I don’t really like flying, and I’ve written about that before. As a little kid growing up it all seemed so magical and exciting. However nowadays I guess I'm far too aware of the dangers. So at the beginning of the year when Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 went missing I already felt a knot in my stomach. For days I monitored the news, waiting to hear that the wreckage had been located. The recovery team searched across vast distances by means of planes, ships and satellites. They even scoured the ocean floor with submersibles. However, to this day nothing has been found.
Last week Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, carrying 300 passengers, of which 194 fellow Dutch citizens, crashed in Ukraine after being shot down by pro-Russian rebels. Today an Air Algerie passenger plane fell out of the skies above Mali, probably killing all of the 116 souls on board.
I think it’s all pretty scary. As I get older, I am increasingly afraid of takeoffs and landings. I don’t like it, but I guess we’re always going to have to fly to get anywhere in a timely manner. When there’s turbulence I distract myself with games or music. Every now and then I also look out the window to see if there’s black smoke or fire coming from the engines. There never is.
I also remember being on a KLM flight when the purser announced “ladies and gentlemen, we have a problem”.... She took a long pause, I guess to translate the sentence in her head. She finally continued….”with the media system on board”. I almost had a heart attack.
Whenever my mom or my sister take flights I have trouble falling asleep at night whereas in the daylight hours I’m perpetually nervous. Generally speaking, I’m not at all comfortable until there’s that message on Whatsapp which reads “I’ve landed”. For us, it’s sort of a tradition by now to send one message when leaving and another upon arrival. For me, it really helps when I receive a reply. Anything along the lines of “safe flight, talk later” will boost my confidence by 200%.
To think I flew 11 times in the past 2 months. What was I thinking? Oh that’s right, Brazil...
I had the time of my life in Brazil, but there was that one night. After the Netherlands - Australia game. We had flown into the city of Porto Alegre that morning. We first saw the game in the stadium and later we watched the following match that evening at the Fifa Fan Fest nearby.
The plan was to fly back to Rio de Janeiro that same night. We had a pretty late flight. On top of that our plane was delayed by an hour and the temperature in Porto Alegre dropped to 4 degrees celsius. Somehow there was no central heating at the airport. When I bought some hot chocolate at a little café inside the airport I asked this nice lady if this was normal. She said “no”. It was cold but at least I had a thin sweater. Alex only had a t-shirt, so he draped himself in a Curacao flag.
Eventually the plane arrived and we departed. The flight was uneventful for the most part. As we were approaching the Santos Dumont airport in Rio de Janeiro, the pilot initiated the descent. We snuck through the cloud cover and we were elated to see Rio’s bright city lights coming closer into view. It was raining and the plane was shaking a bit but we didn’t think anything of it. The cabin crew took their seats and we were all set to land.
We were fast approaching the runway when all of a sudden the pilot pulled back on the stick and we skyrocketed upwards. For about 10 minutes there was only quiet. When the pilot broke his silence he simply said:
“This is the captain. There were heavy crosswinds but according to the tower the conditions are better now. We are going to make another attempt landing, hope to see you soon”.
Not the most comforting words….
Alex and I didn’t look at each other. We didn’t say anything either. It wasn’t until after we landed that we shared our thoughts: He prayed, I meditated. The ordeal left me silent. I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t post it on facebook. There was nothing cool about it. It just made think. Life is short, love it and live it while you can.
We didn’t travel with baggage so after we left the arrivals hall we took a taxi straight to Copacabana. We didn’t bother to go back to the hostel. We needed to unwind, we needed to drink, so that night that’s exactly what we did.
So, why write about this now? Yesterday a TransAsia plane crashed off the coast of Taiwan. They were flying through bad weather and the pilot made a second attempt at landing. Unfortunately, 47 people died. I couldn't help but think, what if that happened to us?
And there's the speech the Dutch foreign minister made at the UN where he asked the unanswered question: What did the passengers do when they knew they were about to die?
It just sucks.. I don’t know how else to say it. Planes belong in the sky and flying is supposed to be the safest form of travel. I really wish all this negativity would stop.
(Why is there so much trouble in the world? And why are we always so powerless? Apparently, even when every nut and bolt has been properly placed and accounted for, evil still does as evil is. We're never truly safe in this world and I guess that is a very sad fact we have to live with. Don't even get me started on Gaza... and many seem to have forgotten the more than 200 Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram.)
My condolences to all the families around the world who have been struck by tragedy. My thoughts are with you.