Norman heard another passenger laughing but knew it was just
a survival mechanism. If one did not laugh at their impending crash into
the coast of Tasmania, and disintegration in a fireball of engine fuel,
then the only other option was to scream with terror. He tried to curl
his body tighter and feared his spine was about to snap. He held his breath,
swallowed hard against the pressure inside his ears, and shut his eyes
against the chance of glimpsing through a window the rushing approach of
land. If only the pilot would turn towards the water where they all had
a better chance of survival. A change of course, however, required time,
altitude and sufficient control over the planeís steering mechanism, all
of which Norman assumed were no longer available or dwindling fast. He
felt himself violently shaken sideways and braced for the noise of the
undercarriage scrapping along the tarmac; veering suddenly off the runway;
a wing snagging on a patch of grass; the sirens of fire engines; cries
from passengers as legs were broken, arms shredded and bodies cut in two.
Norman could not believe he had complained at check-in about having to
pay an extra twenty-five dollars to secure a bulkhead seat. Such a tiny
sum was nothing when compared with sitting in one of the safest parts of
the plane, closest to the exit, with the added protection of a nearby wing.
He could not have bent so far forward if he had been seated behind someone
else. With so little space between the rows Norman would have had to brace
against the back of the seat in front of him just like the drawings in
the emergency manual, which made no attempt to conceal that the top of
his head would remain unprotected as the roof of the aircraft was torn
Catering trolleys clattered and rattled as the cabin tilted. The silence
of the other passengers Norman took to be a sign that land was near and
it would soon all be over. He would probably feel no pain. One minute conscious,
the next Ö nothing. Memories of his brother, dead more than twenty-eight
years, suddenly appeared, then were overrun by the sound of the engines
whining in a futile attempt at acceleration. The wheels were lowered, making
a noise similar to barking dogs. It offered no reassurance to Norman as
he knew the pilots were required to follow landing procedure irrespective
of their chances of survival. If only he had caught a different flight
then none of this would be happening, well not to him at least. Norman
dispatched mental apologies to everyone he had ever wronged, and wanted
to hold the hand of the woman sitting next to him in a gesture of solidarity
as they faced their demise together. Except his body was rigid with fear.
Fixed into a ball isolated from all contact with the world except for the
seatbelt painfully pressing into his groin and the shaking aeroplane that
surrounded him. The anticipation of impact was almost too much to bear.
Normanís breathing grew rapid, and he could sense a scream rising in his
throat. What did it matter if he displayed cowardice in the final seconds
of his life? No one would live to tell. In a moment everyone on board was
going to die whether they has been brave or not.
Excuse me Sir.
Norman felt a hand gently pressed to the middle of his back and opened
his eyes to a flight attendant with ruthlessly plucked eyebrows and a thick
coating of make-up that was beginning to crack. Her hair was tied so tightly
behind her head that the concern she attempted to express looked closer
to a case of IBS. Behind her, other passengers were glancing in his direction
as they retrieved their luggage from the overhead lockers.
The fasten seatbelts sign has been turned off, the flight attendant
said. Itís time to leave the aircraft.