Flight plans altered after birds strike jetliner

I almost needed that obituary I wrote for myself.

Writing about it before I left on vacation was clearly tempting fate.

Obviously this column proves I don’t need it yet, but my trip home from a Middle East cruise did have a challenge that created a worry-filled hour.

British Airways Flight 549 took off from Rome heading for London, where a connecting flight to Las Vegas should have carried me home April 15.

Not long after takeoff, the engine on the right side of the plane started shaking. Violently. After a short bit, the shaking stopped.

Ever been in a plane with a fair number of excitable Italians? It wasn’t easy to maintain my calm, and the Italians didn’t seem to try.

The attendants couldn’t explain what happened but offered big smiles and water as calming devices. I must praise them. Not one of them looked a bit concerned, unlike the majority of passengers. They all deserve Academy Award nominations.

Then the pilot came on and said the plane had “technical difficulties.” And the crew was working on them. Not long after that, he announced the plane was returning to Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. Without further explanation, the plane began circling.

Across the aisle from me, an Italian woman had moved from her aisle seat to the middle seat to be closer to her husband in the window seat. I thought she might have grabbed his hand for comfort, but no, she sought a higher power — prayer.

Other couples became excited, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. An American teenager nearby showed a cat picture on her phone to her family, seemingly totally unconcerned.

As the circling dragged on, I tried to figure out what the technical difficulties might be to cause the violent shaking. I was traveling alone, so there was no one to bounce ideas off of. And what were they doing on the ground? Clearing runways? Preparing for a crash landing? Was the pilot circling to dump fuel or use up fuel?

During my flight, though it was an entirely different situation, I couldn’t help but think of the 150 people in the Germanwings flight recently plunging to their deaths in the French Alps, and wonder about their final thoughts, their terror, their prayers.

Should I be writing my final words to my dad?

That seemed overdramatic. So I continued watching the people around me. Finally I put my passport holder around my neck, thinking it might make it easier for someone to identify my body if the worst happened. Then I thought to myself I had been quite stupid to write a column about my obit, when my obit might actually be needed.

Obviously it wasn’t.

The landing wasn’t even bumpy.

The woman across the aisle squeezed my hand as she left, smiling in relief. Perhaps her prayers had been answered.

The pilot stood by the door shaking hands, and when I asked if he had been dumping fuel, he said no. People rushing to get off the plane prevented further questions.

British Airways confirmed Tuesday it had been a bird strike.

A representative said the captain “made the decision to return to Rome as a precaution, following indications of a suspected technical problem. The aircraft landed safely in Rome. Upon inspection it was determined that a bird strike had occurred.”

Some now deceased birds had caused a thought-provoking hour for many people.

I returned to Las Vegas safely, just a day later. British Airways rebooked me to London and provided hotel reservations, transfers and food vouchers for those of us who missed our connections.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan called Friday to laughingly tell me he was working on quotes for my obit. I laughed along, but then told him he might have needed them for real.

This bird strike didn’t hurt anyone but the birds. Most of the time they don’t, although since 1988, more than 200 people worldwide have died as a result of wildlife strikes, according to a comprehensive article in Boeing’s Aero Magazine.

The most notable bird strike in recent times took place Jan. 15, 2009. A flock of geese caused both engines to fail not long after take off. The US Airways pilot is now a household name for his action. He landed in the Hudson River and 155 people were safely evacuated.

Remember Chesley Sullenberger?

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Thursdays. Email her at jmorrison@reviewjournal.com or leave a message at 702-383-0275. Find her on Twitter: @janeannmorrison

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