On May 9, 1996, I flew on an airplane for the first time. I’ve never made a secret about not liking the whole flying thing, but it was either fly or drive to Seattle. And from Cedar Rapids, Iowa (where I lived at the time), that would have been quite a road trip. So I took it as my “bravery test” and gutted it out. The plane (a Boeing 727 – the largest that the airport would support) took off that Thursday morning in a thunderstorm, so the bumps and stumbles as we climbed to altitude had me clutching the armrests just a bit tighter than they probably were used to.
The flight itself was fascinating. At 35,000 feet (or however high we were), I was afforded a specatular view. The pilot was kind of cool, too, coming on the intercom at intervals to tell us where we were. As we flew west and the skies cleared, I could see Interstate 80 right below…and I could even make out some cars and trucks. Eventually, we got to the mountains, which were super-neat. All in all, it was a pretty good experience, marred only by a bit of an allergy thing (that I seem to get every May) that clogged my nose and sinuses.
I landed in Seattle and met my brother and sister-in-law at the gate thinking that flying was a pretty capital thing…until Sunday, the day I was supposed to fly back.
I got up a bit early and went out to read the local paper, and splashed on the front page was the crash of Valujet Flight 592 on May 11, 1996. The flight, scheduled to go from Miami to Atlanta, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing everyone on board.
It turned out that the plane itself (a McDonnell-Douglas DC-9) was not to blame, but rather the cargo itself. I don’t remember the details, but it had something to do with a fire that broke out in the cargo hold. It was enough to bring the plane down into the Everglades, killing more than 100 people, along with the Valujet name and reputation.
Needless to say, my fraidy-cat genes were awakened, and I boarded the plane in Seattle with the same fear and trepidation that I had in Cedar Rapids just days before. The crash of Flight 592, though it happened on the far side of the country from where I was, still affected me. I don’t think there’s ever a time I board a plane that I don’t think back to that Sunday morning newspaper.
Flying would be great if it wasn’t for the whole gravity thing…