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“Sorry, folks. We’re just hitting a rough patch of air here. We’ll be out and about in no time.” The pilot’s voice confused me. Was it a forced calm? You’re just being paranoid, I told myself. But still, I wondered.
So far, my second plane ride ever wasn’t going so well. When I was brought a steaming cup of coffee to ease my nerves (yes, I know, but for some reason, it helps), the flight attendant spilled the entire cup all over me. She was really nice about it though, and offered me some napkins and a towel. It was a good thing that the seat next to me was open. Then- if you can believe it- they were out of peanuts. I was starting to regret not eating at the airport, or at the very least not bringing a bag of chips to munch on during my two-hour-long flight to New Hampshire.
So here I sat. I had taken off my coffee-soaked jacket a few minutes ago, and was now reading an article about a famous duo’s breakup. I couldn’t care less about their daily calorie intake, but at least it gave me something to do. And now the plane was hitting turbulence.
I glanced sickeningly at the barf-bag in the seat pocket, thinking that it might contain something other than air soon enough. I took a deep breath and looked out the window. We were up in the air so high now that I could only see clouds. I forced myself to keep looking. Katie, if you look away now, you’ll get sick, I told myself. My inner self was not being very helpful. I looked away.
I did not get sick. But the plane did shake for a while. It was annoying trying to not-read the article as my laptop bounced up and down on my lap. Until then, I had thought that these irritations would be all my flight consisted of. Then I heard the pilot’s voice over the intercom.
“Sorry for the interruption again, folks.” I noticed he said ‘folks’ a lot. “We have a slight change in our schedule today. We will be making an emer-” He paused for a moment, clearly keen on not letting anyone hear their pilot say ‘emergency’. “Ahem… we will be making a quick landing in Burlington Airport to fill up on fuel. There is nothing to worry about.”
I worried. I really, really worried. Thinking about everything I had read online about pilots not telling their passengers when the plane was crashing did not help at all. Shut up, brain!
We were making a shaky descent upon Vermont. I pressed the call button above my head, hoping for some good news from the flight attendant. She must have known that I was feeling anxious (was it the curling up into a ball on my seat, or draining my second coffee in one gulp that did it?), so she came over and talked to me. I asked if there were any parachutes on the plane. She looked at me sympathetically and said no. This did not help.
The pilot called his ‘folks’ again. The flight attendant was now standing next to me, and informed me that the pilot’s name was Frank. When Frank addressed us again, saying that we were going to be fine, I decided that I did not want to be on this plane at all. Was this worth visiting my sister’s college?
I soon figured out that thinking of my sister kept me sane during the descent. I focused on her and on my other sister. Lillie and Mary Anne were a few years younger than me, and they were doing okay. Lillie was going to a college in New Hampshire. I could never remember the name of it. She had brown eyes like me, but that was the only similarity. I had black hair, but she had dyed hers bright blue. I guess she liked it that way, because she could be told apart from her twin, Mary Anne, more easily that way. Mary Anne (we called her Annie), was supposed to be with me on this flight, but she got sick right before we left. Sick . . .
I glanced halfheartedly at the throw-up bag. The flight attendant must have seen me do so, because she made a hasty excuse about how she had to “get back to work.” She reminded me again that everything was going to be fine, but I had heard that phrase enough on this flight already.
Frank must have really been getting worried, because he called a fourth time.
Frank told us to 'brace for impact'.
I didn’t know what that meant until it was too late.
I was falling. Why was I falling? Did the plane have ejection seats? Probably not. As I thought about the cost of ejection seats on a commercial flight, I realized again that I was falling.
Oh, no. Was I falling out of the plane? For the first time since Frank’s warning, I opened my eyes. I was roughly a hundred feet from the ground.
I was hysterical. I had no idea where I was falling, or how I had gotten out of the plane. The only thing I did know was that there was a well right below me. Couldn’t hurt to try, right?
Of course, now had to come the time where I regretted not going with Annie on her skydiving lessons. As a person afraid of heights, this was an absolute nightmare for me. But I didn’t have much time to worry, because I was a second away from hitting the well. I aimed my feet and hoped for the best.
If you really think about it, a hundred feet is nothing. Compared to the thirty-five thousand foot height of the airplane I was just in, it should have taken just a few seconds for me to hit the ground. But that’s the funny part. It wasn’t taking just a few seconds. In fact, it was taking longer. What was happening?
I didn’t get an answer. Just to contribute to my bad day, I’m sure. If I survived this, I would have quite a story to tell. It was at that moment that I hit the well straight on.
I ran a mental check to make sure I wasn’t dead. I wasn’t dead. But I was close. I was deep in the water now, and I couldn’t tell how deep. But there were three things I knew.
One - I needed oxygen.
Two - my leg was broken.
Three - if I wasn’t dead now, I would be soon.
I grabbed for anything to hold on to, but there was nothing within grasp. I needed to pull myself up. I needed to. I couldn’t just stay here. I screamed internally. Help! Somebody! Help! Nobody heard.
My clothes weighed me down. I tried to take off my shoes, but nearly collapsed at the pain of my broken leg. I gasped, taking a huge gulp of water. Water filled my lungs. I panicked.
But not for long. A feeling of calm built over me, washing away my fear. I moved slower. My eyes stayed closed.
I don’t know what happened next. Loud noises, I suppose. Water splashing. Shouting. I couldn’t make out the words. I wanted to open my eyes, to witness what was happening. But I didn’t seem to be the one witnessing. I was the one being looked upon. More noise. Coughing. Sirens. “Shhh . . . ” A voice. “You’re gonna be all right. You’ll be fine.” Now a whisper. “Please be fine.” I was going to tell them that I was going to be fine. But loud noises interrupted me. More coughing. I realized that the coughing was coming from me. My chest hurt. Was I alive? I couldn’t be. But I was.
If I were in any other position, I could have avoided throwing up all over myself. But there was nothing I could do to stop it, and it was very uncomfortable. After that, I faded away again. The shouting grew dim.
Next thing I knew, I was in a very bright room. When they tell you that hospital rooms are bright white, they are correct. There was a lot of talking. I couldn’t catch any of the words, but I managed to open my eyes. A doctor stood over me, but he wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at the one other person in the room besides me: a girl about nineteen with bright blue hair and a sad expression.
The doctor was speaking solemnly. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a case like this before. The plane - well, I’m not an engineer, but the plane had a malfunction in two of its engines. It almost entirely blew up.”
The girl covered her mouth and gasped. “How on earth did she survive the fall? Don’t planes fly at like, thirty-five thousand feet?”
“The plane was already descending at that time. She was only about two hundred feet in the air when she fell out. Although it must have seemed like much lower to her. Shock, you know.”
The girl began to cry. Her face was still covered by her hands, but I distinctly remembered her features. A face like my face. My sister!
I opened my mouth and suddenly the doctor whipped his head around. “Lil-” was all I could manage with the pain in my chest. Her face lit up. Her brown eyes made contact with mine. They were a hazy, uncertain beige color, but they were definitely hers.
I learned later that I was one of three people who survived that plane crash. I never recovered from the incident, but the memory of my sister’s embrace after I regained consciousness helped counter my grief. Lillie told me then that she never wanted me to visit her ever again.
I told her I would make the trip anyway, just as long as I traveled by car.