THE AL GILKES COLUMN: A matter of being cautious
I am not normally a superstitious person but there are some things I would not and do not do. For example, I do not walk under ladders but not because of the old superstitious belief that to do so would bring bad luck. I don’t do it out of fear that a bucket of paint, a brick or a man holding either might fall on my head.
Similarly, I would not intentionally break a mirror, not for fear of having seven years of bad luck but the possibility of sustaining a cut or inadvertently stepping of a shard of the glass and having it “juk-up” in my foot.
I, therefore, have no superstition about flying on 9/11, as many people have been since that fateful day when two airliners were flown into the twin towers of Manhattan’s World Trade Centre. Nevertheless, while booking a flight to the United States for this Wednesday, September 11 (9/11), I had a change of heart and am flying today instead. Why? It’s because with such ultra-militant anti-American organisations like ISIS, that make Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda look like a group of angry boys on a block, on the rise, I am taking no chances.
I have been a frequent flyer most of my adult life but can only recall two occasions on which I thought it could or would be all over for me. The first was in the early 1990s while heading for a six-week stint in Israel.
It was night-time and we were approaching the Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv but couldn’t see a speck of light below because of a dense cloud cover. Eventually, the aircraft dropped below the clouds, with the runway flying by beneath and the pilot coming closer and closer for the touchdown.
But, just as I was mentally bracing for the embrace of runway and rubber, he took us for a sudden steep climb back up above the cloud cover again. Moments later he came on the intercom to apologise and explain that the instruments in the cockpit had showed that the landing gear was in place but an eagle-eyed controller in the tower had realised it was not locked into place and ordered the landing to be aborted.
You would know that when he eventually returned to make the landing not even a doctor would have been able to get a pinch of snuff in my pooch until after the aircraft was safely on the parking apron.
My other scare was on board a LIAT flight to St Lucia one night a few years later. The trip had been as smooth as glass without a freckle when, without warning, it felt as if we had dropped into a hole and were tumbling uncontrollably to earth.
The hostess, who had been standing talking to the flight crew, fell upside-down and inside the cabin erupted into a Pentecostal outpouring of urgent prayers to the Lord.
The episode lasted about 30 seconds but the speed at which the plane fell uncontrollably made it feel more like five minutes. Eventually, the pilot was able to regain control and to explain that we had experienced a phenomenon known as clear air turbulence.
Well, I have always been sure since then that everybody on board that flight not only experienced clear-air turbulence but clear-water turbulence as well and, in some cases, dark solids turbulence.
• Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm.