Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Peaceful Flight Into the Unknown

After attending a wonderful weekend in the Florida Keys for my sister's wedding, I was offered the opportunity to fly on a private plane to Tampa, Florida. My plan had been to rent a car, drive about 6 hours to Naples, Florida to visit a dear friend and then drive back to New Smyrna Beach for my original flight home to Asheville. When my sister called and said that the private flight, with a colleague, was available I jumped at the chance to go! Upon arrival at the airport in Key West, I asked to fly co-pilot. This was so thrilling, being in the front of the plane, wearing the headset, helping with the pre-flight check and flying the plane for a bit. Jerry, the pilot and owner of the plane was wonderful. He explained things as we went along, let me bank the plane, showed me how to fly using the instruments and we seemingly floated above the turquiose waters of the Florida Keys.

About 10 minutes into the flight one of the other three passengers tapped Jerry on the shoulder and was pointing. It quickly became evident that there was something seriously wrong. An oil leak had erupted through the right engine, near the propeller and oil was flying off the wing and back into the air. Jerry quickly called the Miami Tower and declared an emergency. Having the headset on allowed me to hear everything that was being conveyed. It was incredible!

One minute floating gracefully through the air and the next in an emergency, looking for clearance at the nearest airport. We were completely over the water, no land in sight. Jerry handed me the emergency procedure booklet and had me answer 'check' to all his instructions. He explained that the engine would freeze up if we did not 'flutter' it down-turn it off completely. We would be flying on one engine and one propeller. I carefully followed his instructions, watched as the oil gauge went to zero, the lights for the engine were shut down and stared at the now silent and still right propeller. *The photo is of the plane, after the propeller is turned off, while we were in flight. I was on the right side... see the amazing water and sky beyond. WOW!

What was my reaction? What were my thoughts? Was I afraid? I was as peaceful as I have ever been. I was not afraid. My thoughts turned to the idea that this is what life is about. We are not in control. We are not in a safety net with infinite time. The risks we take, the decisions we make and our actions are all something that we have a choice about, but in the end, we are truly at the mercy of God. My life did not pass before me as if I were watching some movie, but the thoughts of what, where, when and how I had lived my life did. My son Garrett was of course my first thought. If this plane went down into the waters surrounding Florida, would he be proud to have had me as his Mom? Yes, he would. That is all that mattered.

I was joyful in knowing that I had come to Florida to be a part of a wonderful weekend, spent time with family and friends, was back home-Florida and now over the water where I grew up. If it was my time, there would be no better place than to head to heaven here. I began taking photos. Just my eyes vision of what I was feeling. Light, peaceful, rested, safe, and grateful for all I had in life. My son, family, friends, and nothing short of an adventurous life...

As seredipidity seems to play a significant part in my life, the nearest airport was Naples, Florida. The city where I wanted to be and was planning on driving to all along. Amazing how these things work out. I told Jerry, it was my lucky day!

We had about 15 minutes of flying left on the one engine, all the while talking with Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and the Naples airport towers on clearing the area and the runway. We flew at a 35 degree pitch to keep the right wing up; avoiding a downdraft. As we approached the Naples airport, the emergency crews were waiting at the end of the runway and we landed on one wheel, slowly leveled out and taxied into the airport. Perfect execution! The tower called to the plane and asked if we could taxi to the hanger. The answer from Jerry- "No, Go!" and just like that there was a flurry of emergency vehicles, ambulance, people and we were surrounded.

As the consumate photographer, I began snapping photos of all the activity, called my friend to explain I had arrived early and she picked me up at the Naples airport. It was so surreal and yet so peaceful. I feel blessed to have had the experience.

Life is an amazing series of chances, choices and experiences, all bundled together to create our existence. Life IS good!

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