Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Have you ever tried to push an airplane? They are heavy.
This was a charter flight traveling from Nassau to a remote island in the Exumas. It also happened to be carrying my husband.
I had waited for the plane to arrive from a safe vantage point outside of the chain link fence and watched it silently glide in and touch down. The plane began to slow as it passed mid-runway and suddenly I saw the pop of the tire and the plane lurched to the right. The tire flopped to the side of the rim and the plane came to a halt on the active runway.
I was aware that there was another flight due to arrive around that time as well, so we needed to act quickly and figure out how to move this plane off the airstrip. I drove the Polaris out to the plane as the passengers stepped out, the pilot scratching his head.
"If that tire blew any sooner, we would've ran right off the runway and we might have had big problems" the pilot surmised.
My eyes widened as I hugged my husband, thankful that no one was scythed. This was our second brush with death with this charter company. One of my first experiences flying in this same airplane was one of those moments that you hope you never have. We were about halfway from Nassau on our way to the Exumas and I noticed from the front passenger seat that black oil was leaking from the right engine. It started as a slow trickle and then began to gush as it splattered all over the side of the aircraft. I tapped the captain on the shoulder and pointed to the pending incident to my right. He shook his head and simply stated "That doesn't look good." We began to turn back towards Nassau as he announced "Folks! We have a slight problem, so as a precautionary, we're going to turn off the right engine and land on one engine." It was the longest 9 minutes of my life as we made our way back to Nassau. Heart pounding, palms sweaty, I tried to play it cool with several other passengers sitting directly behind me. The international runway was cleared for our arrival and ambulances and fire trucks met us after we landed. As we taxied back to the hangar, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and realized I was shaking uncontrollably. About 30 minutes later I was on a different aircraft heading back out to the island.
Back to the tire incident - the plane needed to be removed from the runway with efficiency, but of course, being a remote island with none of the typical airport facilities, we all had to jump in and give it a good manual heave-ho. We pushed the plane about 300 ft before stopping to take a break, the hot sun beating down on us and our hands already pierced from the sharp edge of the wing.
Then I had the brilliant idea of using the Polaris to tow the plane. A few of the boys ran off in search of a tow rope while we caught our breath. They returned and we tethered up the plane to the tow hitch. Being the brains of the operation, I was able to get out of doing any additional pushing and played photographer instead.
The pilot had to wait for another plane to bring a replacement tire in and he was back on the road within a few hours.
I have since made a silent pact with myself to avoid airplanes as much as possible. A difficult feat in this island nation, but I'm holding out and putting in a request to Santa for a boat for Christmas.