July 25th 2000 is a date I will never forget and even if I did, all I would have to do is type "Concorde crash" into Google and I would have my date.
So, what exactly happened on this date in the year 2000, besides Concorde crashing? Well the story goes like this:
Having spent a fantastic and very eventful month travelling around Central America I am now at Managua airport in Nicaragua awaiting a flight which will take me to New York. From New York I will catch a connecting flight to Amsterdam. I bump into a Norwegian girl at Managua airport and I am pleasantly surprised. This girl is sexy and I am talking leather trousers and lots of cleavage sexy. I've bumped into this girl a few times during my month in Central America but she has always been in a larger group and has not really paid me any attention. Now, she is alone and seems pleased to be in my company. This is all to change, by tomorrow morning, after a rather dramatic flight to Amsterdam, she is practically sprinting to get away from me.
We arrive at JFK airport and see a large crowd gathered around a television screen. I go to investigate and find out that they are all watching the news because Concorde has just crashed in Paris. I'm stood there, watching the news and thinking "why does this always happen when I am just about to board a plane"? This thought is circulating my mind when I hear the announcement that my flight is ready to board. Nervously, I walk to the boarding gate and await my fate. Although I have spent a large proportion of my life travelling, I am not a fan of flying at all and dread every journey. Concorde crashing has intensified this fear ten fold.
The plane is enormous, one of those 3, 5, 3 seated affairs and I'm in the middle of the plane on the left hand side. I feel penned in and therefore even more uneasy. I'm sat next to 2 off duty flight attendants who are overtly gay. I politely make conversation with them as the engines are fired up and we are towed to the runway. This is the worst part for me and usually the point where my palms start to sweat and my legs get all jiggly. Nerves have got the better of me and I'm talking in an accelerated tongue. Those that have flown with me will know the routine and will also know that I am to get worse as the flight goes on. I jump at any sign of turbulence and often grab the hand of the person who is sat next to me, even if they are a stranger.
We're on the runway and the tension is building within me. The engines are roaring and we have started the dreaded taxi down the runway. The plane is gathering speed now and the sound of the engines are almost drowned out by the sound of my own heart beat. Then we reach that moment of complete terror when the wheels of the plane leave the ground and the nose of the plane starts to rise at an alarmingly scary angle. This is the point when I dig my feet into the ground, my mind full of thoughts about crashing. The point where I am trying to fill my mind with thoughts of previously successful flights that I have been on and attempt to calm myself by calculating how many successful flights there are every day from any given airport. As always I am losing the mental battle and can only think of crashing. These thoughts are dramatically interrupted by an extremely loud bang, followed by a very, very scary shuddering of the plane. I estimate that we have been airborne for less than a minute and the plane is at this point poised at an almost rocket like angle.
A moment of absolute silence ensues and seems to last for much longer than it actually does. Fear has gripped the plane and you could hear a pin drop right now, as everybody is frozen in sheer terror. The first person who I hear talking is one of the gay flight attendants next to me. He seems relatively calm and is telling me not too worry because this is all routine stuff. He tells me that we have almost definitely had an engine failure on the middle engine and that we should hear the captains message very soon, informing us of an emergency landing back at JFK. I am desperately trying to believe him on this but my pessimism is confirmed when there is another even louder bang, followed by an even more intense shuddering, which lasts for around 10 seconds.
This time there is no silence, the plane literally erupts into a frenzy of panic. I can't even begin to describe the fear which surrounds me. Men, women and children are screaming and crying, people are sat in their seats praying, Muslims are on their hands and knee's praying to Allah and Catholics have got rosary beads raised in the air. I, for once am sat in silence, in deep contemplation of my destiny. Around me I hear the noise and see the panic but I have gone into a catatonic state. Besides me I hear the gay flight attendants babbling on about the captains announcement but now there is an element of desperation about their voices. I look up and see one of the plane's flight attendants sat in one of the emergency chairs, with beads of sweat literally dripping off her. My mind is all consumed with how death will feel. I have questions going through my mind, such as "How will I actually die? Will my neck snap upon impact with the seat in front of me or will I get sucked out of the plane before it makes it's nose dive to Earth? Does fear actually smell, or is it confused with the smell of people soiling their underwear?
This state of utter pandemonium continues for around 20, very long minutes and this is only punctuated by the captains long overdue announcement. The announcement goes something like this "Ladies and gentlemen, you may have realised that we have had a malfunction with one of the engines, we have in fact lost our middle engine but we have 2 more engines which are functioning perfectly, so there is no need to worry. We could fly this plane on one engine if we needed to! We will now circle JFK airport for approximately 20 minutes whilst we dump the fuel before landing. Please do not be alarmed by number of emergency vehicles on the runway. This is a routine emergency landing and there is no need to worry". Now from this announcement I have picked out the following, lost the middle engine, fuel dump, emergency landing and emergency vehicles. I have to hand it to the captain, there is an air of calm around his voice but calm is not a word to describe the atmosphere inside the fuselage.
I am sat watching the big screen at the front of our section. All that the screen displays is a little green image of a plane which is going around in circles. We are by now, I assume dumping the fuel. I decide to look out of the window and wish that I had never bothered. There is a fleet of red lights down below us and I'm talking hundreds. I quickly shut down the window flap and vow not to peep out again until the plane has touched down. I break this vow within seconds, a pattern which is to repeat itself until we do actually land. It goes like this, flap up, red lights everywhere, sheer panic, flap quickly back down, look at screen, see plane circling, flap up, red lights, panic, flap down, look at screen etc etc. I am gradually working myself into a frenzy, which is not aided by the panic which surrounds me. Even the gay boys are panicking now and there's nothing more dramatic than a gay person flapping. The only thought that is going through my mind is "Will the little screen image of the plane actually explode when the plane obviously crashes". There is no question in my mind as to whether the plane will crash or not. As far as I am concerned this plane and all it's passengers are on their final journey.
The captain decides to update us on the planes progress, "Ladies and gentlemen, the plane has dumped enough fuel and we will shortly begin our descent, please remain calm for the remaining part of the journey, thank you". The plane does indeed start it's descent and the passengers once again go silent. This is a very leery silence and the only thing that you can hear is the heavy breathing of all the passengers. The sound of the wheels being lowered is a welcome relief but not enough to convince me that we are not going to crash. The sound of the breathing gets louder the closer that we get to the runway. I look out of the window and see that we have almost landed. I brace myself and put my hands to my head as the wheels touch down.
Oh my god, we've made it, we've actually touched down. Am I dead? I don't think so! Now, I am not a fan of passengers bursting into spontaneous applause upon planes landing. This type of behaviour is usually the domain of the cheap package holiday passengers. However, these passengers have burst into the loudest and most dramatic applause that I have ever heard and I am the one hooting the loudest. I am dancing, punching the air and literally shaking hands and kissing everybody around me. It is at this point that I spot the sexy Norwegian girl, who looks me in the eye, holds out her arms and bursts out crying whilst enveloping me. I am so excited by the landing that I only take a cursory glance at her buxom breasts.
From here on in, we are mollycoddled by the airline, possibly through the fear of being sued. We are ushered through the airport by a team of staff, who are there to serve our every need. I am not sure what role these guys normally play but tonight they are here to kiss our arses. We are given telephone cards to ring our loved ones, we are taken to the presidential suite where we are given lots of nice food and most importantly we are plied with alcohol of every description. I ring my parents to inform them of the situation and then get on with the important business of getting drunk. We are told that a new plane will be ready for us in 4 hours and until then we will be wined and dined. I take full advantage of this situation and encourage the sexy Norwegian to join me in my quest to get inebriated. She does not take much encouragement and matches me beverage for beverage. By the time our new plane is ready to board, we are well and truly spannered. In fact, I don't think that there is one person boarding that plane that it is not spannered. The numbers boarding the new jumbo are seriously depleted. Through drunken eyes, I estimate that there are at least 30 percent of the original passengers missing and who can blame them?
The Norwegian girl wants to take a seat next to me and this is possible because the gay boys turn out to be amongst the absentee's. This fact, does not instill me with confidence. You can only imagine the fear that I feel as the plane takes off, a fear that is to stay with me for the until the alcohol takes control. On the plus side, the sexy Norwegian is clinging onto me for dear life, as we continue our mission to get plastered. I'm on the wine by now and heading for total meltdown. This is a bad mistake because I am a nervous and emotional wreck and in no mental state to handle vast amounts of alcohol, especially at high altitude. Before I know it, I'm a gibbering wreck and my libido has regained control. I'm all over the sexy Norwegian, who is still frozen in fear. However, it seems to be me that she is fearing and not the plane crashing. Now, I can see that the reader may think at this point that I am blatantly taking advantage of the poor girls state of mind but as I see it, the alcohol is taking advantage of my state of mind.
I wake up and have no clue where I am. I feel something below me and realise that I am in fact sprawled all over the Norwegian girl who is lying there with her eyes wide open. I have no idea, at what point I fell asleep but it would appear that sleep was not on my mind when this eventually happened. I quickly disentangle myself and try to act like nothing has happened. The Norwegian does not utter a word to me now until we depart at Amsterdam airport. As, we collect our bags at the carousel, I bid her farewell and she grunts something at me as she sprints off towards customs control. I gather my bag and make my way as slowly as possible to the train station, in fear that our paths will cross once more.