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A Potential Disaster in Flight

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A Potential Disaster in Flight – Avoided, but What a Scare!

We all remember Captain Sully and how, when birds flew into the engine, a potential disaster in flight, he landed the plane in the Hudson River.  We’re flooded with images of that moment, of thoughts yet not a one death.  We marvel at his skill – for I believe, it was only his piloting potential disaster in flightskills that saved all those hundreds of lives.  

At the time I wondered how often or how rare that was.  I’ve heard since from other pilots. They say it’s pretty frequent, but not always debilitating. That is if birds just hit the plane and not go into the engine.  I just knew I never wanted to find out.

While Flying I Noticed a Flock of Birds Come Out of Nowhere

Then, on this recent trip to Tanzania, I found out first hand what I Never wanted to Experience. We were on a small bush plane.  There were only about six of us on this 15-seater.  We had just taken off from one small air strip to another, just twenty minutes apart.  

Air strips in the Serengeti can be a short runway of grass, dirt or gravel.  It had been a while since I was on a bush plane, since most of my safaris are driving.  This time though, we flew to many areas, on my journey to scout out new properties.

We were in the air about 8 minutes.  As is customary for me, a bit claustrophobic, I try to sit in the rear of the plane, near the exit door.  It has nothing to do with anything, other than I feel cramped and tight when I have to stoop and go to the front seats behind the pilot.  

That feeling hasn’t always been with me, but since I was in an accident back in 2003, and they apparently had to pull me through the passenger side of the car, the feeling has always stayed with me.  I can’t explain it, I just deal with it.

I was looking out the window on the pilot’s side of the plane. potential disaster in flight The left side, looking from inside the cockpit.  I noticed a flock of birds, not just any birds, storks with a wingspan of over seven feet.  There were at least 15 of them. They startled me, they seemed to come out of nowhere. …Immediately, I thought, that can’t be good!  And it wasn’t!

I Found out what I Never wanted to Experience

The moment my mind went there, was the moment I looked at the cockpit and the pilot ducked.  The sound of the crash was deafening, as if two trucks had collided.  I was stunned.  No one screamed, but everyone was startled. Somehow, some way, those birds smacked, wham, bam, right into our plane!

Some, who had been sleeping probably didn’t know what happened. Still others looked around at each other – as if to say – what was that? Did we hit something, are we crash landing?  The look of fear probably gripped everyone, except my friend who was traveling with me.  

She had been a flight attendant in her early career days and married to a pilot. So it probably didn’t phase her.  But everyone else, oh yeah, it definitely did. I wonder if they thought like me. This could easily be a potential disaster in flight over the Serengeti. Something I didn’t want to imagine or experience.

In those moments, lots of thoughts went through my mind. How fast will the ground meet the plane? Could the plane stay in the air? Are we low enough, high enough to do more damage?  At the time, I hadn’t at first noticed the huge crack in the windshield on the pilot’s side. Once the pilot sat upright, I noticed it. I thought it was a hole and then almost immediately, I knew the outcome. Inside I was a bit panicky, outside I was calm, hoping no one noticed.

In that moment, I was thinking, when a plane goes down, do people on the plane have time to think about crashing. Or are they going about their business and it just happens?  In those moments, I had time to think.  The plane shook, not violently, but shake it did.  Yes, lots of thoughts went through my mind.

I Decided to Focus on the Pilots

I decided to focus on the pilots and see their reaction. I knew if they didn’t act panicked, things may be under control.

storks in flight

These storks were spared. They’re celebrating. Just Kidding!

If they weren’t grabbing for controls, and making gestures about what to do it relieved my mind. They weren’t yelling commands so it must have been okay.  

I focused on them.  They were young. Many of the bush pilots start flying at age 16 or 17.  You know I am here, so you know they did everything right.  I commend them for that.  No one screamed, no one really panicked. However, you could tell by the look on many faces, there was fear in their eyes.  

I don’t know what showed in mine. Was it fear, concern, or just wonder.  I don’t know.   My friend might be able to tell better than I.  I looked at her, rolled my eyes – still, at that point, unaware of the huge crack in the windshield.

We were only ten minutes from the next airstrip. Would we land on the airstrip, or somewhere else.  The plane seemed to glide, but didn’t lose power. So we must have been still flying. We were descending – in a good way – my mind calmed.

I watched the pilots and the screen – not really knowing what I was looking at. But I did anyway. We came closer to the ground, but we weren’t falling.  Then I could see the airstrip, we were on approach.  Phew!!!!

What a Relief – we Landed Safely

Oh my goodness, we landed – SAFELY!  That could have turned out so differently.  leopardWe often put our lives in the hands of others in so many instances. I and all of the passengers were truly grateful our lives were in the hands of these pilots. We had pilots on board who knew what to do and did it.  

Later, after deplaning I talked to the pilot. He said, he didn’t remember doing it, but it was instinct, when he took the plane off of auto pilot.  He said the worse thing to do was to have a plane in auto pilot mode when something happen. In such a situation you have no control.  Well, thank you Captain…you made my day.

Upon further inspection of the plane, the ‘crack’ in the windshield was quite extensive. I don’t doubt the crack would have been a HOLE had we been at a higher altitude.  The underside of the wing was dented and cracked. Plus there was blood all along the side of the plane.  
potential flight disaster

A Potential Disaster in Flight was Avoided – for Us

I don’t know how many birds were lost, but no human lives.   A potential disaster in flight was avoided, for us. Not so for those birds! The pilot said we are in their space, they were there first. Unfortunately for them, these things happen.  He’s right, but at the moment of impact, that’s the last thing I was thinking.

The end of the story – I’m here, writing this blog.  It won’t deter me from any other bush plane flight, and it won’t deter me from flying.  You should know that lightning struck our big 777-300 as we were landing in Amsterdam.

I’m here to tell that story as well.  We all have brushes in life that we are grateful to survive.  We can’t let those moments define us.  Be grateful for life!  I am.

Click Here to see photos of bird strike mentioned above

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