SHREWSBURY, Massachusetts – Have you ever had to face your own mortality? I don’t mean finding out that you have a terminal illness but rather that you’re about to be blown up by a bomb and can’t do anything to prevent it from happening. Have you ever wondered how you’d react in such a situation? Well I actually had that opportunity, and it was illuminating.
The company for which I worked at the time of the incident had its headquarters in Southeastern Pennsylvania and I frequently flew down for meetings and the like. Living in the Hartford, CT area meant a five hour drive as opposed to a 50 minute flight so the choice was obvious. On this particular afternoon many of the other passengers were frequent commuters like me, and being on a Friday we were returning home for the weekend.
With clear skies, most dozed until about 30 minutes into the flight when the pilot’s voice over the loud speaker interrupted the quite, informing us in a placid tone that a message had be written on one of the bathroom mirrors saying a bomb was on the plane. The captain assured us that it probably was a hoax but just in case, we had been cleared for a straight run to the Hartford airport and would be landing ahead of schedule.
That was an attention grabber to be sure, but what immediately struck me was how silent everyone remained… there were no gasps, no signs of alarm, nothing. I didn’t know if the others were in shock or disbelief or denial, but I just sat there marveling at everyone’s calm, not least of all my own. I always had wondered how I’d respond to a peril such as that and to be honest, I was kind of proud of my composure. Of course I didn’t believe the threat was genuine, but my thoughts immediately jumped to how my wife and children would fare if indeed it were true.
Taking stock of things I realized my house was in order, that my family would be able to retain their home and have enough funds to keep them afloat until the kids finished college. Of course my wife would have to go to work but she was never one to lie around anyway so that would pose no undue hardship. Content in that knowledge I felt an odd kind of serenity.
Looking out the window I could see we had swung over a sparsely populated area of Long Island, far to the east of New York City and the busy JFK and LaGuardia airports. As we started our descent into Bradley Field, the captain’s voice once again broke the silence, saying we’d shortly be landing and would deplane through a door in the tail. I didn’t know there even was such an exit, but he added that we were to leave all personal belongings at our seats and above all, to remain calm.
Now I had landed at Hartford’s airport many times but had no idea how big it really was, for when the plane came to a stop we were nowhere near the terminal buildings, in fact they couldn’t even be seen from our distance. We all quietly stood in the aisle waiting to disembark through the rear, but when the door opened an agent ran up the stairs and shouted “hurry, hurry, hurry.” We had all remained so at ease and suddenly this guy got us all excited.
Being speedily herded off the plane we stood in a tight group several hundred feet away in the chilly autumn air, and as the luggage was unloaded we had to identify our own for inspection. Of course no explosives were found. Next we were taken by bus to a dilapidated terminal that hadn’t been used for quite some time, and were then interrogated by FBI agents as to who we sat next to, did the person go to the bathroom, etc., and we also had to provide a sample of our handwritings. By the way, while all this was transpiring we were treated with respect and consideration, being offered coffee and even being allowed to call home to explain why our arrival was delayed.
And then came the scary part. One by one we were escorted back onto the plane to show where we had been seated and to get our belongings, but as I entered the cabin, there stood the biggest dog with the largest head I had ever seen. Never in my life was I so glad to be innocent, for if I had been guilty I would have soiled my shorts right then.
The guilty person must have been braver than me since he or she was never identified, at least not to my knowledge, and the 50 minute flight ended up taking nine hours, finally getting me home about 3AM the next morning. An interesting adventure but one that I could well have done without.