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Sunday, January 31, 2010

10 Years Ago Today


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.

24 comments:

Dave2 said...

It's the not knowing that makes it so hard. I boarded a plane just as Katrina was making landfall... I boarded a plane when nobody was sure if Princess Diana had died or not... then you just have to sit and wait until landing to know what's happening.

It's changing though... on-board wi-fi is letting people use the internet to keep in touch with what's happening on the ground. Though I'm not sure if that's better or worse...

Rob Inukshuk said...

Yes, I can well imagine that it would make you stop and reflect. Those sort of traumatic events touch our lives forever.

Larry Ohio said...

That was a rough story. I'm glad resources like FB are available now so that your family and friends can more readily find out when and where you are working.

I've never had a job in which my life was routinely endangered. I would not be able to withstand that kind of background stress.

Java said...

Very frightening. Whenever I start to feel panicked that something like that will happen to me, I try to think of all the people who have NOT crashed. Sometimes that helps.

Extra special hugs and kisses today, my dear.

Will said...

I've always wondered how you guys in the business deal with that. I've known a couple of flight attendants other than you and Blair (one of whom is now a friend in Portsmouth) but I have never brought the subject into conversation. I always thought it might be indiscrete, painful, or too personal. Of course it doesn't surprise me how deeply you cared about those aboard that plane. You are a very good man.

Archerr said...

wow....quiet a memory! That's scary. It reminds me a little of 911 when everyone was calling around the country to find their loved ones. I'm glad you guys weren't on that flight but sad for those you knew who were. :(

tomaspdx said...

Tears in the eyes. I will never forget that dark day for our Alaska family and ours too.

annie said...

those times are very hazy for me. i do, however, remember this plainly. i told whoever i was with, "that might be my brothers. i have to find out". then began frantically searching for a phone.....not having any familial contact on a regular basis, i don't even remember who i called.

your service to the humans of the planet is applauded on many levels.

tornwordo said...

I'll never forget that day. What haunted me most is that they had a minute and a half before contact so they all knew their fate. Every time I fly I think about it. Such a tragedy.

madhouse 6 said...

this is the kind of thing that makes me so mad when i see people treating flight attendants poorly... yes, you're their to service us and to make sure we are comfortable - but your there ultimately to keep us safe in the event of.... what you do takes a special kind of fortitude a special kind of commitment.. one that i am thankful for every time i get on a plane. i can not imagine what that or something like 9/11 does to you - thank you.

Mindy said...

Knowing you all has given me a broader perspective on flying... and a personal connection to those in the industry that makes me more protective of airline workers when I fly. Thanks for sharing your story.

CJ/Rick said...

My only connection is that a cousin had left her anchor position at a small tv station in the Ozarks. She was getting away from an ex boyfriend that had tried to kill her. I turn on the tube and there she is reporting from California about the crash. How vivid a memory. I can't believe it's been that long.
I know that must be tough on you to recall. Thinking of you Lewis.

Laura said...

You honor their memories every time you share your recollection of that fateful day.

Lemuel said...

That would be a memory and thoughts that would haunt me.

Birdie said...

I have somewhat similar memories of the ValuJet crash into the Everglades, a flight one day before my own on the same airline.

I try not to think about potential disaster when I can do nothing to divert it. I love to fly, and I simply am thankful for each successful trip and for the people who make it so.

Jake said...

I was 10 when this happened, so I vaguely remember it, and I'm glad you wrote about it today so that I could read about it. It's such a scary thought to try and imagine what those people went through. I'm glad that airplanes have improved since then, although we still have mistakes here and there. What a frightening story :(

Greg said...

I know it's inadequate, but hugs to both of you and to all the families.

Edmund said...

Lewis,
I remember that day also....for I was NON-REV from LAX-PDX. I had been seeing my family in Oxnard...where miles from them your plane came down.
I remember looking as we flew over my home town where I was raised. And looking over the ocean and seeing Anacapa Island and how calm and serene it was.
I too received many calls from family and friends who knew I was returning home that day.
I feel for all you guys and how that day touch all our lives

Ur-spo said...

what a tale,
I have never had this awful experience, so I can not imagine the emotions therein.
I admire you for doing this sort of work.

Mike said...

What a memory- and having worked on that plane.

Mark in DE said...

I'm reminded of a scene in "Torch Song Trilogy" when Arnold and his mother discuss living without their respective mates. Arnold asks "Does the pain ever go away?" His mother says "No. Its gets better, and you learn to live with it, the same way you learn to live with wearing eye glasses or a ring. But it never goes away. And that's good, because then you'll never forget them."

Bridgeout said...

It's like we all want to hold our breath and pretend that this never happens. How much the more for your and your lover-boy who enter into this arena each week for your livelihood.

WAT said...

I remember this accident. Sad.

mkf said...

haunting post.