By Ron Lundquist
Let me ask you a little-off-the wall question: have you ever been really lucky in aviation? I mean really lucky? I’ll share a story to illustrate what I mean.
Around 1995, I was working as a crop duster. A farmer had dropped off a map of a field with assurance that all obstacles had been accounted for. I loaded up later that morning and headed to the field. I dropped down on the field and was about halfway across, when I got a feeling that something was wrong. The plane was running fine, the air was smooth, but something didn’t seem right. I pulled on the spray handle, shutting off the chemical and tugged back on the stick just in time to see a power line pass below the airplane. Had I continued on with my spray run, I would have certainly hit the wires. Would it have brought the airplane down? I’m not sure, but it sure might have ruined my day!
We can go back through the history of aviation and find these events. Some people that experience them are regular people like you and me, while others are quite well known. Some seem kind of eerie; others sound like luck.
Lindsay Wagner, who was the leading lady in the television show The Bionic Woman, suddenly started to feel ill before her flight on American Airlines 191 on May 25, 1979. She decided not to take her flight that day and went home feeling better as she exited the airport. It tragically crashed after takeoff from Chicago, IL, killing everyone aboard.
Denny Fitch was jumpseating on United Airlines 232 which crashed in Sioux City, IA, on July 19, 1989. He came forward and ran the throttles, helping Al Haynes and his crew get the DC-10 to Sioux City. Capt. Haynes said without Fitch, the outcome would have certainly been different. In Denver, prior to the flight, Fitch had passed up an earlier United flight and was leaving from a gate that was a shorter walk than the accident flight. When asked why, he had no idea.
Another personal story: and this is about being unlucky! A fellow pilot and I reached our overnight destination years ago and when we picked up our room keys, I got 401 and he got 402. He calmly turned to me and said, “Would you mind trading with me?” I was a little puzzled and responded, “Sure, but why?” He said years ago, he was piloting a Cessna 402 and an electrical fire had started onboard the aircraft. He landed as fast as he could, and exited the airplane to watch it pretty much burn to the ground. Years later, while in the Navy, he had to eject from an aircraft while approaching an aircraft carrier to land. I don’t remember the details but I remember the aircraft number: 402! And lastly, as he sat with his dad who was dying of cancer, he glanced at the clock as his father drew his last breath. The time? You guessed it, exactly 4:02. We switched rooms, as he didn’t want to push his luck!
9/11 was a day filled with lucky outcomes. Michael Jackson was supposed to have a meeting at the top of the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11th. He missed it, because he had stayed up until 3:00 a.m. talking to his mom and then overslept.
Actor Mark Wahlberg was supposed to be on American Airlines Flight 11, going to his home in Los Angeles. He and some friends chartered a private plane at the last minute and flew to a film festival in Toronto.
Actor Seth MacFarlane, who also created the Family Guy cartoon, arrived for American Airlines Flight 11 late, after his agent told him the wrong departure time.
Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, had an interview run long on a morning television show that morning, which ended up saving her life. Otherwise, she would have been on the 101st floor of the North Tower working at her charity.
Then we have E Jack Ridout; he got lucky three times. Jack was involved in a car accident in the early 1970’s. He survived and was declared physically unfit to serve in the Vietnam War. He also survived the deadliest aviation accident in history, when two 747s (KLM 4805 and Pan Am 1736) ran into each other in fog on the Spanish island of Tenerife. There were 583 deaths and 61 survivors, Ridout being one of them. Lastly, he was supposed to be on Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 182, which collided with a Cessna over the skies of San Diego. It crashed, killing all aboard. Ridout had been staying in Los Angeles during a heat wave with a friend who didn’t have air conditioning. Not being able to stand another night sleeping in the heat, Ridout caught a flight home to San Diego a day early, missing the accident flight.
So are all these instances luck? A premonition perhaps? Or something else? I know I’ve experienced them multiple times and I bet you have too. Let’s be careful out there and here’s to having luck on our side!