulics problem meant braking and steering would be an issue once the plane touched down. It made a heavy landing and a hard stop resulting in the gear catching fire. Emergency crews, already having been called in, were quick to extinguish the flames. All 121 passengers and five crew were evacuated from the aircraft without incident or injury. An investigation is underway".

I had a rather harrowing experience on Sunday night.

My flight from Montreal to Calgary had just taken off and the pilot had just turned the seatbelt sign off when a terrible grinding sound started on the left side of the plane. The plane had already been delayed an hour due to problems with the navigational systems, so I was already vaguely nervous about the flight.

The flight attendents seemed to be ignoring the noise, so I assumed the pilots were moving flaps or something, despite the fact that the plane was flying very steadily. The noise stopped, then started again a few minutes later. It was a harsh griding sound and everyone was looking around at everyone else. Someone asked the flight attendant what the noise was, and she said "it's a hydraulic problem that the captain is aware of, and they are testing the systems". My heart sank, but I didn't get too nervous since the flight attendants were starting to wheel out their carts and had closed the curtain to business class. The noise started and stopped a couple of times and we continued flying normally.

Some people put their chairs back and closed their eyes or were starting to open their books, etc. Since I was in an aisle seat, I was watching the flight attendants start serving drinks, when suddenly they were speaking in hushed tones and then the two attendants wheeled their carts quickly to the back of the plane. Another attendant re-opened the curtain to business class and then wheeled her cart up front to stow it.

I nudged the guy next to me, a young lawyer from Calgary with whom I'd been chatting, and said "something's wrong". The guy next to us opened his eyes and looked at me with panic. Then the pilot came on and announced they were having problems with the plane's "hydraulic systems" and that we'd be making an immediate emergency landing back in Montreal.

Then panic started. Flight attendants were running everywhere and they started announcing instructions to the cabin "Flight crew prepare for Level 6" followed by a sequence of tasks, then "Flight crew prepare for Level 7" and so on (I kept thinking as they got to Level 9 - what is Level 9 - a crash landing?).

They prepared us for a crash landing, trained us on the emergency exits, showed us how to brace for landing (two options!), how to hold babies. They moved people from emergency rows and replaced them with others. A woman was crying. People were holding hands. The flight crew was visibly shaken as they took us through a review of the emergency card, the exits, procedures for evacuation, etc. They told us to remove eyeglasses and high heels in preparation for landing. It was surreal. The full catastrophe.

All of this took about 45 minutes, as the pilot circled the Montreal airport. We speculated that he was dumping fuel, and allowing time for the emergency ground crews (ambulance and fire) to get into place. The plane was flying normally, except that occasionally it would make a jerky movement, as though the flaps would not cooperate or something. He seemed to have trouble banking, as he banked first one way and then the other towards the city. Then we started our descent very quickly and people got nervous and looked at each other wide-eyed. The plane was dropping quickly, and it felt like it was hurtling forward much too fast. There were no other announcements from the flight deck. This worried me a little since it meant the pilots were busy.

As we approached the runway, it looked like Iraq outside the window. Rows of emergency vehicles were lined up and there were red lights flashing everywhere. We could see them as we approached, two lines far back from the runway. That was scary, seeing those red lights in the night. And the plane was landing very fast. There were no announcements from the cockpit at all. Then we hit the runway fast and hard, at about 190 knots (70% faster than normal speed, the captain later told us). We were all thrown forward as they hit the brakes and put on the backwards thrusters and wheel brakes and whatnot the second we landed. It took the plane so long to get stopped that I thought we'd drive off the end of the runway! It was just black outside and the runway wasn't even lit up at this point. I don't know if we went beyond the lights, or what.

As soon as the plane stopped, it seemed like firetrucks were outside the windows immediately. They sprayed white foam onto the plane which started running down the windows. The pilot announced that the landing gear was on fire but that ground crews were putting it out. We were all so happy to be alive, but I kept thinking about the plane being full of fuel and hot metal and that that was a very bad combination! Great. Let me out before we explode!

To make a long story short, we were evacuated after sitting in the plane for an hour. The pilot walked back the aisle (to a great round of applause) and everyone asked him questions. He said that two out of three hydraulic systems on the plane had leaked and that the third system was not fully operational. They landed manually and were at risk of not having landing gear, and also having problems with the flaps, which is why they landed so fast. He said they had not dumped fuel. He said that the problem was very rare, but that he had just trained for this emergency six months ago, on their training simulator. Besides being cool as a cucumber, he looked like one of those pilot models from a GQ ad, so it was like watching a movie, seeing this handsomely-uniformed young hero cruise up the aisles to the praise of the gushing crowds!

Was I glad to be alive!

The whole 45 or so minutes from the time the emergency was declared until we landed was surreal. At the moment they make the announcement and you suddenly realize what's happening, it is pure disbelief. This is your worst nightmare. I can remember thinking "no way, this is NOT happening" as soon as they made the announcement, turned on all the lights, started running around. It went from normal to dead serious in 5 seconds. People's eyes were as round as saucers.

I thought about dying. I felt afraid. But I was mostly calm. It seemed like the pilot still had control of the plane, at least until they started descending so fast. I was calm until then. I kept telling the guy next to me "it will be okay." He was terrified and kept trying to phone his wife. He kept saying "oh god" over and over.

Some people appeared really afraid, and other people seemed totally stoic. I can't tell you everything that went through my head. So many things. So many emotions. Disbelief. You can't believe this is happening. You are sitting there alive and well, preparing to crash. You can't get your head around it, that there is real danger. At least the plane wasn't lurching or out of control. That enabled me to stay calm, I think, made me think it would be okay.

I thought about my Mom a lot, and was so happy I'd just spent a week with her (under rather stressful circumstances - an entire week spent at hospital attending to my Dad who is going into a wheelchair, showing signs or dementia, losing control of his body, and may need to go into a nursing home...). Happy I had seen my Dad and Grandma and aunts that I love. Mostly though, I thought about my Mom. I felt tremendously sad thinking about if I die, and when she gets the news, what that would be like. I felt worse for her than me. I thought about David and my cat. And then I even thought about my blog readers, and how it will suck because they will never know what happened to me and that there might not be another post. That I really should give David my password and userID.

You think about people most of all. And then you think about how hard you are on yourself everyday, for so many reasons, and suddenly realize how precious you are. You just suddenly have all this LOVE for yourself, all this thanks for your life. I didn't feel any regret. I just remember thinking that worrying about my weight is stupid. All the time I spend beating myself up for being a few pounds more than I should be is utter nonsense. That worrying about a job, a house, all that material stuff is really irrelevant. I remember thinking that I was glad I was wearing my rose-coloured Lululemon yoga jacket because I really like it, and it is good to die wearing something you like. Then I remember thinking that if there was a fire, my nylon jacket would burn very quickly. This upset me.

I put my cell phone in the pocket. Then I took it out. I didn't want the antenna jabbing into me and stabbing me if we crashed. I put it back in my bag. I put Kleenex in my pockets, in case we crashed and I had glass in my eyes or debris and needed to get it off my face or out of my eyes. Crazy.

Then you think about people. My Mom. David. He would get the house and that made me happy, that our mortgage insurance would pay it off and he could quit his job and be a fireman maybe. That Mom would get 4x my salary in life insurance and another 2x for accidental death, and that she could retire on 6x my salary. My friend Margaret...I hoped she would look through my papers and throw out all the crap and keep the good stuff. My cat. Silly I know, but will David send him to live with my Mom? You don't think about the people at work, I'm afraid.

I remember thinking about how much time I had spent thinking about home decor, and it seemed really funny. I felt suddenly not that it was stupid, but that it had been important to me, and that I respected that, that I wanted a beautiful home and that I was proud to have pursued creating a beautiful world, but that at that point, I would settle for a really tacky house just to be alive. Suddenly all my un-perfect and even the ugly rooms seemed perfect. I thought about my living room and how I have been struggling with the colour. And it suddenly seemed utterly stupid to waste time pondering that. Clearly TAUPE was the answer. I actually thought that...that life is too short to think too long and too hard about these things - taupe was the colour I needed to paint that room!!! It would pull everything together, and it would be DONE and I could go on living my life!!!

Crazy. I keep having flashbacks. I keep feeling sad, and then I feel happy to be alive. And then I feel like I should be really changed. And I am. But I just can't put it into words yet, I'm afraid. I thought about goodness. The one overlying thought I had as I considered whether or noto I would die --- was that I had been GOOD to people. I had lead the best life I knew how. I could probably have done more, but I had been a very good daughter and girlfriend and friend. I felt proud of myself. I felt like I can go now and it will be okay. Because people are what had mattered, and I had been a good person to other people.

That's a pretty profound epiphany. People are what matter. Relationships. I also felt like I had been true to myself. I have been honest and frank and open and even though I hate my job, I felt like I had lived a pretty authentic life. Authenticity is what matters too.

Authenticity. Integrity. Goodness. These are what matter.

I am at work now. I can't concentrate anyway, so I wrote this blog. This weekend we are going to the country to celebrate David's birthday with his Mom. Then next week he and I are travelling to Vancouver Island for a week in Tofino and a few days with friends and family in Victoria. I am eager to see the ocean. To be able to sit back and reflect on what happened to me, and what I am going to do with the rest of my life, and how can I frame this for myself, you know. Where do I put this in my brain...

And maybe eventually I will come back to talk about paint and beautiful houses and furniture. All those things are important too because they make your heart sing, and it is authentic and respectful to yourself to create a beautiful world for yourself and your family. Creating a lovely home is a gift you give yourself. But even so, right now it just doesn't seem very critical to me to get it all right, all right now. I think I also realized that it is important, but it will take less of my time because I will follow my heart more, stop trying to get it all perfect, and stop wanting what I don't have and moreover, don't really need. All will be well if I just let go of perfection.


  1. Anonymous6:37 pm

    Here, here, dear Terri! First of all, as I said in my email, praise God you are OK! Alive is good! Reflecting on your experience and what it means moving forward is good.

    I am 100% with you on all of your thoughts on decorating. It is a gift you give yourself, it is important to be authentic. It is important to not dwell too much on it, sometimes taupe is the perfect solution because not only will it look lovely, but you can move on to really more important matters.

    The life behind the scenes is what really matters. Glad you are safe, sound and able to ponder these things.

    And please, give David the password for goodness sake, what a frightful thought that is, knowing we have these good blogging friends but if they didn't post, we would possibly never hear about them again.

    Oh, so much to take in.

    Glad you are back, for now.

    Your dad and your mom will be in my prayers, what a difficult time for them. Glad you are still here to be a support.


  2. Oh my gosh Terri! I am sooo glad you are safe! Your words just brought tears to my eyes! Take it easy for a while!


  3. I came here after reading Melissa's blog.....your story moved me to tears...the Hand of God has certainly brought you home safely.......
    Yes...enjoy every day and every little thing..........

  4. OMG (((((Terri))))) I am SO THANKFUL you are ok!!! How scary!!

    Hey, don't be afraid to talk to a professional if you continue having stress about this--SO understandable the mix of emotions you're having.

    ((((More giant hugs))))))

  5. Such a scary story at the begining but well you are fine and there is always something good through something bad . This time , it helps you to think about the important things in life . Thank you for sharing you feelings

  6. Whoa... all I can say is whoa. I was hoping you would post something soon, because I was wondering where you were!! I am SO glad that you are okay. I would not have been able to stay as calm as it seems like you were able to... but I certainly would have had all those thoughts like you did.
    VERY glad you're back and safe and that you had a good visit at home.

  7. oh my! I'm so glad you are safe and sound!

    Wanna know something crazy?? I was susposed to be on that flight, but instead I booked with West Jet. I couldn't imagine being on that flight with Donovan!

  8. Wow - I thought that I would stop by your blog to see what was going on, and was shocked to read your story! It sounds like you have been given a second chance at life, in a way. Events like this really make you define your purpose in life, don't they?

    I agree, the whole decor and design thing provides improved quality to one's life, in that it is nice to create a cozy cocoon and soothing environment, but does not define the character and substance of your life. (Neither do clothes or shoes or cars...none of the material possessions).

    I am so glad you are OK, and thank you for posting on your has given me a lot to think about and be thankful for today.

  9. I am so sorry you had to go through that experience, you just lived through my nightmare, I am so glad that you are alright and you were in capable hands,
    it gave you perspective, shook up your world,enjoy every moment....
    be well , and I look forward to future posts.

  10. WOW Terri! What a life changing experience. You are such a great writer that I found myself feeling your fear, sadness, and even laughing with you. I hate flying and can't even imagination how I would have handled myself in that situation, probably with much less poise and reflection than you. I'm so glad no one was hurt and that you are home safe and in one piece. I agree décor is fun, but its people that matter. I hope you have a wonderful time at the beach.


  11. Hi Terri, I recently stumbled to your blog.. Today I read through your experience and felt the panic and emotions you and the other passengers would have gone through. It is so brave and honest of you to talk about the experience and what you felt during the harrowing time...
    Thank God that you are safe and back...
    take care

  12. My heart is still in my throat. I feel so utterly relieved that you survived that hellish experience, and that your wonderful, insightful soul is intact. Of course decorating is just a blip on the radar screen of life. It is really only a distraction and passion for those of us whose lives are going well at the moment. Hand someone a crisis situation and how one's home looks is utterly, ridiculously unimportant. Although it is my career passion, I almost get irritated when others obsess about it non-stop. It is more important to think about what is going on in the world...on an international level, community level, and most importantly, in the lives of those we care about.
    Write about what you want to...your near accident, your work stresses, your family, just your thoughts. We will be here reading because we have come to care for you, and your gift with the pen is what will keep us coming back.

    I thank God you are alive.
    Love, Linda

  13. Oh Terri,

    I can't tell you how pleased I am that you are ok.

    You really do write very well, I was glued to the screen as I read about your experience.
    I felt every emotion along with you.
    Keep talking it is the best way to heal yourself.
    You are very brave.
    Racheal x

  14. Visiting via The Inspired Room since Melissa wrote an excellent entry today featuring this blog entry.

    I am constantly amazed at the wealth of information, humor, compassion, and wisdom that is conveyed through blogs. Your thoughts are incredibly meaningful and so valuable that I'll be sending a lot of folks by to read them.

    Thank you and thanks be to God for keeping you all safe.

  15. wow. terri, i'm so very glad you're all right. i can't even imagine the emotional rollercoaster you've been on. your reflections are so wonderful, and it's good for all of us to be reminded about what's important. the people we love are what matters....i'm so glad to hear that you have come through a close call safe and sound.

  16. Hi there, I came across your beautiful blog a month or so ago. I just thought I should introduce myself because really, life is too short to lurk. I hope that the ocean will soothe your soul and your senses after all that has happened. I'll pop in again.
    Blessed be.

  17. You've written a remarkable story of this incredible, life changing event, in your life, Terri.

    I have no words, to tell you how happy, I am, you came through this harrowing time, alive and well.

    My thoughts are with you, through this time and through the times ahead with your parents.

    My best to you and David and your parents!

  18. Terri,

    I'm so glad to know that you are ok. Praise God! What a terrifying experiece.

    I hope you take the time in Vancouver, to reflect and enjoy your time. You certainly deserve it.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and for opening yourself up like you did. I'm sorry about your Dad, please know that you and your family will sincerely be in my thoughts and prayers. I do mean that. Take care, and please enjoy your vaca.

  19. Anonymous10:27 am

    My Dear Terri,
    Yes, as your blog reader... I did keep checking back to see if you were home yet. You were missed. And then the blog you wrote today. I could hardly beleive it. I could hardly breath as I read. I am glad you are ok, and that you shared with us. People MUST have been praying!!! I am surprized that you all stayed on the plane for so long afterwards. Maybe they did that to make sure that all was well with all on board? Your are a super lovely person!!!!and you have a lovely smile and maybe you will decide to be a disigner or do something volunteer in the field of interior disign. Love to you!!!!Heddy

  20. Anonymous10:42 am

    sorry about the spelling on design. Then again maybe you will be an author.......well, you already are......and Super talented. Heddy

  21. Wow - what an experience! I imagine this is one that will stay with you forever. I am so glad you are okay.

  22. I read your post with great emotion. The wisdom & clarity in your words are a gift that have blessed my life...thank you for sharing your new found wisdom even though it came through such a scary experience.

  23. Wow - harrowing indeed! What a great post! You had me in tears by the end of it. I'm so glad you're safe and thank you so much for reflecting on your experience and on the thoughts that were running through your mind. People ARE what matter most. Relationships. Love. At the end of the day, that is IT.

  24. Thank god that you are OK. Sharing your experience is a gift to me about what is really important. Your parents have my best wishes during their difficult times. Thanks for sharing...

  25. Anonymous7:08 pm

    An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. I
    do think that you ought to publish more on this topic, it may not be
    a taboo subject but typically people do not speak about these topics.
    To the next! Cheers!!

    Also visit my site ... diet plans that work for women
    Also see my page > Best Diet