A dangerous attitude
After one final cough, the propeller ceased to spin and the engine went to sleep. As the fuel was cut off from the carburetor, so did the adrenaline in the young pilot’s system. While the remnants of the adrenaline ebbed away, his legs began to shake. He tried to stop the shaking, but failed miserably.
The ground crew waiting outside irritated him with their presence. He did not want to keep them waiting, but he had this urgent need to stay in the cockpit for a few minutes more.
The pilot had just come from a tense and exhausting cross-country training flight. Caught between two thunderstorms, he had to deal with near-zero visibility while going through pouring rain. Sudden gusts, updrafts and downdrafts alike, also joined the mix.
In itself, it is a nerve-wracking experience to fly through a thunderstorm in a large jetliner. What more in a small-engine, twin-seat trainer plane? More often than not, large aircraft will veer away from terrible weather even if they are equipped to handle it. With both the alternate and destination airfields socked-in, the pilot had no choice but to fly through an unfamiliar mountain pass in steadily deteriorating weather to be able to get home. It was no joke. It was a risky endeavor. Losing sight of the terrain and getting lost could lead to a violent rendezvous with the mountains. An engine failing at this point would also have plane and pilot ending up with a similar fate.
In flight school, instructors always repeat this mantra: The superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations that require the use of his superior skills. But at that moment, the young pilot was far from being a superior pilot; he was, rather, a scared fool. A truly dangerous attitude for an aviator is the macho, I-can-do-anything attitude. It was what the young pilot had until that day. Fortunately, the harsh lesson that fate was teaching him had an ending that, after a grueling hour which felt to him like it would go on forever, put him safely back on solid ground.
He made it through that mountain pass unscathed, managing to find a hole in the dark mass of angry cumulonimbus clouds. It took all his strength to keep the small aircraft upright as it was steadily battered by the violent mountain winds, holding on with the sheer willpower and stamina of youth.
The pilot has since changed his wicked ways and moved on to bigger things in his career. But from time to time, he goes back in his mind to that day to remind himself of the importance of not taking things for granted and of not mindlessly pushing the envelope of safety, not just in flying but in life as well.
It’s a story that I will not readily forget. It’s a straightforward tale with a moral that can be readily applied to our daily existence, pilot or not. There’s this YOLO attitude among today’s youth, which caused the memory of this story to resurface. “You only live once” had the original message of grabbing every opportunity that comes one’s way, but it has morphed into something more similar to social-media-approved recklessness.
Another lesson that we may pick up from this story is that, although it ended well that time, Lady Luck may not always be on our side.
Paolo Francesco P. Maceren, 24, a private pilot, studied at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
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