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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

An Aerial Reminiscence

I am still too down about the world to write about it. The situation in Ukraine is getting more and more out of the range of palatable solutions, and, I fear, Cheney is right,
"We have created an image around the world, not just for the Russians, of weakness and indecisiveness," Cheney told Charlie Rose, filling in for Bob Schieffer. "The Syrian situation is the classic. We got all ready to do something, a lot of the allies sign on. At the last minute, Obama backed off."
That's the key.

When you create an atmosphere of weakness and indecision, the other side takes advantage. It is not about one situation or another, e.g., Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iran, Venezuela, it is about the whole mosaic, and the image it presents of the United States and its willingness and ability to act in its own best interests.

So instead of writing about that stuff again, I am taking a very brief trip down memory lane; won't be a long one, and it does not involve a S&W .357 or a Colt Government Model .45. Sorry.

Reading about the horrid disappearance of a jumbo jet in Asia reminded me of all the flights I took during my nearly 35 years at State. Given the number of flights, and the places where I flew, it is amazing that I had so few problems in the air. Lots of lost or delayed luggage; canceled flights in dark and dingy airports; incorrectly written tickets; a passenger throwing up on my shoes; a flight attendant dumping a whole tray of Cokes on me; nothing too serious in retrospect although at the time of the events it was good that I did not have my S&W or Colt with me.

One flight does stick in my memory because of what it tells me about, well, I am not sure what it tells me. You tell me.

It was late 1979 or early 1980--I remember Christmas and New Year decorations. My wife and I were flying back to Georgetown, Guyana from Bridgetown, Barbados via Port of Spain, Trinidad. We were on a plane belonging to the now defunct BWIA (British West Indian Airways). I think it was a B-707, but could be wrong. The flight had been very late leaving Bridgetown; it underwent further delay during our stop in Port of Spain when the airport lost power for nearly three hours. It was now two or three in the morning; we, finally, were underway; every seat filled; the overhead and under-seat areas bulging with boxes, cartons of various shapes, and bags; a long automobile exhaust pipe lay in the aisle. People brought whatever they could into Guyana. That poor country was a typical socialist wonderland: in other words, not fit for human habitation. All the passengers seemed to be smoking, drinking rum or whisky, and talking somewhere around the 100 db range. I remember somebody singing, too. 

Suddenly, as Professor Reynolds would say, this flying frat party was interrupted with a huge "Bang!" A jolt and a brief flicker of the cabin lights followed. In a second it seemed almost every passenger, except for the Diplowife and me, had scrambled out of his or her seat and begun running in both directions down the main aisle, many tripping on the exhaust pipe. The decibel rating jumped into the 110-120 range. 

I am not a brave person. I do not, however, tend to panic, especially after having three Johnny Walkers on the rocks. I get mellow and fatalistic. Besides that, I hate crowd behavior, and have spent much of my life avoiding things such as rock concerts, political demonstrations, and Black Friday sales. My wife, who hardly had flinched, asked me, "What happened?" Becoming an instant aeronautical expert, I told her, "We got hit by lightning. No problem." The Diplowife then asked the question that I was too polite to ask, "To where are these people running?"

Gradually, we saw order being restored thanks to the booming voice of the British captain, who obviously had seen a lot of Battle of Britain movies or at least "Sink the Bismarck!" Cutting through the din, sweeping over us thanks to an at-peak-volume intercom, we heard, "Bloody hell! Sit down you idiots! We have been struck by lightning. This is no problem for a modern aircraft! NOW SIT DOWN!" As the captain bellowed, the Trinidadian flight stewards managed to get people to stop running for the exits (I guess), gently reminding them that we were many thousands of feet in the air. 

I think I learned a couple of, or maybe even three things here. First, the Diplowife is pretty solid and can keep her head in a "crisis." Second, well, don't be on an airplane full of partying Guyanese when you get hit by lightning. Third, if you do find yourself on such a flight, better have a pilot with a stereotypical British accent--the British do authority very well--but do not think about the Titanic. 

That's it. Maybe there's a deeper moral to this story, but I can't think what it would be.

Have to go check on the two dogs. They are being very quiet. They are either up to something or one has killed the other . . . 


  1. Light the spark in my bonfire heart.

  2. ahh..


  3. That story reminds me of an old girlfriend of mine. A tall, fearless, blonde German woman who hitchhiked around the world, including South America, in her twenties, dodging Sendero Luminoso gangs and other bad actors along the way. She had her criticisms of the United States, but one thing above all else about people in the USA impressed her: "I have never seen more rational crowds than in the United States. Everywhere else, even in Europe, in a crowd, there is the feeling that danger or panic can break out at any moment. Not with you people. You can trust Americans." It's been fifteen years. I wonder if she still sees things the same way.

    1. We moved to New York City (from Australia) the day before a major blackout. When we went out to look around maybe 10 minutes after the power failed, we walked up East 84th st to 1st Avenue, and on the way I said to my wife "when we get to the intersection there will be a civilian directing traffic." She said"don't be silly." And when we got there- there was a civilian directing traffic, like he had done it all his life.

    2. The cool heads on Tuesday September 11, 2001 were amazing. New Yorkers at their best.

  4. Good one! I wonder if your captain had a moustache with waxed ends? My (British) flight instructor in Malawi was a WWII vet. Also unflappable. And moustached.

    1. I never saw him. Just the voice, the voice.

    2. I'm betting the captain's voice had a distictive gray beard to match that commanding tone?

    3. Old boy obviously didn't subscribe to: When in trouble, or times of doubt, run in circles (hard to do in an airliner I suppose) scream and shout.

  5. My wife and I were in the landing patten at SeaTac airport when our 737 was hit by lightning. A blue ball of light traveled down the aisle but the passengers stayed seated. The pilot went around and then flew by the tower so they could check if the landing gear was down. We landed without further incident.

    I do remember a few incidents in the prop driven days. DC 7s would sometimes shoot long flames out the exhaust for no discernible reason except to make me nervous.

    1. Every one of that last generation of large piston aircraft was a flying firetrap. Starting with the B-29 on, they just required, and generated, too much power to adequately dispose of the waste heat. Connies were, if I recall correctly, especially notorious for having engine fires.

    2. One of the better tri-motor transports ;)

  6. In 1955 I was flying down to Gibraltar in a Lancaster. I had the trailing aerial out (I was a radio operator). The trailing aerial was a very long bit of wire. We entered the clouds and I thought that I should wind in the aerial. I had just earthed it and was about grip the handle, when there was an almighty flash and bang. I checked my private parts (I was only 19) and then discovered the aerial had gone and the bit in the aircraft was welded to the airframe.

    Nice blog diploMad!

  7. Thanks for the laughs amid grim days. Your wife is AWESOME and totally voiced my query!
    I was thinking WoW, when it dawned on me from anon1032 comment. Huh- I HAD seen that once!
    In the early 1990's on my first (and solo) trip abroad I passed through Orly in Paris. I don't speak French but was able to navigate to the distant terminal to catch the flight to Nice. I made it early and was waiting in a line at the boarding tunnel. Then a uniformed man came up and some pointed discussion started at the head of line. Then two more uniformed men raced up and the screaming and yelling and waving of arms commenced! Very heated and I had no comprehension of the situation occurring!
    Suddenly a breaking point was reached in demands and the priorly orderly line with me in middle dissolved with half rushing the men and running down the tunnel and the other half racing back into the complex screaming. I did an oh shit and opted for the devil I knew and joined the bum rush for 'my' plane.
    No tickets or passes wanted as the attendant had jumped back at the beginning with a weird look of resigned fear. I found myself sitting in First Class~ not sure why - just that everyone in plane had flopped where ever~ It was weird!
    So after a half hour in limbo the stewardess comes by taking the tickets of whomever was in plane but she does not kick me back to the now opened up business class either... I had BAD sleep deprivation going~ so this is all very surreal...
    Then the gentleman across the aisle leaned forward and asked me something. I must have looked totally blank- so he says, "You are American," in English? I say yes. He says, "You know why we wait?" I say no. He says, "My wife speaks better, she will explain," and sits back. She looks at me and says, "Oh, there is a bomb! They must check before we can leave... " AH, I seeee! I thanked her for informing me, lol. Surreal indeed!
    After an hour or so, the rest of the people started trickling in and we finally left... and the seat was mine all the way to Nice~ Which was nice;) But that is a different story...
    Carry on sir! ~Jryk

  8. About the dogs being quiet?

    You have, of course, heard the phrase "Dogs of the Dow?" Where did you think that came from?

    Clearly they were on another computer checking their portfolios.

    Did you find out how they're doing?

    Green Bear

    1. There was a plot underway which thanks to NSA surveillance was broken up.

  9. Do NOT think about the Titanic---

    In my mind's ear, I heard it uttered in a flawless Oxbridge Twitter.

  10. Serious comment on our indecisive foreign policy--it's half-baked, too.

    Didn't anybody know that eastern Libya was a hotbed and fertile recruiting ground for Qaida when we decided to aid its anti-Qaddafi rebellion? Didn't anyone notice that the Syrian "democrats" (maybe no quotes" one-man-one-vote-one-time democracy?) were mostly Muslim Brotherhood and Qaida? I seem to recall that such things were reported in the MSM ages ago, and talked about online as well. Are we so beholden to the Gulf countries and their ruling families that we must aid their mischief in feuds that do not concern us?

    While I hate the way our "bold Syrian policy" made us look, I can only say that backing away from that conflict was correct--and getting our getting involved in the first place ought to be Exhibit A in the case that Team Obama couldn't tell its 肛门 from a hole in the ground.

    No, the O plus either Shrillary or the Gigolo v. Putin and Lavrov isn't Cage Fighter v. Pajama Boy. It's Cage Fighter vs.a pillow exhumed from some long-dead person's coffin. The only hope for the latter is that the former will say, "Eeeeeeuuuuw!" and turn away in disgust. And that's only the brains part.

  11. Dip, if that plane you were on was indeed a B-707, those giant winged things were also jet exhaust spewers to the point where it could be smelled in the cabin. When they got old enough and were sold off to foreign airlines in Latin America and elsewhere, they not only stunk from jet-a but rattled terribly all the time. No fun bouncing around in 3rd world countries with cast off planes.

  12. Dip, re your closing point #3:

    Back in the '80s when we lived in Southern Sudan, we flew Sudan Airways fairly frequently (too frequently!) I always breathed a huge, racist/cultural-superiority sigh of relief on boarding if managed to glimpse a British-looking chap seated in the #1 seat in the cockpit.

  13. Back in the days of my DSS career my Seabee and I were getting on an Air Yemeni flight from Abu Dhabi to San'na. We flipped open the overhead bin and realized that we were looking at the hydralic/electric lines rather then the interior skin of the aircraft. We just looked at each other and sat down. Later I observed the other passengers and told my 'Bee that I now understood how Custer felt at the Litttle Bighorn...
    'Nother time same airline I watched a passenger board carrying a red plastic two gallon jug that sloshed as he moved past me to his seat. My only hope was that it was water.