Light Notes: Amsterdam-Seattle flight emergency not on itinerary

Posted by Lucy Luginbill on April 6, 2014 

The view of blizzard conditions from Micah Smith's window as Delta flight 233 approaches Baffin Island.

COURTESY OF MICAH SMITH

Something wasn’t right. Delta 233 was tipping from side to side and the normalcy of a flight out of Amsterdam felt anything but routine.

“The flight would dip to the left and then to the right, then it’d slow down and then speed up,” Micah Smith remembers about his February 14 trip scheduled to land in Seattle. “There was vibration, but I could tell it wasn’t turbulence.”

And then Airbus 330A took an unscheduled turn.

Because Micah was seated in row 10, he not only could see a computerized flight map but also the pilot when he emerged minutes later from the cockpit.

“He was clinching his jaw and then tapping his forehead against the edge (of the galley) while he talked to the flight attendants,” the “50-something” recalls. “I could tell it was an act of tension.”

Uneasiness spread as Micah glanced at his two worried seatmates. What happened next when the pilot returned to the cockpit is any passenger’s nightmare.

“The captain came on and said ‘We’ve got mechanical problems,’” Micah remembers.

Not only was the starboard flap stuck in the upright position, Micah says, the malfunction had used extra fuel. There was no way the plane could make it to a major Canadian city to land. Their only option was to use a landing strip first constructed during World War II.

Even more troubling, it would be more than an hour before the plane could reach the airfield located on the coast of Northeast Canada, just across from the tip of Greenland and below the Arctic Circle.

A cabin filled with 235 passengers fell silent.

“I have never had more of a feeling of being out of control,” Micah admits. “There was fear and the thought that this plane may not make it.”

Fresh from a mission to help the poor in India, it was disquieting for this founder of Global Gateway Network to contemplate what could go wrong during the long hour ahead.

“On the outside I looked calm, but on the inside I wasn’t,” this former Richland, Wash., church pastor admits. “I prayed Psalm 91, ‘Lord I’m asking you to put your angels around this plane.’”

When the wheels finally touched down at the remote Iqaluit Airport on Baffin Island, there was applause all around in spite of the minus-42 Arctic blast. All was right once again.

But for this man of faith, even if his journey had ended at heaven’s gate, all would still have been right.

If you have a story idea for Light Notes, email lluginbill@tricityherald.com. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLuginbill

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