Several years ago, I always used to look forward to watching a television show entitled MacGuyver. I remember being fascinated by the unusual ways that the star of that show managed to get out of tough situations – always being able to make the most intricate contraptions out of ordinary junk that he would find along the wayside. I remember also thinking that the show, although quite entertaining, was just a bunch of hooey! Well, thanks to that ridiculous television show, 241 people on board a Boeing 747 flying over the Swiss Alps are counting their lucky starts that they are still alive.
I, along with 75 other passengers and 165 crew members, boarded the plane at Hooks Airport in Houston on the 16th of last August. We were headed to Los Angeles, California. The flight departed from Hooks without too many problems to speak of. Maybe we could have guessed that we were at the mercy of an inexperienced pilot when, after already taxiing for what seem like an eternity, we taxied right up a ramp onto Interstate 45. A few minutes later, we were airborne. (You may have noticed several overpasses are missing now on I-45 just south of FM2920.) Of course, as you have probably already guessed, the other indicator that our pilot was a moron was the fact that we ended up flying over the Swiss Alps during a Texas-to-California flight. But – there we were – several hours out of Houston and flying around over Europe.
After a bit, the captain got on the intercom with the announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, if you look out your windows to the right, you will see a magnificent view of the Swiss Alps. As a special treat, here shortly you will be able to get an even better view because we are about to run out of fuel and will probably be crashing into the magnificent Swiss Alps!”
Well, let me tell you, there was just a little more than a major amount of mass chaos on board that aircraft. Passengers were running up and down the aisles screaming to the tops of their lungs – most seemed to primarily be mad that they hadn’t even packed for a skiing trip. Flight attendants were running around everywhere you looked. Half of them were demonstrating how to avoid being strangled by the oxygen masks when they came popping out of the ceiling – the other half were trying to detach the floatation devices from under the seats. I’ve often wondered why airlines felt the need to outfit the seats with floatation devices. I can only figure that the reason is one of comfort more than anything else. I, on the other hand, would much prefer sitting on the lumpiness of a good reliable parachute rather than a soft, pansy-wansy floatation device. It was while I was pondering the lumpy parachute thing that I finally snapped back into reality and remembered why I was on this plane in the first place. I was on my way to L.A. with several of my friends to participate in an international gathering of the Senior Ladies Olympic Bridge Playing and Tandeming Grannies Association (or, as we call ourselves, SLOBPATGA. Yes, we know it doesn’t roll off the tongue too easily, but all tandem clubs are required by a law set forth by Leonardo da Vinci, in association with Wilbur and Orville Wright, to form corny acronyms out of their names).
All at once, as fear was running amok from one end of the plane to another, my mind started channel surfing through a series of MacGuyver reruns. It was coming to me – formulating in my brain as I felt the plane starting to lose power at an altitude only slightly higher than that of the mountain tops. Down in the cargo hold, there were thirty-one tandem bicycles. I was certain that these bikes held the necessary key to safely deliver us from the pending disaster. I wasn’t quite sure just how at the moment but one thing I did know for sure was that I had to get down to that cargo compartment. Taking charge in the midst of all of the commotion, I instructed the attendants to gather up about fifty blankets, a coat hanger, and all of the floatation devices that they could find. Oh yeah, and a paper clip. Quickly, I tied the ends of the blankets together and fashioned a rope. I tied one end of the makeshift rope to the seat framework – the other end around my waist. About that time the captain of the plane came running down the aisle, flapping his arms and screaming hysterically. I tackled him, picked him up and slapped him across the face a few times, then used his head to bust out one of the windows. As the cabin began losing pressure, I shoved the captain to one side, grabbed up all of the floatation devices and maneuvered myself into a position to get sucked out of the window.
Once outside, with the floatation devices dangling from my belt, I worked my way back up the rope until I was able to get a grip on the front edge of one of the wings. Just as I pulled myself up on the wing, we flew through a gigantic flock of winged creatures – ooh! – déjà vu from an earlier article. Moving on, in an effort to slow the plane’s plummet to earth, I began attaching the floatation devices along the length of the wings. (Need I even mention that I would never be caught dead without a couple of rolls of duct tape and a handful of zip-ties in my fanny pack?) All the time I was doing this, I was telling myself that I was sure parachutes would work much better in a situation like this but who am I to question the Department of Aviation? With all of the floatation devices attached to the wings, I swung myself back toward the plane’s fuselage. Clinging to the rivets with my fingernails, I worked my way to the cargo door. I knocked – no answer. This was going to be tougher than I thought. Holding on with one hand, I fished the coat hanger out of my back pocket. Using my teeth, I straightened the coat hanger and then formed one end into a tight hook. I began fishing it through the weather-stripping around the door and started searching for the lock. It took a couple of tries but finally I heard it click – “CLICK!” The door came swinging open and I was able to climb inside. My hair was a mess.
As I climbed into the cargo hold and out of the wind, I was surprised to see that the other women of the SLOBPATGA had already figured out what I was up to. They had taken the elevator down and were already unpacking the tandems. I took a moment to think to myself: “Damn! There’s an elevator?” I glanced around until I found what I was looking for – canoe paddles. (FAA rule 334.226.2a: Supply each passenger with a floatation device instead of a parachute. FAA rule 334.226.2b: Back up each aircraft with twenty or so canoe paddles instead of a reserve fuel tank.) Swiftly, I clutched the paddles and got another roll of duct tape and half a dozen more coat hangers then headed back out onto the wing. Working at breakneck speed, I attached four paddles to the front of each engine, fashioning the crudest of propellers. Myrna Steeplebottom, my tandem partner, was apparently reading my mind because she came up behind me with a handful of tandem chains and chainrings. I was sure glad that I never leave home without my handy-dandy pocket chain tool. Together, we fastened the propellers to the chainrings and fed the chain around them and then back through the door into the cargo hold. Back inside, the gals had the tandems all set on trainers and had routed all of the chains so that they were working in unison. They were ready – just waiting for Myrna and me to bring in the main drive chain. We hooked up the final chain and jumped on our bikes. Then, the sixty-two ladies of the SLOBPATGA started pedaling. It was a slow start but eventually we picked up speed – the propellers slowly but surely turning faster and faster. We were beginning to really get into it. Simultaneously, we all shifted into the big chainring. With a burst of energy, we felt the plane lift. We pedaled faster. The plane picked up speed. We heard the cheers of joy from the passengers and the crew members above as we cleared the tops of the mountains. We were pumped! We controlled the power of the plane. I called for the captain and, after apologizing for using his head to break out the window, instructed him to see if there was anyone on the plane that knew the shortest way to Los Angeles. As I pedaled, I reached into my back pocket, pulled out the paper clip and straightened one end of it. I picked a couple of small bird feathers out of my teeth.
I’m sure my ordeal will probably never make it to the television screen. Its realism is not as far-fetched as one of those old MacGuyver episodes. Still, I’m proud to say that I and my sister SLOBPATGAians managed to get the 747 back safely to Los Angeles. The captain even managed to land the plane at LAX without incident. As soon as I disembarked, I was awarded a medal of honor and the key to the city by the mayor – of course, that was after the plane finally taxied to a stop on Interstate 5 just north of San Diego!
Enjoy the ride!