To my right, a mother shrieks in hysteria, her panic rising above the din. Ahead, a young man with curly brown hair and an easy smile walks about, helping to affix oxygen masks. Behind me, a woman’s tears stream down her face as the shock sets in.
An explosion. A loud rush of air. A nosedive toward the ground. An oxygen mask? I had not anticipated a change in cabin pressure.
With hypoxic fingers, I fumble the mask. With chagrin, I realize it really does not inflate.
I realize I have my seat mate’s hand in a death grip.
This is Southwest Flight 812.
I remember the details in snapshots now. Hours later, my ears still ring from the rushing of air. My heart still pounds from the adrenaline, from the not knowing, from the dread that I may spend my last moments on earth with 118 strangers.
My husband is a general aviation pilot. From his teaching and my time in light aircraft, I’m about 85% sure that we can land safely. The engines are on. The crew is calm. The movements of the plane are controlled.
But the other 15% keeps me on edge.
When we descend below 10,000 feet, I switch on my phone. Please God, give me a signal.
I am able to send several texts to my husband…
4:19 p.m. “Emergency landing 35 min after take off. I love you.”
4:22 p.m. “Landing in Yuma shortly.”
4:22 p.m. “Everything should be fine but I want you to know how much you mean to me.”
4:31 p.m. “Safe landing in Yuma.”
How do you convey “I might die in a few minutes and I love you so much my heart aches at the thought of never seeing you again” without freaking someone the hell out? I’ll let you know if I figure it out.
I and the 118 of 812 were lucky. We survived one hell of an April Fool’s Day joke thanks to the AMAZING Southwest flight crew. And thanks to Twitter, I get to tell the world about it.
More on that later.