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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Alaska Airlines Flight 261

It was the 31st of January 2000 and I was working an easy three-leg turn with LoverBoy and our friend Kelly.  We left on an MD-80 and flew Portland up to Seattle.  Then we changed planes and worked a 737-700 from Seattle to San Francisco.  And then we changed planes again and worked a 737-400 from San Francisco to Portland.  Something like 08:30am-17:00pm.  (Wait, did I start out this paragraph above by saying this was an easy three-leg turn???).  Three legs, three different aircraft, with two different sit times....no, that's not easy....ha!

We had left SFO on the last leg to PDX.  One of our passengers was on the on-board telephones that we had built into the backs of the seats at that time.  The flight is pretty short, maybe 1:25 or so.   We had finished our beverage service and the passenger came to the back galley.  She actually pulled the curtain across the galley opening which I thought odd.  And she said, "I just got off of the phone with my boss and I'm not sure if I should tell you this or not -- but one of your airplanes has gone down in the water off the coast of California."

What?  No way!  What are you talking about!?  Which aircraft?  What flight?  Where?  Who was the crew?  Do we tell the pilots of the current flight that we are working or let them simply find out when we arrive in Portland?  I was the "A" flight attendant working in First Class that day.  We made the decision for me to go into the flight deck and actually tell our two pilots.  We had just started to make our gradual descent into Portland when I entered the flight deck and told them.  I also told a crew that we had deadheading with us that day.  And by then, we were well into our approach and had to prepare for landing.

I opened the front-left side L1 door to the face of my brother-in-law Tom.  Tom was a Customer Service Agent in Portland at that time.  I won't soon forget the look on his face.  In his mind, he was wondering if I knew.  And in my mind, I was wondering if he knew.  The jetway was filled with supervisors and a variety of other atypical people for an arriving flight.  We were told to phone our family and friends immediately to tell them that we were not the crew that had gone down.   We gathered upstairs for an hour or more with a roomful of flight attendants and other staff while we watched the Breaking News together.  It wasn't good.

Alaska Airlines flight 261 was enroute from Puerto Vallarta to San Francisco when it developed rudder stabilization troubles.  It was having a difficult time staying in a proper flying formation.  It was trying to divert to the Los Angeles airport when it nosedived into the blue waters of the Pacific off the California coast near the Point Mugu Naval Air Station.  At least 35 occupants, including 12 employees, were connected to Alaska Airlines or Horizon Air in some manner, leading many airline employees to mourn for those lost in the crash.  Bouquets of flowers started arriving at our headquarters building, gate areas, staff areas, ticket counters, and given by hand to flight crew members in jetways by not only our own management, but the staff of many other airlines....people that we didn't even know.  I remember flying the very same three-leg turn the following day after the crash.   Oh boy, that was a very difficult day to be back in the air.  I remember arriving from the first PDX-SEA leg at gate D5 in Seattle and being handed a single white rose by a flight attendant from United Airlines.  I walked by gate D5 just two days ago -- and pointed out to my friend Mitch about my memories of that day and gate D5.

So today, I clearly remember.  These are the sorts of days that one won't soon forget.  I had worked that particular aircraft several times in the few weeks prior to its demise.  One of the two coffee makers in the forward First Class galley was out of service.....and it had been for a couple of weeks.  And it still was on the day that Alaska Airlines flight 261 met her date with destiny.  I still see my friend Kelly once in a while -- the flight attendant we were working with on that terrible day.  LoverBoy and I will always have a special place in our lives for her.  We will always share that day.  Sadly.  

Links to News Reports 

Audio Recording that Will Break Your Heart


Stephen said...

Not in the same way as you, but I remember that day as well. Excellent post.

Blair said...

I'm missing you today. We just celebrated the lives of the crew and passengers here in Maui. I'm happy we were together that day and every day since.

Ur-spo said...

what a tale; thank you for sharing it.

LSL said...

I was flying on Alaska that day and remember this, although not at all in the same way or with the same impact that you and Blair do. I'm glad you shared this. Hugs.

cb said...

That must be a very tough thing to deal with-- not only the loss of friends/coworkers, but also feeling grateful that you weren't on that flight, etc.

I hope you are ok.