With its off white walls, dreary and dull surroundings and the pungent smell of some godforsaken chemicals, the room felt excruciatingly depressing. I had to summon all my reserves of strength to keep my eyes open. But all I could see was medical equipment strewn around. With my arms and legs covered in plaster and me on a saline drip, it seemed as though I was fighting a losing battle with life.
As soon I held on to the bed to get up, I felt a shooting sensation in my arms. It seemed as though 10 needles had been inserted into my body without any warning whatsoever. All I could do was scream my lungs out for help. And almost immediately, a stream of doctors rushed into the ward to regulate my breathing which had spiralled out of control.
How had I reached a hospital? What had happened to me? Am I going to survive this? More than a day had passed without me even being conscious. The last I remember, I was flying to New York with my family. Despite my desperate condition, I was still trying to figure out the exact turn of events. I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t realize someone else enter the room.
“Hi Matt. I am Adrian from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). The doctors didn’t want me to be here so fast lest you suffer a fatal attack. But the situation is so desperate that I need your help. I rushed into the room as soon as you gained consciousness.
You are the luckiest man on the planet right now. Surviving that sort of a plane crash with just minor injuries, you really got to be God. There were just 4 others who we were able to rescue from that ill-fated jet. But all of them are fighting for their lives.
I am not sure if you can hear me. But if you can, please tell me what happened that night on Rossia Airlines Flight 204.”
At a height of 6 feet, Adrian seemed to walk with the air of a man on a mission. He didn’t bother exchanging any pleasantries rather just came straight to the point.
As soon as I heard what he said, I closed my eyes out of shock and surprise rather than anything else. Everyone around me was screaming for help; the cabin was filling fast with thick black smoke making everyone cough incessantly; my daughter and wife were crying out and finally there was an eerie silence. The visions went by in such a flurry that I didn’t have even a second to react. I was jolted back to the present, hearing the cries of my family for help.
I wanted to ask Adrian about my wife and daughter. I wanted to see their faces. I wanted to know whether they were alive and well. There was so much I wanted to say but words were conspicuous by their absence. Seeing my animated reaction, Adrian realized and signalled out to me that everything was fine. Only then did I calm down a bit. Probably they were also among the ones to have miraculously survived the crash.
48 hours ago, Kensington (London)
“Hey honey. Have you finished packing all the stuff for the trip?”
Laura and I were the quintessential small English family, happy to get on with their daily lives. We met each other while at college but there weren’t too many sparks which flew. Both of us were happy with music, dance, partying; all what a youngster would love to do. We had a few common friends and so we hung out pretty regularly with each other but that was it. She had the ability to liven up even the most serious of discussions with her witty humour keeping everyone smiling. It was only after college that we ever thought of marriage as an option.
Before things could even sink in, we had Annie. She was a little bundle of joy who came to our house replete with enthusiasm and chirpiness. Taking her to school, ensuring she got what she wanted, making sure she slept and ate well – her responsibilities took all our time. But it brought all of us even closer. Annie’s entry had finally completed the puzzle of a small and happy family.
Despite 10 years of our marriage, Laura didn’t look her age one bit. In fact people found me to be aging faster than her. It just makes me exclaim, “What to do if your wife takes away half your age?”
“Yeah darling! Everything’s almost done. When will you be back? We are leaving for the airport in just an hour or so and you still working. Why do you procrastinate too much? You know I don’t like doing everything at the last minute, don’t you?
“Sorry honey. I just got held up in some last minute rush. Since we are going for a three week trip, I needed to delegate the work to everyone. I should be home in thirty.”
Off late my 9-6 job had become a 9-10 one. Being the financial controller at Citi was as stressful as things could go, but obviously who would make Laura understand. Moreover weird explanations like ‘organizational restructuring’ for the stressful long hours increased my irritation even further.
44 hours ago, London Heathrow
“The airport is so big, daddy.” Annie looked at the Heathrow in awe.
“Yes my child. It is one of the biggest in the world.”
We had checked in our luggage and were sitting at gate number 35 in Terminal 3. Heathrow seemed much more crowded than usual. It was nearing Christmas and there were many like us who were rushing home for holidays.
“Look at the crowd. I am sure we are going to have a long night. All the flights are delayed because of the snowfall.” I was concerned that it was going to be a while before we took off.
“I haven’t seen such snow in the last 20 years. It’s just chaos everywhere.” Laura was right. The snow was piling up by the minute and this wasn’t going to be good news for flight crews.
Covered with threatening dark clouds, London hadn’t looked this gloomy in a long time. It had been snowing continuously for the past 2 days and one couldn’t miss the inches of snow accumulated on the planes and the runway.
“I want to play with Hanna.” Annie was all of 6 years but as naughty as a kid could be. Hearing both of us, she began to sulk. We were going home to New York and she had already made plans to play with her cousins. As they say, kids will always be kids.
“Awww, my little one. I am sure you can play with them soon. It’s just a small delay we may have. Don’t worry. Till then your daddy will play with you.” And with a smile I took her in my arms.
“Daddy, why are there so many planes here? Some of them are small while some are so big. Each one of them has different designs. Why is it so?” She looked out of the viewing gallery every bit like my inquisitive little darling.
For all the aviation enthusiasts, the viewing gallery was the place to be. One could see a plane arrive and take off so frequently with such clockwork precision that if the person moved away for a couple of minutes, he would miss a couple of landings or take – offs.
“My baby, there are more than 200 countries in the world. Each one of them has an airline of their own. Obviously, if each has a similar design wouldn’t you and I get confused as to which one belongs to which country?”
“200 countries!!??” Her reaction was more of a shock than surprise. But I went on.
“Are Kit Kat, Toblerone, Snickers, Mars etc. all the same?” I immediately looked at her hoping to elicit a response.
“No daddy. How can they be same? I hate Snickers but Toblerone is my all – time favourite.” She couldn’t hide her glee hearing the names of chocolates.
“Exactly! Similarly all planes are not the same. Did you get something in that small little head of yours?”
“Yeah I got it very well daddy. But I want chocolates now.”
“Hahaha! When will you learn Matt? You know she has chocolates as though she’s having a full meal. And all you remind her about is chocolates. Huh!” Annie did survive on a pretty good diet of chocolates. Laura wasn’t wrong at all in reprimanding me. But then I loved my daughter so much that pampering her a bit was par for the course.
38 hours ago, Inside Rossia Airlines Flight 204
“Matt, we are never going to book Rossia again. They don’t take off on time. They don’t provide adequate reasons on what’s the problem. They don’t provide food to the passengers. Their flight crew behaves as though they are giving charity. What are we really paying the money for?” Laura was frustrated and rightly so.
“Relax Laura. I am sure the rest of the journey would be fine.” I put my palm on hers to comfort her.
“It better be lest I spoil their happiness midway itself. Anyway, I am planning to complain as soon as we reach New York.”
“You should. But calm down now. We are finally on our way to a well-deserved holiday.” I was happy at the thought of being away from my pressure cooker life at work for quite a while.
After a delay of four hours, we finally began to taxi down the runway much to our relief.
“Cabin crew – Please take your seats for take-off.” With the customary announcement by the pilot, the heavy duty engines of the aircraft began rumbling as the plane sped down the runway. Frightened at the heightened decibel levels, Annie held my arms tightly.
Within seconds we were airborne.
“Why can’t I see anything out of the window daddy?” Annie was trying her best to identify the different sights in London below.
“The light snow has reduced the visibility quite a bit dear.”
Within ten minutes, the flight climbed to its assigned altitude. Looking at the unstable weather outside, the pilots decided to keep the seat belts sign switched on.
Almost immediately, the aircraft encountered severe turbulence. It was so severe that the cabin crew ordered all the passengers to stay in their seats. Annie got really scared but I held on to her tightly. Laura didn’t seem all that perturbed knowing well that once we ride the rough weather, things would be fine. Though the turbulence lasted for all of 5 minutes, it shook all of us.
Just then as everyone thought the worst was over, the plane’s nose suddenly pitched up. Before we could even understand this weird manoeuvre by the pilot, all of us started experiencing strong gravitational forces. Though the flight became stable soon enough, the plane suddenly banked to the right at a pretty dangerous angle.
Everyone had gone back to their seats. The only noise around was the sound of the engines. It seemed as though the calm before the storm was here. Within seconds, the bank turned into a steep dive as the plane started plunging at breakneck speed towards the Earth.
I could see fear in Laura and Annie’s eyes. For the first time in my life, I was scared. I was scared to die. I was scared to lose my entire family in one instant. I was scared to see death coming in front. In the final minutes, all three of us held on to each other as tight as we could.
The overhead lockers opened up letting out the entire luggage onto the flight deck. All of us experienced twice the rate of gravitational forces. Some of the passengers who weren’t wearing seat belts were thrown up towards the ceiling. The entire cabin was filled with cries and screams of passengers as the plane spiralled out of control.
And then, there was a sudden silence.
“Your plane crashed in the Irish Sea just beyond Cardiff. If you guys had flown further into the Atlantic, survival was out of the question. It’s miracle that you survived such a tragedy with just a few injuries.” Adrian seemed amazed to know of my condition.
But I wanted to see my family. Their love was what had kept me alive through it all. In all this, the pain I was going through was the last thing on my mind. After a lot of protesting, I was finally taken in a wheelchair to another room hoping to hug and kiss my wife and little one.
There was a huge crowd of people moaning and weeping next to what seemed like dead bodies of their loved ones. It was a surreal sight to behold. My prayers for my family increased manifold as I crossed all of them.
“Matt! Your wife is in coma and she has very serious injuries to her skull. We are not sure if we can save her. We tried our best to save your daughter but…” And the voice of the doctor trailed off. Or probably he was speaking, but I couldn’t hear a thing.
Everything else ceased to exist. All our moments spent together as a happy family whizzed past in front of my eyes. All of a sudden, I didn’t seem to even have an ounce of energy. Everything went blank. My entire world had collapsed to bits in a matter of seconds.
24 hours ago, I had a good job, a happy family and a satisfied life. And today it seemed as though all that was a fairy-tale. In just a few minutes, all the life had been sucked out of my system.