Flying While Broken
by Kathy J. Marsh
The plane rose effortlessly through the darkening night, its silver body shimmering, its strobe lights blinking. The two childhood friends, strapped in their seats, breathed a collective sigh of relief as the plane reached its cruising altitude. Unbuckling their seat belts, neither of the women was aware of the impending mayhem.
One of the friends, Lexie, was seriously upset because the woman sitting next to the window wouldn’t trade seats with her.
"Girl, you know she could have let me sit by that window," Lexie said, cutting her eyes at the woman who was gazing out her window, ignoring the both of them.
Nia’s head snapped towards Lexie and she hissed, "You need to calm down quick, fast and in a damn hurry! That’s why I put your butt in the aisle seat. I ain’t hardly interested in you creating no disturbance up in here".
"Girl, please!" Lexie waved her caramel-colored hand in Nia’s direction, thoroughly disregarding her little scolding.
The plane continued its journey, its mechanical and electrical parts seemingly working in perfect conjunction with one another.
Nia, who had just opened her mouth to say something to Lexie, noticed her friend was completely enthralled by whatever she was able to see out of the window. Waving her hand in front of Lexie’s face she said, "H-e-l-l-o! What in the world is it with you and planes? What do you be looking at?"
Lexie gave a little chuckle. "Everything! Everything! The sky, the stars, the clouds. Everything! Girl, I just love it when the plane takes off and that pressure…it glues me to the seat. And then, I look out the window and watch as the ground starts dropping away. What can I say…I find it absolutely amazing!" She looked at Nia and laughed at the ‘girl, I know you crazy look’ on Nia’s cinnamon-toned face. "And then see, I like to check out how different all the cities look from up here! Some of ‘em, like Wilmington, are all laid out in perfect little blocks. And others, like Charlotte, got roads winding all over the place…I just love it!" Eyes sparkling, face glowing, hands waving, she continued, "Not to mention the landing! Especially at night! Don’t you ever look at those blue runway lights? Don’t you ever notice how they get bigger & bigger as the ground gets closer & closer?" Not giving Nia a chance to answer, Lexie went on. "And then I feel that bump…and I know we’ve touched down, I say to myself, oh hell yeah!" she said, nodding. I don’t know, girl…I just find it freakin’ fascinating!"
Shaking her head, Nia said, "How in the world did I ever hook-up with your crazy behind?" The friends looked at each other and cracked up.
The plane did a little shimmy as it made its way through the suddenly ominous clouds. Several more small shimmies…the passengers glanced at one another, a little trepidation showing in their eyes. The plane ended its dance. Relief…
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen. This is Captain Lewis speaking. We are beginning our descent and should touch down at Charlotte Douglas International Airport in ten minutes. The area is blanketed in fog so we may have a bumpy landing. I hope you’ve had a pleasant flight and thank you for flying Twilight Airlines."
The plane, as if it had been listening to the pilot, began its rhythmic dance once again.
Lexie’s eyes were straining to see as much as possible from her distant perch. "You know, this turbulence crap is pretty scary…Damn! Look at all that fog."
"Oh! So, little Miss Freakin’ Fascinated has the nerve to be…what…frightened?" Nia’s voice was dripping with sarcasm.
"Oh my God!" Suddenly, Lexie’s body was filled with tension. Her hands clenched the armrests; her torso leaned forward, straining against the seatbelt.
"What? What’s wrong with you?" Alarm was etching itself on Nia’s face.
Lexie’s right arm rose from the armrest. Her hand was balled into a fist, the forefinger pointing at the window. "The runway lights! Oh my God, they’re right there!" Her eyes were locked on the window. "We’re so close to the runway! It seems like we’re going s-o-o-o-o fast!" Just as those words tumbled from her mouth, Lexie felt the plane touch down. She smiled a little smile, nodded her head and said to herself, "Oh hell yeah."
The plane, its wheels having met the tarmac, seemed not to realize its flight had ended. There was no screech of brakes as it continued its journey down the length of the runway. No screech of brakes as it continued its journey across an open field. No screech of brakes as it continued its journey down a steep embankment. No screech of brakes as its nose came to rest on the metal surface of a railroad track. No screech of brakes as a train, a mile down that very track, raced towards the plane’s nose at 60 miles per hour.
Having ignored the ‘Fasten Your Seatbelt’ sign, some passengers were in the aisles unlatching the overheads as soon as the plane touched down. Lexie sat waiting to feel herself flung forward, to feel her body strain against the seatbelt when the plane braked. Instead, terror tore into her as she felt herself being flung forward and backward as the plane raced from the smooth surface of the runway to the uneven surface of the adjacent field. An intense sense of dread claimed her as she sat watching those passengers who had already unbuckled their seatbelts. "Oh my God!" was her initial thought. She sat watching in horror as the same people attempted to grab seat backs, armrests - anything that would keep them from being tossed around by the relentless motion of the plane. She sat watching in shock as pieces of luggage came spilling from the gaping overhead compartments. She sat watching in fear as one lonely sneaker came flying toward her head, missing by a fraction of an inch. Screams, moans, whimpers filled the air as the plane continued to rock and roll.
Terrified though she was, her hands plastered against her mouth and her eyes big as saucers, Lexie’s mind began to form a few coherent thoughts. "Oh n-o-o-o! This is a plane crash! Planes blow up in plane crashes! I wish this plane would stop so I could get my ass off!"
As the plane shuddered to a stop, "Planes blow up, get my ass off," was the single thought running through Lexie’s head, her mantra. In one fluid motion, she unbuckled her seatbelt, swooped towards the floor where she spotted her pocketbook, swung the handles into the crook of her arm and began to run down the aisle, searching for escape. Looking to her right, she noticed two men wrestling with the emergency exit door above the wing. Still running, though going nowhere, she waited as the men continued to struggle. "Planes blow up, get my ass off!"
Snatches of conversation from passengers and flight attendants were floating in the air all around Lexie. Nobody seemed to be concerned about an explosion. "What in the world’s wrong with these people?" she wondered, unaware she was still running in place. Seconds later, the door swung open allowing the strong, unmistakable smell of gasoline to enter the cabin. "Planes blow up, get my ass off!"
Lexie peered through the open door into the pitch-black night. She saw Nia step tentatively through the door onto the wing and thought, "Now how did she get out there before me? I know she was behind me a minute ago." This thought was only a momentary distraction as a slight breeze brought the smell of gas close, causing her nose to scrunch, her eyes to water. The mantra kicked in, "Oh my God! Planes blow up, get my ass off!"
Time seemed to be moving as slowly as trickling molasses. Lexie, still running, continuing her trip to nowhere, watched as a man standing on the ground beckoned to the little old lady in front of her. This lady, who obviously didn’t understand that planes blow up, turned to Lexie and said tremulously, "I’m scared. I can’t go out there".
Fear and frustration suddenly overwhelmed Lexie’s deeply instilled home training. She thrust her face inches away from the woman’s tear-stained face and whispered, "Bitch, you need to get outta my way or I’m gonna hafta plow through your ass!" Without another word, the lady spun around and carefully putting one foot in front of the other, made her way onto the wing.
Lexie stepped gingerly onto the wing. Reaching the edge, she could barely see the man on the ground lifting the older woman from the wing. The night was a wet, inky black. The smell of gas was almost overpowering in its intensity. "Oh my God! This plane has got to be moments from blowing up!" Panic began to ease its way into her being. "I can’t wait on him, I’ma hafta jump!" she thought, sitting on the edge of the wing, her feet dangling in mid air. "Nah, with my luck I’ll break my legs and then I won’t be able to run! I have got to get away from this plane!" Easing her butt closer and closer to the edge, she saw the man turn and finally extend his hands towards her.
"Lexie, Lexie!" Feeling her feet hit the ground, she turned towards Nia’s voice, and clawed her way up the embankment, hand over hand, digging into the soft, wet dirt, her pocketbook still in the crook of her arm.
Reaching the road, she kept moving, breaking into a run. "Come on!" she screamed at Nia, turning her head to look over her shoulder.
"What? Where?" Nia screamed back, taking a few steps as if she wasn’t sure what to do.
"Just come on!" she yelled, not even breaking her stride. "Just come on!"
They ran like the hounds of hell were snapping at their heels. The only two people in this marathon, they raced down the road, looking neither left nor right.
Suddenly, from the vicinity of the plane, people began shouting, "Run, run, the plane’s gonna blow up!"
"Oh my God!" Adrenaline soaring, legs pumping, hearts pounding they shifted into fifth gear. Unaware of the light mist hitting their bodies, unaware of the silently drifting fog, they ran.
They ran until they could run no further. Their mad dash stopped by a tall, wire fence. "No! Don’t touch that!" Nia screamed at Lexie’s back as her hand was inches from the fence.
Head hanging over her knees, hands holding her sides, Lexie was searching frantically for her breath. "What… you…talkin’…bout? Why…can’t…I…touch…it?" asked Lexie.
"Suppose…it’s…electrified!" panted Nia as she wiped at the sweat dripping down her face.
"D-a-m-n! What now? I mean…like… how far do you have to be from an exploding plane…?"
"Wait! Listen! You hear that?" Nia asked with her head cocked to the side.
"N-o-o." Lexie stood stock still, listening. "What? I don’t hear…oh…sirens? Sirens! Yes!"
"Thank God!" Nia murmured.
"WKMN correspondent Darlene Wright is live at the airport," Sonya Hill, the noon news co-anchor, said as the scene switched to the airport.
"Thanks, Sonya. I’m here at Charlotte Douglas International Airport where Twilight Flight 251 ran off the runway at 8:34 last night. There were 77 passengers and eight crewmembers on board. No deaths and no serious injuries resulted from the accident. The NTSB and airline officials are on-site and offer no information as to the cause." The camera panned the area surrounding the wrecked airplane. The plane, lying on its belly resembled a rejected child, the name and logo of the airline having been painted over.
"Darlene, do we know anything about the train?"
"Yes, Sonya, we’ve heard from an unidentified airline employee that a train was indeed approaching the downed plane. A quick thinking air traffic controller averted a major disaster by making a call to the railroad company. From what I understand that call was made just in the nick of time." A shot of the nose of the plane sitting atop the railroad track now filled the screen.
"In addition, Sonya, we have learned the plane almost certainly would have exploded if it hadn’t rained all day. I was told the soaking ground provided no hard surface for sparks to ignite. Live from Charlotte Douglas International Airport. I’m Darlene Wright. Channel 4 News."
"Well, Bob, I’m glad to say the people on board Flight 251 were an extremely fortunate group," Sonya remarked smiling at her co-anchor, Bob Wilson.
"Indeed they were. Indeed they were."