Sunday, August 10, 2008

An early hair-raisin incident

We had a serious aircraft incident during my first day working at Horizon Air. It was November ’93 and I was happy as a clam to be working in this seemingly great atmosphere, compared to the sometimes-stuffy cab job where I had been toiling.

Back then, during slack season we mostly operated 17-seater propeller aircraft. We packaged the bulk of the luggage into the rear of the aircraft; always counting the bags and weighing the freight so our pilots could determine weights and balances for their official manifests. Besides the ‘Aft’ area, the nose section of the aircraft also held a small package stash area, where we usually stuffed the oversized carry-on items into as carefully as we could.

However, this first day of mine, our small ramp crew seemed to be in an immense rush. I later found out that the company attached great importance to having their aircraft embark on time, as this info was entered into a national database and then sometimes featured in newspapers like USA TODAY. Anyhow, as we received the passenger carry-ons, a handful of travelers came through security at the last minute. Apparently, one of my co-workers opened the far-side nose door anticipating more last second bags. We got everyone on quick and they congratulated themselves for getting the craft out on time under this slight pressure.

Onliest thing was that about five minutes later the small plane taxied back into our ramp area. I asked what was wrong and the operations manager said that the tower noticed while our place was taxiing out, one of its front doors was ajar! While the plane made its quick pit stop, one of the agents secured the door and sent it back out.

Usually after planes left and the pilots adjusted to their regular flight path, they would call in their gate departure and flight departure times. I’ll never forget this incident, because immediately after the pilot called in his times he also added, “Way to show that new guy the ropes, Debbie!”

I later heard that on the christening flight into Sun Valley back in the early 80’s somebody had loaded the founder of the airline’s dog into the same jinxed front section. The problem was that this section was not pressurized and his dog came out with a slight case of the bends, but then supposedly recovered after a day.

The other problem with the design of those early aircraft is that the company had never installed any “door ajar” red flag indicators connected between the pilot dashboard and the two nose section doors. Evidently, the pilots could not see the problem either, from the way their seats were positioned.

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