No, I wasn’t on Las Vegas-bound JetBlue Flight 191, when the pilot, in the midst of a mental breakdown, tried to storm the cockpit he had been locked out of and needed to be restrained by passengers. I was scheduled to be on that plane’s next flight, with that very same pilot, heading from Las Vegas to New York.
Needless to say, it changed our travel plans dramatically. Waiting at the gate for that flight to arrive, the delay went from an hour and a half to four and a half hours before turning into six hours. During that time, news stories began to pour in about what had happened. The pilot went crazy. He threatened to crash the plane. Passengers tackled him in the aisle. There were videos of the incident already on YouTube.
And all we could do was sit.
The main thought was “Thank God everyone is OK. Now when can we go home?”
But as the hours ticked by, our thoughts turned to ones you don’t want to have while waiting in an airport.Was that the same pilot who flew us to Las Vegas a few days earlier? (My traveling companion doesn’t think so. I think it was.) What if he had snapped three hours later, while we were on the plane? How would we have reacted?
As a writer of suspense novels, I get paid to throw characters into extreme situations and see how they react. And there I was, almost thrown into one myself. The irony isn’t lost on me.
So, like any good author, I have spent the past few days trying to process the situation. Yes, I dodged a jet-sized bullet flying at me at 35,000 feet. But what if I hadn’t? What if I had been on that plane when the pilot had his breakdown? Would the motley assembly of strangers on board have been strong enough to take him down? I had a seat in the fifth row. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to avoid the struggle. Could I have done what those unlucky passengers managed to do?
I honestly don’t know.
I would have tried. In a matter of life or death in mid-air, I would have fought like hell. At least, I like to think so. I won’t know for certain unless it actually happens. And I pray it never does.
But it happened to the people on board Flight 191. They, like my characters, were thrust into a crazy situation and had to act. They did, without hesitation, and are now safe and sound because of it.
I was at the gate when those passengers finally arrived at their destination. I watched them emerge from the plane, caught in the glare of the many news cameras that were waiting for them. They seemed more tired than anything else, and relieved to have made it to Las Vegas after such a long, trying day.
And those of us waiting to board that plane, we who had been lucky enough to dodge the bullet that had hit them, responded the only way we knew how. We stood and gave them a round of applause.