Monday, 1 May 2017

Fear of Mountain Flying

We’re hurtling towards ground earth in a winged-tin-can, amid the ebb and flo of an unpredictable southerly when the wind shear* attacks. Full whack. We’re forced sideways. And back. Up a little. Down. Under pressure. The wings shudder. It’s not your regular turbulent sensation. Nor a skittery cross-wind. This low to the ground. Runway approaching. It’s what the actual fark … can a jet-air-plane survive this? Are we breaking up, chief?

Daughter 16, clutches my hand. Our palms glued by sweat. Two sets of knuckles whiten. As does my hair, several more shades of pale. Bugger.

Then. I feel the nose raise. I blurt out like a child at a carnival with a helium balloon, ‘We’re going up!’ I’m that relieved. I think of the captain in the cockpit, making that split second decision. Abort. Abort. After experiencing all of the above, in close-up 3D. Speaking to his first officer. Then both of them ramming those levers back. Full throttle. We climb. Jet engines scream your safe. Powering up. Up. Up through the cloud layer back into clear pale blue.

The air hostess sat facing backwards on the jumpseat attempts to look calm. Her face does not lie. And her voice quivers through her telephone-intercom. Oddly at a time when you’d expect to get the most instructions, like those repeated meal choices for the frightfully-dim-and-hard-of-hearing. You get not much.

‘As you will note we have been unable to land in Queenstown … and the captain is going about. He will make an announcement … when he can.’

Guess he’s defogging his Aviators while his co-pilot talks to the tower. The woman in front pokes her head into the seat gap and asks, ‘You okay?’ I nod. I think to tell my daughter about Air NZ’s great safety record. (Currently ranked number 2 in the world). But we’re in the mountains. The first sight I saw when the Tasman sea turned to land was the snowy peak of Mt Earnslaw nestled in the razor sharp backbone of the Southern Alps. Instead, I remember being at my Nana’s house, 42 Guthrie Road, Havelock North, when the Erebus crash came on the TV news. I also remember the two stuffed bambis that sat aside the gas tiled fireplace at the house over the road, that always made my child self ask. Why?

Meanwhile, we seem to be flying about in heaven. It’s so calm up here. Just fluffy cloud carpet and blue. My new happy place.

The plane levels and I’m willing it to continue on. It seems to be heading south anyway. South and away from the thrill and danger of the adrenalin capital of New Zealand. Who wouldn’t rather an overnight roadie in a smelly bus. Than DEATH. We’re in a holding pattern.

Daughter 16, seat-chats to her bestie three rows ahead. I luv you. You ok? Fuk. Freaky. I’m so scared. I don’t think we can land. Tell Jane I luv her. I luv you back Mol ... Tell Tania I luv her.

Tell everybody I love them.

I need a distraction. I put on headphones and tap Listen - NZ Music Week pops up. Scribe. Che Fu. My toes bop. Jon Toogood’s voice comes on and tells me to play the Adults, full volume. I obey.

The captain interrupts, ‘Due to wind shear I had to abort the landing and go about. We’ll see if the plane behinds us gets in. Then we’ll have another attempt.’

I want to shout back, ‘Hey I’m good with a night Christchurch. Or where evs. Totally cool. Shall we just bring this baby in tomoz ...’

Meanwhile jet engines slow. We’re descending take two. Really???? In for another landing attempt? I think about dying again, just a little bit. I want to practice the brace position. But I can’t appear lily-livered and cause my teenage charge more alarm. I’ve always wondered if I could get my actual head and upper body to hug my knees in the seated position. There’s always the head to the chair in front. Why didn’t I watch the safety video more closely? The nearest exit may have to be the one behind me. The nose may be smooshed at this rate. Daughter and I link arms. Interlace ten fingers tightly. The plastic armrest digs in, I don’t move. I push my head into the headrest, uncross my legs and place my feet hip width apart, squarely on the floor. I look out the window.

All the passengers are silent. Waiting to be held in the wind’s erratic force. Hearts pounding. Mouths dry. It doesn’t happen. We lower. Lower and land quite smoothly. No-one claps. Or screams. I kiss my daughter. ‘We’re home.’ And text my husband. ‘FM we landed.’

As I exit flight NZ830 Sydney to Queenstown, 30 April 2017, a tall, sandy-haired, ruddy-faced (possibly due to captain-stress) captain steps out of the cockpit. I tell him, ‘Thank you, Captain. I’ve lived here for 24 years and have never done a touch-n-go in a jet before.’ And laugh like a woman who’s diced with death and won.

--> The captain looks quite bewildered himself. He doesn’t scratch his head, but he says. ‘I’ve never had to do a go-about here before either.’
Fingers crossed that was a oncer for both of us. 

*"Wind shear - variation in wind velocity occurring along a direction at right angles to the wind's direction and tending to exert a turning force."


  1. where was Jock Crave when he was needed

    1. Ha well yes, Winston! At the very least, Jock Crave could have been on the tarmac videoing this terrifying moment for us. The customs agent I blabbered away to said he'd watched it. He looked pale.


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