The sky was relatively clear and the inside of the aircraft seemed equally calm. There were some who were relaxed while most others were tired from a great trip on the Goan beaches. About 25 minutes into the journey, the captain began the descent into the Maximum City.
“Ladies and gentleman! We are now beginning our descent into Mumbai. The weather is cloudy with light rain. We expect to touchdown at about 6pm. I hope our crew has kept you comfortable throughout the journey. We thank you for flying with us and we hope you enjoy the rest of it as well.”
The captain had made his customary announcement and switched on the seat belt sign. The washrooms were a no-go zone from this moment onwards. The crew began to collect all the food waste and started to make preparations for touchdown.
This seemed like any other flight, millions of passengers take every single day. There was nothing seemingly unusual. Everyone was preparing for a busy week ahead. As the captain had mentioned, it started getting darker as we neared Mumbai. I could imagine the clouds looking menacingly at the pilots. By this time, the sun had disappeared behind the dark clouds hanging as far as my eyes could see.
As the aircraft flew into them, there was slight turbulence enough for people to realize that a bumpy ride awaited them. But I knew that turbulence by itself was pretty normal and not that serious to cause any tragedy. I sat back and closed my eyes to catch up on some well deserved sleep.
Every few minutes, the captain would either make a right or a left turn. Maybe, he was trying to avoid flying into extreme turbulence and discomforting all of us.
“Why is the plane moving from one side to another side in a weird fashion?” The co-passenger sitting on my right was travelling by flight for only the third time in his life. He was jittery and woke me up with a start.
“It’s fine. The captain is just navigating through the clouds as you navigate your car through the traffic.”
He seemed convinced and relaxed for the moment.
As the minutes ticked by, the aircraft began going around in circles (in a holding pattern) over the city. Was it over the Arabian Sea? Was it over the city? Was there too much traffic at the airport? There were many questions swirling in my mind but nothing was really visible below the clouds.
“We should have landed by now. My head hurts from the constant about-turns, this plane is taking.” The young woman sitting behind me couldn’t take it anymore.
Then all of a sudden without warning, the captain took a sharp left turn which resulted in a few worried faces. The aircraft didn’t seem like it was going down but instead was making U-turns at about the same altitude.
Just when everyone seemed to have got their bearings, the aircraft hit some deadly turbulence causing it to shake violently from side to side. The strong downdraft pushed it downwards resulting in a yell or two from some of the passengers. Few of the overheard compartments opened up and some of the luggage flew around injuring a couple of passengers.
As I looked around, there were many nervous faces. Most of them were just holding on to their armrests while there was one who was actually praying.
The recent unfortunate air tragedies seemed to have had an effect on people. Some of them didn’t seem too confident.
“Are we off the radar? Are we going to crash?” The lady in front, asking no one in particular, referred to the disappeared Malaysian Airlines flight MH 370.
The pilot revved up the engines which was a signal that landing was imminent. But his cryptic one line message was confusing –
“Ladies and Gentleman, please stay in your seats.”
Everyone was already in their seats since the seat belt sign was switched on. Did the message have another meaning?
And finally, we got a glimpse of the city below as the aircraft came out of the clouds only to be lost in them again. That glimpse was enough to make one feel as if he or she were landing in Gotham City with the huge dark clouds looming all around. As we neared closer, the aircraft started getting battered by heavy rain and gale force winds with the captain tried his best to control it.
“I think we will be redirected to Pune considering the bad weather in Mumbai.” And so rang a well-informed voice.
“Are you crazy? I have work in Mumbai.” She couldn’t bear the thought of drifting away to another city.
“Look at the weather. Do you think we’ll able to land safely?”
Finally, as we neared the runway, my heart skipped a beat. Just as I thought we were entering short final, the aircraft went into a steep climb.
“What the fuck. Why the hell are we climbing again? This is insane.”
“Oh! Goodness me! Not again.”
“I can’t bear this torture anymore.”
The cabin was so loud with people cribbing about the missed approach that you could hear them over the sound of the engines rumbling outside. They weren’t prepared to continue like this for another hour. After 10 minutes of completing what looked like the go – around procedure, the pilot began the descent for a second time.
“Please land this god damn bloody thing this time.”
As the aircraft finally entered into short-final, many began praying.
200-180-160-100-50 – Touchdown!
I imagined the pilots going through the above routine as the wheels touched the ground. And after what seemed like eons, we finally came to a grinding halt. Everyone clapped and heaved a sigh of relief for the first time in more than an hour.
“Arey yaar hato aage se. Mujhe kitni der se lagi hai par yeh captain plane utarta hi nahi.” Hearing him, many had a hearty laugh.
But he was right. The situation was so tense that you could sympathize some of us hadn’t peed in our pants.
Note – Inspired by real events.