Flying With Kato On Rocky Mountain Scareways

October 29, 2009

in Airplane Stories

Living in the Rocky Mountains, travelers are faced with either commuting by air to the city airport or driving four hours to catch a connecting flight. To shorten the trip, many locals opt for the often scary, roller coaster rides, casually reading their newspapers while inwardly smiling at gasping tourists clutching their seats.  Several years ago, however, I was as terrified as any first time mountain flier on Rocky Mountain Scareways.

I was on the return leg of the commuter flight, coming home after helping my mother, who was beginning chemotherapy.  It was early summer and I was exhausted, stumbling through the huge airport, sleep deprived and stressed by my mother’s illness.

I arrived at the commuter gate and was greeted with an Entertainment Tonight TV camera, filming the celebrity-of-the-minute, Kato Kaelin, famous from the OJ Simpson trial.  The camera left and the passengers settled onto the plane, which was eerily empty.  Kato was in the front and there was a poor woman who was obviously on chemotherapy, head wrapped in a scarf, lying flat on the empty seats as soon as she boarded.  I settled into a window seat on the right side, eager to be home with my family after a long week.

The plane quickly taxied down the runway and lifted over the city.  The lights twinkled and faded as we headed over the foothills.  As the mountains approached, the landscape darkened and I closed my eyes for a quick nap.  Suddenly, the plane began lurching and pitching.  Though I never enjoy these flights, I was used to turbulence and simply tightened my seat belt to avoid the unsettling feeling of lifting out of the seat.

Through the window, the night sky was black with thick clouds.  A huge bang filled the cabin and as I looked out, flames engulfed the right engine.  Even a seasoned flier would have panicked at the sight and I was no exception.  Fire literally flashed by the window and my ears rang from the sound of lightening hitting metal.  The pilot shut down the engine and I could feel the pull to the other side of the plane.  I glanced at the ill woman laying across from me; she hadn’t budged and probably felt so bad that she couldn’t have cared less if the plane crashed or slammed into a 14,000 foot peak.  Kato’s dark blond head bobbed ahead of me as the pilot tried to settle the rocking plane.  The only thoughts in my mind were that I was going to die, and that I was going to die with Kato Kaelin, of all people.

A few minutes later, the pilot’s calming voice came on the speakers, explaining that lightening had struck and knocked out an engine but the plane was designed to withstand something like that.  He was turning back to the city because our mountain airport was socked in with fog and he was unable to see the runway lights to land.

I watched nervously out the window and gradually saw highway lights, with tiny cars lining the way.  The landing was beautiful and the pilot came out of the cockpit, confident and smiling.  I felt like hugging the man but simply said thank you and praised his flying skills.  He modestly replied that it was just part of the job.

The FA said they were bringing a new plane in and we could do a turnaround in about an hour.  I smiled and went to the rental car counter.  After an evening in an airport hotel with a glass of wine and a chick flick, I got a good night’s sleep, went shopping in the morning and drove home the following afternoon.  I didn’t take another commuter flight for three years.

Later, my husband told me he was at the airport, waiting for the flight’s arrival.  They had brought in emergency vehicles to foam the runway, expecting  a crash.  He was told by a friend working at the airport that the pilot had lost the instruments as well as the engine.   If you ever read this, Captain Pilot, you will never know how truly grateful I am for your calm head and professional skill.  And I am really glad that I didn’t “go to the light” with Kato.

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