Charlie Victor Romeo

25 Aug 2008

Suck it up. We're going down.

I've always found the rumble of the jet engines comforting, but not now. The vibrations through my seat are wrong; the tone has changed. This shouldn't be happening.

Beside me Lyn is tense, unsmiling as I grip her hand. Everyone is staring at the pilots, sweat running down their faces as they struggle to control the crippled aircraft.

By chance one of the passengers is a senior pilot himself. Moving up to assist, his first words are "when this is over, we're all going for a beer".

We hang on every word of the pilots' discussions, wincing as they start to panic and wanting to cheer as their training reasserts itself. Air traffic control tries to help over the radio; on-the-ground mechanics can't get further than "Say again, you have zero hydraulic quantity?"

As they struggle to reach an airport with a plane that won't turn left, I find myself really hoping that they survive. They seem like nice people, highly skilled, working hard. The engine explosion that's wrecked the plane isn't their fault.

The crash-landing, when it comes, is protracted and deafening. The theatre goes black while the sound system does its best to shake us to bits. The screen at the front, behind the mock-up cockpit, shows the results of the 1989 crash we've just re-enacted: 111 dead. Among the survivors were the pilots, who presumably went for that beer.

Leaving, I need a few myself.