By Wynne VanBuskirk
It was Friday afternoon, and my husband, Guy, our daughter Eliza, and I had just taken off from Addison Airport in our little 4-seater plane. There is always a lot to tend to when traveling, and our moods were somewhat unsettled as we were running a little later than planned. We were headed to Iowa where Eliza would be enrolled in boarding school as an incoming freshman. If everything went according to plan, we would be touching down there in about 3 hours and 15 minutes.
Eliza, who tends toward airsickness, was already groggy from her Dramamine, while I was back and forth between excitement and appreciation for her getting this opportunity and reluctance to leave my first-born child in the hands of relative strangers. Guy, an accomplished pilot, was focused on the task of getting us up to our cruising altitude, while conversing first with Addison control tower, and then the Air Traffic Controller from Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center.
It soon became apparent that what Guy was saying was not being understood by the controller, as she kept asking him to repeat himself. Finally, we heard the words,” Be advised that your radio is broken.”
I felt a little butterfly in my stomach, and thought about getting nervous, but before I had a chance, Guy said to me, “We need to change headsets.”
I ripped my headset off of my head and placed it on his as he exchanged his with me.
“Ok,” I thought, “that wasn’t so bad… I guess that was an easy problem to fix.” Then he reached over to my control wheel to press the mic button.
“Is that better?” he asked?
“Affirmative, you are coming in loud and clear now.” I breathed a sigh of relief.
the plane started vibrating intensely
At an altitude of 2000 feet, Guy was wrapping things up with the controller when the engine started making a strange sound and the plane started vibrating intensely. He reached again to the mic button on my control wheel and said “We’re headed back to Addison.”
At this point, I knew that something was wrong. As a musician, my ears are finely tuned to the sound of that engine. I had never heard it sound so rough. Guy, being a pilot (which pretty much requires having nerves of steel) never let on that there was anything to be concerned about, but I knew.
“Are you declaring an emergency?” asked the air traffic controller?
There was a moment of pause before Guy answered, wherein which I can only imagine that he was trying to figure out how to declare an emergency without causing total panic in the cabin.
“Yeah, sure, we will go ahead and declare an emergency… because we will need to land with priority.”
“Affirmative,” said the air traffic controller. “We will roll the trucks for you.”
The most surreal 3.5 minutes of my life…
So, began what was probably the most surreal 3.5 minutes of my life. It was so beautiful up in the air. The sun was shining brightly, the clouds were fluffy and white. Meanwhile, that engine was complaining loudly and the vibration was intense. I have the utmost confidence in my husband’s abilities as a pilot, but only a few years ago, my sister lost her husband, another very competent pilot, in a plane accident due to mechanical issues. Guy, I trust; engines and such, not so much.
“Well,” I thought silently, as I took a deep breath, “I have never been happier in my life… I have reached a point at which love permeates pretty much every aspect of my life. I have no regrets. If this is the end, then I just hope it is over quickly.” Then, I sat back and waited, in gratitude for all that I have in life.
Meanwhile, Guy was turning the plane around and doing his best to stay over golf courses, in case we did not make it back to Addison Airport. The engine continued to run rough, and the plane continued to shake.
“So…are we gonna die?” queried Eliza from the back seat.
“No, no… even if the engine stops, I can safely land the plane,” Guy answered.
I believed him…mostly.
There was not much said during the next two minutes or so. I could see Guy looking at all of the indicators, searching for clues about what was happening, and Eliza seemed quite excited that we would be making an emergency landing. Strangely calm, I sat in gratitude.
Eventually, we touched down at Addison Airport, and Guy made a beautiful landing. The firetrucks were waiting for us, as promised, but thankfully we did not need them. We taxied to the hangar, and hopped out of the plane, all of us a mix of adrenaline and befuddlement at what had just happened.
The firetrucks were waiting
Upon opening the cowling, it was determined that we had a cracked cylinder. An experienced mechanic came over to look at it, looked up at Guy, then at me, and said, “All I can say is you are one lucky family.”
Evidently, it is extremely rare for a cylinder to crack, and even more rare for an engine to continue running when they do. Yet, somehow, this one had. We shared a hug, a kiss, and a knowing glance. Since we met, our lives have been so richly blessed in so many ways. Good things just happen. Here it was again…our angels watching over us and keeping us safe. We took a moment to acknowledge the miracle of the situation.
“I guess we are driving to Iowa,” I said.
“Looks like it,” he said.
So, we loaded up the car and began the over 12-hour drive. It may have been less scenic than flying, but I got to spend some more precious time with Eliza. Every minute was filled with love, laughter, gratitude, and, forbearance. I mean, Eliza IS a teenager…but that is another story altogether.
Wynne VanBuskirk is a mother, wife, violinist, personal development coach, hypnosis practitioner and teacher of mind and body integration. She loves making lemonade out of lemons, helping people improve their lives, and writing. Wynne can be reached through her website wynnevanbuskirk.com