Alaska Airlines Flight #261 -- Ten Years Ago Today
LoverBoy and I had a 3-leg day together....PDX to SEA to SFO to PDX. We were with our good friend Kelly. It was the last leg back home when a passenger came to the back galley and actually pulled the fabric curtain across the entry way. She looked at us and said, "I'm not sure if I should tell you this or not but one of your airplanes has crashed." And that began our horrible day. We had to finish our flight not knowing exactly what had happened. With pleasantries and such, we continued our duties. We made the decision to notify our pilot crew as well as a deadheading crew on board. We landed in Portland without incident a short time later and were met by my brother-in-law (customer service agent for our company) with a stone-faced look on his face that I will always remember as I pushed open our forward L1 door. "Are you all aware of what has happened," he asked? "Make sure you call your families to tell them you are safe," he continued. You see, when an airplane crashed, families and friends immediately set to wondering whether it was you that was working that particular flight -- their son, daughter, mother, father, friend, neighbor, brother or sister. And that was the very first time that our two mothers had actually spoken in person to one another on the telephone -- both of them worried that we were working that flight as they made frantic phone calls to each other.
So, we gathered with other crew members for a while as we watched news footage from just off Point Magu near Anacapa Island in California. People staring at us, passengers watching, many crying...even in the airport. We had worked that particular aircraft several times in the weeks prior -- it had a broken forward galley coffee pot that was still broken on January 31, 2000. It would never need to be fixed. We finally ventured home, just the two of us, to a "message machine" (as they used to be called) filled with 27 voice messages: "Call us if you're safe," "Are you okay," "Are you flying today?," "Where are you guys?" Many of them crying, shaken quivering voices.
Flight #261 was operating from Puerto Vallarta nonstop to San Francisco. It encountered trouble off the southern California coast and never made it to SFO. It had 88 fantastic people on board including more than 30 of what we call "non revs" (those airline employees, friends, parents, children who pay little or nothing to fly). They were our friends and coworkers. It has mostly stopped now, but for several years afterwards I played the role of flight attendant over and over in my mind -- wondering what they were doing, were they standing or sitting, were in their jumpseats or not, were they injured even before the crash, did they scream or yell or cuss. I never have had an resolve on answering those questions.
It's me, you know. And LoverBoy too. That's what we do for a living along with many thousands of others who you may know. Just a quick Denver turn, or Phoenix. Or a four-day SEA/DEN/ORD like I'll start tomorrow. It's so routine. We love our jobs and wouldn't trade it for anything. But today, I remember. And wonder.