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Dan’s Papers November 25, 2011 danshamptons.com Page 30

Airport

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knocking on his door and realized it was not the pilot but a man with a foreign accent asking to come in so he could talk to him, did the only thing he could think to do. He called the ground controller. The conversation was recorded of course, and it’s been posted on LiveATC.net if you want to hear it. Here is part of it. “The captain has disappeared in the back, and uh, I have someone with a thick foreign accent trying to access the cockpit,” he said. “By all indications, what I’m being told is he’s stuck in the lav and someone with a thick foreign accent is giving me a password to access the cockpit and I’m not about to let him in.” “You guys ought to declare an emergency and just get on the ground,” the traffic controller advises. At this point, the plane was just 30 minutes to LaGuardia. And so it was, just about 20 minutes after we landed, that with the police and military lining one of the runways, the plane began to come in for a landing. It was at that point that the pilot managed to open the stuck door and march up to the front to renew his command. “This is the captain. I’m back in the cockpit. Lavatory door malfunction.” “I just want to make sure,” the controller says. “Was there any disturbance in the airplane?” “Negative. The captain—myself—was in the lavatory…and I had to fight my way out of it with my body to get it open.” The result of this was not the arrest of the man with the foreign accent, but a thank you to him for a job well done and a pat on the

back to all the passengers, the flight attendant and the co-pilot for their behavior under stress while the pilot was locked in the toilet. There was also the call, of course, to the mechanics to come on board and fix the bathroom door. The second airport incident that day happened in Vienna. One hundred eighty people were onboard an aircraft chartered by Comtel Air Charter, which had left Amritsar, India bound for Birmingham, England. Each had paid $600 for the flight. After six hours in the air, the aircraft made its scheduled stop in Vienna, Austria. No one would be getting on and off there. It would be a re-fueling stop. Once on the ground though, the pilot came on over the P.A. system to say that there was trouble at Comtel Airlines, he didn’t know the details, but that the plane would not go on because Comtel was not providing the money needed to pay for the refueling, which was $31,500. “We stay here until this all is worked out,” the pilot told them, “which might take a few days, or another possibility is for you passengers to pony up the $32,000 so we can re-fuel. It’s up to you.” It was pretty easy to figure out that $31,500 divided by 160 was just under $200 per passenger. “Children under the age of two do not count,” the pilot told them, hopefully. The passengers talked all this over for about 10 minutes. They went through the usual emotions of shock, anger, denial and resignation, and since many of them had the

additional $200 on them and they all wanted to get home as soon as possible—this plane was filled largely with Indian citizens who had visited relatives in India—it was decided to pony up the money, and those who did not have that much in cash could be allowed off the plane with a stewardess to visit an A.T.M. in the terminal to get it. It was also mentioned by one of the passengers that he had heard Comtel was filing for bankruptcy. So that would explain why suddenly the spigot had been turned off. In the end, the plane got refueled and soon came in to land in Birmingham, with the passengers happy to be home and vowing never to fly this aircraft company every again—a vow they might easily have kept because, as it turned out, the airline was indeed teetering on bankruptcy and had all its finances frozen while they had been in the air. The media was all over this story, and many reporters and photographers met the plane in the terminal in Birmingham to get their side of the story. As for the airline, it promises to refund the $200 as soon as it can all be sorted out. The passengers say they will believe it when they see it, and they expect, after all this, never to see it. These two stories about aviation remind me of a similar story that involved the ferry services to and from Shelter Island a few years ago. Roman Roth, the winemaker at the Wolffer Estate Winery in Bridgehampton, had been

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Dan's Papers November 25, 2011  

Dan's Papers November 25, 2011 Issue

Dan's Papers November 25, 2011  

Dan's Papers November 25, 2011 Issue

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