Coping with panic at 30,000ft
- 7 August 2014
- From the section Magazine
A passenger plane on its way to Manchester airport had to be escorted by a fighter jet after a security threat earlier this week. But what does it feel like to be caught up in a mid-air panic?
Andy Lewis, Lutterworth, Leicestershire: In December 2006 I was the sole passenger in a survey aircraft over the Atlantic. The cabin was not pressurised but the pilot thought he could take off his oxygen mask for a few seconds to go and get something. I realised he was hypoxic when air traffic control called up and he began slurring. He made a few alterations and the plane started to shake. The nose went up, then it went down, I was thrown over. We fell 19,000 feet. I was convinced I was going to die. I could see the altimeter and when we got to about 6,000 feet I thought my only hope was to jump out. I flicked the catch on the door. There was a massive bang and a rush of air. Paper was flying around and I was shouting. It was enough to catch his attention. He took the aircraft out of its dive and called Mayday. We made an emergency landing in the Cape Verde islands. On the ground I was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. I had to leave the airborne survey job I was doing. It was a great job but I just couldn't do it anymore. I've flown once since then for a holiday. It was hard. So we bought a narrow boat for holidays instead.
Jane Barrie, Rye, East Sussex: We were coming back from Phuket when a gentleman killed himself on our flight. We didn't know at the time that it was suicide. The first thing we noticed was that the crew started running around a bit. We thought the gentleman had had a heart attack. They wrapped him in a blanket and moved everyone in the rows around him away. He was four rows up from us, we had to pass him to get to the toilet. When we arrived in Heathrow all those who attended the gentleman were taken away for questioning. It was then we were told that he'd taken his life. It was very traumatic. One of the air crew was crying. A little girl had been sat across the aisle from us and was asking "why is that man not waking up?" I'm always a little bit wary now about flying. It's something I'm never ever going to forget.
Leslie Howson, Edinburgh: I was flying from London to Cairo a few years ago. We'd been delayed for 24 hours and a Sudanese man had got hold of some whisky. During the flight he stood up and started shouting about the terrible politicians in his country where he was returning. He was very drunk. He suddenly made a manic attempt to open the side door of the plane whilst in full flight. He was eventually scooped up by a very large passenger who turned out to be an off-duty Egyptian policeman who sat on the then sleeping Sudanese man in the aisle between the seats all the way to Cairo. When we landed he was escorted off the flight by security. It all happened so quickly. Whether he could have opened the door and got out I don't know. I don't think he wanted to kill himself, I just think that in his drunken state he wanted to get out. It was worrying at the time but amusing too.
Marjorie Kelly, Downe, Kent: It was probably 35 years ago. I was on a plane coming back from Malta with my husband. It turned out that the then-prime minister of Malta, Dom Mintoff, was onboard. We'd just got our food trays when the cabin crew told us to practise doing up and taking off our seatbelts. We then had to adopt the brace position and the plane went into a nosedive. The pilot said it was a technical fault but we knew it was more than that the way we were descending. We had to make an emergency landing in Corsica. I was by the window and it was pretty scary. It looked like we were going to land in the sea. Our two daughters - aged five and one - weren't with us. I said to my husband: "I hope the godparents fulfil their obligations." It was a short runway in Corsica and we must have landed on the outer perimeter of the airfield. It was an unbelievable, awful, screeching noise. Eventually we stopped and the emergency chutes came down. We discovered that the captain had been told there was a bomb on the plane. Because Dom Mintoff was on the plane someone wanted to blow it up. The plane was too large for the runway so there was a lot of room for error and it was a very scary landing. And the pilot hadn't had time to jettison much fuel at sea.
Garry Rogers, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire: I was on a flight from Antalya in Turkey to the UK in 2012. About 40 minutes into the flight we hit turbulence, and the seatbelt sign went on. The captain's voice came over the tannoy: "Don't panic guys, but it seems we forgot to close one of the plane doors properly and we're beginning to lose pressure." There was no panic but we were worried. We were sitting in the front row and the crew were putting a brave face on it. I was there with my wife and daughter and we were thinking, if we're going to die at least we're going to die together. When we arrived, there were 10 fire engines, four inflatable slides, lots of foam machines and a couple of helicopters.
Reporting by Tom de Castella
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