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The woman next to me burst out, “I’m pregnant, five months. What am I going to do?” The man on the other side was calm. I looked at a picture of my family on my iPod for a while, thinking about all the possibilities, then turned it off and practiced the best yoga breathing possible and prayed to God.
A CHANGE IN THE FLIGHTPLAN
Flight 292 Passenger Michael Plen Recalls How He Spent His Wednesday Afternoon
We left Burbank as normal—10 minutes in, the pilot said there was a light indicating the landing gear had a problem. After a few minutes he instructed us that we were going to do a low flyby of the Long Beach Airport, where Jet Blue had their base and a good assessment could be made. After the low flyby, the pilot stated that three different sources had said we had a serious problem: the front gear was down , but it was turned in a 90 degree position, so we would have to return to LAX.

About 10 minutes later, the DirecTV sets in everyone’s seats started popping up with a plane on it—US!!! Fox News had heard pilot communication, and suddenly we were watching the next breaking news story: “N.Y.- bound Jet Blue Flight 292 to make an emergency crash landing.” I watched and listened for a very short time, but turned it off as I couldn’t take all the commentators speculating on the many different ways we could die…or live!!! It was so surreal. Then a long-range lens actually showed the damaged front landing gear, and that’s when you could tell people were really getting nervous.

The captain instructed us that we’d be flying around awhile to burn off much of the fuel we had for our N.Y. trip…and to determine the best strategy for landing. It was mostly calm; some people cried. There were no cellphone abuses. I think one girl got up and got stoned in the bathroom—that smell is unmistakable.

The woman next to me burst out, “I’m pregnant, five months. What am I going to do?” The man on the other side was calm. I looked at a picture of my family on my iPod for a while, thinking about all the possibilities, then turned it off and practiced the best yoga breathing possible and prayed to God. I also tried sending telepathic messages to my wife, child and parents. I asked God to send me a sign, and oddly, at that exact moment, my BlackBerry buzzed in my pants. I thought, “What does that mean? Is it a good sign or a bad sign? As it turned out, it was a text message from my wife telling me she loved me. Fortunately, neither she nor my parents had been watching TV and knew nothing about what was going on.

The three-hour wait was pure internal torture. With that much time to assess one’s life and possibilities, it’s amazing how many different scenarios unfold, and how you inevitably come to terms with the fact that your time may be up in the next few minutes, that you may be facing a fireball or just be lucky enough to walk away.

The entire time, Jet Blue’s team were optimistic, in control and comforting, showing us all the ways to get out and how to assume the crash position, as well as discussing fire possibilities. Bags were moved to the back, as were people with weight, to keep the front of the plane light. Then, when it was time to land, “Prepare for landing at LAX,” said the captain as we watched downtown go by, then the Forum…and then it was “Assume crash positions—BRACE, BRACE, BRACE!!!” The TV’s had been turned off 15 minutes earlier, and in crash position you couldn’t see out the window. “BRACE, BRACE, BRACE,” the flight attendants kept yelling…but when the back wheels hit, it felt like the softest butterfly landing ever. The plane rolled down the runway on its back tires for a long time, it seemed…but we all knew the inevitable was imminent. What would happen when the front landing gear hit the ground? It was very quiet—just the roar of the plane and the attendants’ instructions, and then …the plane dropped its nose…and we kept moving WITHOUT the plane cracking its struts—AMAZING!!!!!!

The smell of burned rubber and metal crept in, but it was not harsh, and the plane kept moving forward without cracking…and then it came to a stop. Fire engines descended on the plane. “There is no fire,” the attendants said. Later, on the news, I would see that indeed the tires had caught on fire, but there was nothing that prompted the Fire Dept. to spray us down.

The cabin BURST into tremendous cheering, high fives and laughter as all realized the captain and crew had done a genius job in escaping death. I THANKED GOD…we survived!! I called my wife and said I was safe and alive and I loved her and my son, Everette. All she could hear was yelling in the background and did not know what had happened. Her earlier text had been a love message sent precisely at the time I was trying to send them telepathic love. I told her to turn on the news—that’s where they saw the flight fiasco I had just been through. We were all allowed to walk off the plane with our luggage and were brought to an area where we were given options: another flight to N.Y. from Long Beach, a hotel, just pick up your bags or medical assistance. I wasn’t in the mood to go to N.Y., and it was evident where my priorities were—to get home to my family. Two hours later, after drug and bomb sniffing dogs hadchecked every bag on the tarmac, I got into a car and went home.

It all felt like a bad reality show, a dream that could be dismissed. When I got home, I hugged my wife and kid hard because I was lucky that I could still be in their lives. We watched the news and I saw what everyone else had been seeing, and that’s when it became more frightening. And with today’s newspaper stories, it all began to sink in. It TRULY was more scary after the event than it had ever been during it. DirectTV on the flight really made it a horrific experience. Funnily enough, I got a call from AEG’s Tommy Nast, who said he had just come off the plane from NY on Jet Blue that I had gotten on. He had just nearly escaped a freaky experience.

I thank God…but it was simply patience, calm, serenity, prayer and optimism that got us through it.

Plen, 9/22/05

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