90 minutes ago I boarded a plane heading for home. The left engine failed immediately on takeoff. We heard bangs and then a couple of minutes punctuated by "chank-chank-chank-chank-chank!" We thought the landing gear was broken. Everyone knew something was wrong. We weren't climbing, and we weren't going very fast. This was followed by several beeps from the intercom system, the kind that they make when they want you to sit down. The plane started veering hard to the right, making turns. We knew something was seriously wrong and they were trying to head back to the airport. Then the stewardess ran up and down the aisle. She got on the intercom and told us, voice shaking, to prepare for an emergency landing, to put away all sharp and loose objects, and look for the nearest emergency exit. They had us read the emergency card in the seat pocket, and explained how to brace for a crash. Then the stewardess said, "You will know to do this when I yell 'Brace for impact'." (Yell?) Remember, I thought the landing gear was broken. I was positive our plane was going to crash and we were going to die. I watched for oxygen masks to appear.
A few minutes later the pilot told us: one of the engines failed, and we were returning to the airport. In retrospect, the "chank-chank" noise was due to the pilots trying to restart the engine. They circled for a while, presumably to empty all the fuel. Then they told us they would make a regular landing, which we did. "You'll see some emergency vehicles, they will just follow us." True enough, there was a fire truck right outside our window.
Immediately after deplaning I went straight to the first bar and drank a shot of rum to settle myself. Trite, I know, but effective, I think.
In talking with other passengers, I heard different stories. One person said that he could see the flames come out of the engine - he immediately hit the flight-attendant call button, which the flight attendants disregarded. Well, of course. He was going to surprise his wife for their anniversary. He got a refund instead. One passenger seems to think that most other people are overblowing the whole thing. There were sparks, not flames. He thinks people are going to try to play it up to get five-hundred dollar vouchers, and claims things were said in a different order than I recall them. Another woman walked past us and said there were giant flames, and he said "Not flames. Sparks."
They immediately set us up with a new plane, which should leave shortly. I went to the airline customer service saying that there was no way I wanted to fly on their airline -- what else was available? Nothing is available that is either soon, or direct, and I never wanted to be home so bad in my life, so I'll just get on the replacement plane. Every time they talk about the new flight, 685, I keep thinking "685-b".
I'm sure that when all was said and done, this was a routine problem. But it was scary as shit, no joke. Even though the stewardess was scared (who wouldn't be?) I'm grateful for the crew's skill, we're all safe.
Woman: This was worse than surgery!
Me: Then I am really looking forward to surgery.
[ LA Times article | Buzz ]
Update: Added additional content.