Brain Case Part 4- The Plane Crash

November 18, 2009

They say that any landing you can walk away from is a good one. I don’t know if my situation, such as it is, applies. After all, I didn’t walk away from the plane crash. I was dragged out of burning wreckage. It’s not the same thing, you know?

In the old days, if a plane went down, you went down with it. These days, they have mass ejection systems for passengers. Your seat slides down into a pod. Once you’re in, the pod closes and is ejected. Ideally the passenger’s seat is slid into the pod and it’s sealed within a period of about eight seconds. Your chair doesn’t fall into position as much as it is lowered into place very quickly. Eight seconds is about right, I think. This happens simultaneously, with all passengers dropped into their pods at the same time. The pods aren’t sealed until just before the passengers are dropped. There’s a two second gap between each pod. Usually what happens is, the pods are ejected one at a time. They can override that and launch two at a time. It’s done randomly, so you can’t pick a spot on the plane based on when you’d get ejected from it.

I did some research after the crash, about how those things work. Apparently they rely on electromagnetic technology to make the pods float down to earth at a slower level of speed. It’s the emergency ejection that’s the real bitch. They only use those pods if a plane is going down like a bat out of hell. And, you know, even then it’s not a guarantee. Obviously if a plane cartwheels on the runway, you’re nothing short of fucked no matter what, right?

There’s a lot of stuff they don’t tell you voluntarily about the ejection pods. There’s a short period of acceleration to make sure the pods are slammed out and away from the plane. The tubes open on the plane’s belly, shooting the pod out, like a giant metal bird shitting out an egg in mid-flight. That’s what they look like.

Once the egg is safely away from the plane, the mag field kicks in, slowing its speed to something like an elevator. The closer it gets to the ground, the slower it descends.

Once the passengers are safely ejected, the crew of the plane moves to a group pod, usually below the cockpit. I’ve seen pictures of that thing. It essentially looks like an elevator on the inside, with a few modifications. The plane is set to autopilot, and ordered to find as clear an open space as possible from civilization. That means that if the plane is over a city like say New York, it ditches into the ocean. If it’s in New Mexico, then it’s going to ditch in the desert, of course. And what happens if the plane is too damaged to do anything like steering? Then the pilots stay aboard and ride it out, to try to keep the plane from becoming a giant missile. There’s usually one or two coffin-style emergency pods, just in case of something like that happening, like say the pilots manage to get temporary control of the plane, and they manage to point it towards a nice patch of terrain. The stewardesses have already gone byebye in the crew pod. The pilots hustle to the coffins and gtfo.

It’s funny, how they put so much stock in these safety pods, when most times there’s no time to eject. Alot of times, a plane is going to crash on take off, or during landing, right? When that happens, the passenger pods are supposed to create “an extra level of safety”. They’re supposed to be fire proof, impact proof…that kind of thing.

I want to tell you, real quick, before I go any further…the crew did every goddamned thing they could to stop that plane from crashing. They really did try to be heroes, dammit. And then there was the stewardess.

You may have an idea in your head, of what happened, even before I say it. My escape pod jammed in the tube. The accelerator shorted out. The plane had an electrical fire. It’s a rare goddamned thing, but that sort of shit still happens with planes, even with all the safety features. So, the engines started shutting down. With only one engine left, and no control of the plane at all. That’s when they started ejecting us.

I could feel the plane jolt as each pod was pushed out, one after another. The pod closed, then tilted and rotated into a launch position, so that I’d be facing the angle of descent instead of away from it. I could hear barely hear the wind beneath me as the launch tube opened. I thought “shit…this is it.” I tensed up, trying to prepare for it. Then there was a loud popping sound and a grinding, whirring sound and a thump thump thump sound against the sides of the capsule.

At first I didn’t know what had happened. The flight attendants had been very clear in describing the escape pod launch procedure. A “please wait for assistance” light flashed on the wall in front of me. The thump thump thump started slowing down. The grinding sounds stopped. I remember shouting “HELLO?”. And then I just started shouting, period. I don’t remember what all I was screaming. I looked above my head, and saw an emergency release lever. I popped it open, but it wouldn’t open all the way. It was blocked by the hatch that had closed right after my seat had been lowered. I began frantically slamming the pod door against the
hatch. I heard voices….I heard someone say “That’s it, they’re all clear.” Then I heard another voice say “What’s that banging?”

It hadn’t really dawned on me that I might be in a really really bad situation. As the voices got closer, and one of them said “Oh my God, that one’s jammed” I began to get that sickening feeling. Fear is kind of like a fever, you know? You feel it, and think, oh I’m ok. I’m fine. Nothing’s wrong.” Then, when things get worse, it begins to dawn on you that you may have something serious. Then you really start to get scared when you realize that you SHOULD be scared. So I started screaming even louder, but I wasn’t actually afraid yet, I figured, hey, they’ll get me out of here and I’ll just get in another pod. That’s the kind of stupid thinking you do when you’re starting to get scared, and you’re trying to think rationally, and you’re trying to keep calm.

I felt the plane dip a little, felt my stomach trying to keep up with the rest of my body, and it was like a roller coaster. I heard someone shout, “HIT THE OVERRIDE! JUST DROP HIM!” I shouted up at them, “GET ME THE HELL OUT OF HERE!” I banged the pod door against the hatch again, frantically as I felt the plane dip again. I’m pretty sure I heard people falling down above me, or getting knocked into walls or something. When I heard a voice say “you’re going to be ok” I calmed down. I heard muffled sounds above me. I relaxed a little.
That’s when I realized, I could smell smoke. You know, the kind of smell that comes from electrical fires.
The smell was really strong. I closed the lid of my pod to keep out the smell and the heat, which was getting worse.

…Back in the day, I worked as an electrician before I became an EMT. I’d have to say that being an electrician was a better job, if only because I got a lot of time to myself. Ironic that I ended up having so much time to myself later. Anyway, I was brought in on a contracting gig to inspect bad wiring at a hotel. Apparently some of the wiring had caught fire. The smell on the plane was exactly like that. That’s how I knew, something Bad had happened.

Voices above me were yelling “It’s not the sequence circuit, it’s the launch mechanism.” then “We need to get him out, we’ll put him on the lifeboat!” then “pry it open then!” Then I heard another voice say “We’ve got five minutes to get off the plane.” Silence. Then I heard a woman say “Go. I’m going to try to get him out of here.” About sixty seconds later, I felt another jolt, heard something underneath me go screaming by. Then I heard the woman above me yell down to me, “Listen, your pod is stuck, I’m going to try to get you of it.”

“THERE’S A FIRE down here!” I screamed back at her. “WE KNOW!” She shouted back. The plane was picking up speed, it seemed like. The plane began pitching forward, into a sharp angle of descent. I felt like I was in some kind of horrible recliner. My equilibrium told me I was tilting backwards, which meant that the plane was beginning to go into a dive.

“We’re not going to get him out of there in time!” came a man’s voice. “GODDAMMIT! HE CAN HEAR YOU!” the stewardess screamed at somebody I assume was part of the flight crew. “Oh God.” I thought. None of it was real, my brain wouldn’t let me think of it as real.

I had a moment then, a real peaceful moment that I didn’t think was possible. I stopped clenching my arm rests, stopped thinking about anything. I became calm. They talk about how you hear another voice say something, but it’s coming from your mouth. I hate that phrase. But, that’s what it was. I didn’t make a conscious decision to do it. I yelled “GET OFF THE PLANE! IT’S OKAY!”

I didn’t know it at the time, but there were only three emergency pods on the plane. There were four people.
I heard somebody say “She’s going.” Heard the stewardess shout profanities in protest. At this point, there was maybe two minutes left to “abandon ship”. I don’t know what happened next. I felt another jolt and felt the plane shudder, then I heard what I assume was the stewardess’ pod go whistling by.

The plane was beginning to dip more sharply now. I became aware of tilting back even further, my back facing the direction of the ground. The crew members were arguing. In case you’re wondering, my seat had been near the front of the plane, which is why I was able to hear so much of their arguing. Just an fyi for clarification. “You’re fucking going, Tom.” “Fuck YOU!” “What about HIM?” a third man said, referring to me.

“FORGET ABOUT ME!” I shouted up at them. Sixty seconds to go.

“GET INTO THE DAMNED POD!” shouted the voice that I later found out belonged to Paul Howard. He was the flight engineer. It turns out, he was the only one of the three that didn’t have kids. In fact, his wife and two kids had been in a car accident. His wife lived. His kids didn’t. Unfortunately, his wife was brain dead and in a hospital when somebody “accidentally” pulled the plug on her life support.

There was silence followed by two thumps and more windy, whistling sounds. Then a voice said to me, much closer this time, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”

That’s when my brain let my mind know, it was really real.


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