Saturday, February 05, 2005

Brave, or stupid? Airborne excitement.

I spent the last five days in Louisville, KY, on a business trip. Flew there from Texas on Monday, flew back on Friday morning.

Our Continental jet was an Embraer 50 passenger job; one of those long skinny twin engine models with two seats on one side of the aisle and one on the other.

Houston had a low ceiling with rain and thunderstorms in the area. Some earlier departures had been held on the ground as a hail storm passed through.

Our little jet became airborne without incident, and was about five minutes into the flight climbing through solid grey soup.

An instantaneous flash of light through the left side windows accompanied by a moderate “Bang” and a lurch of the plane got my complete attention. In what had to be less than one second my brain processed the following series of thought fragments:

Had to be the left engine.
Bird strike?
Engine exploded. Must have. That flash...
We’re going down. Back to Houston?
Hope the flight controls and hydraulics are OK.
Wonder if we’ll make it.

I just knew the nose would start down, the engine noise would change, emergency instructions would be passed, and the next few minutes would get exciting.

When none of those things happened over the next two seconds, my thoughts were:

Lightning strike!
Must be no emergency indications or the pilots would have reduced power.
Still climbing.
Huh! Guess we’re OK.

The only indication of potential trouble was an increasing amount of babble from the passengers around me as they began to react to an event most never experience on an airliner. I turned to the lady behind me who was asking, “What was that? What just happened!?” in increasing volume.

I told her in a way I now realize sounded smug, “Oh, probably lightning hit the plant. Happens all the time. No big deal.”

She looked dubious. “Really?”

“Yeah. I used to be a Navy pilot. My plane was hit by lightning more than once.”

She calmed and sat back. “Well, since you’re here to tell about it, it must have been OK.”

Several minutes later the pilot told us all that it had indeed been lightning, that the crew had gone through all the procedures required in such an instance, that there were no indications of problems, so we were continuing to Louisville where the plane would be inspected and checked out before flying again.

Later I was a bit surprised (and yeah, satisfied) to realize that I never felt any fear or apprehension.

I’ve read there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Wonder which side of it I was on.

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