The author affects his escape and hopes for rescue from the wreckage.
I know the reader will forgive the gap in my narrative for when the plane struck the water; the deceleration caused a second knock to my head and a temporary period of unconsciousness.
I regained consciousness in an eerily quiet scene of destruction. Once there had been panic and pain. Now all was still, at least as far as the inside of the fuselage. Outside the tube, the storm raged on. As any vessel on an unfriendly sea, the cabin lurched and dropped, rose and twisted with each wave and windy gale. I’m not much for the action of the waves at the best of times. The smarting, flourishing knock on my temple wasn’t helping me to establish my sea legs.
On board, nothing and nobody moved. The crash had made a great shamble of Justin’s Tetrisian achievement. I will not endeavour to account the further description of what I encountered. In honesty, I didn’t, at the time, enumerate or evaluate in detail. The fair reader may choose to skip over the subsequent description of the wreckage if they be of weak constitution. In such a case, I recommend that they avoid only the next paragraph.
The first thing one notices when looking about the cabin of a crashed plane are not the bodies or the baggage, but the oxygen masks dangling limply from the ceiling of the overhead compartments. Each and every mask hung down from above the seats in the eerie darkness permeated only by some poor emergency lights. The shadows of the cords and masks give the feeling of a dark jungle, with vines dangling from thick foliage. Of course, there were many bodies in various states of burial amongst the piles of luggage strewn about randomly. I shouldn’t like to discuss too much the individual bodies I saw; it is the most difficult memory I possess to think of my helplessness to help them. I checked a few of those nearest to me and found their vital signs were not detectable. I could hear no signs that would suggest to me that any other survivors were hidden amongst the chaos. The smell of the cabin was as chaotic as the dimly lit scene. Food, drink, blood, perfume, and all manner of broken and burned glass and plastic permeated my nasal passageways. This is a scene I sincerely hope nobody ever has to witness for themselves.
Here I found myself, stranded somewhere in an unknown ocean, in a violently rocking aircraft, and becoming no more combobulated. I had to find a way to safety. The survivors of the crash, whatever their number, had already removed the evacuation slides from the doors to use as a life raft as they fled the cabin. I made no effort to adjudicate their actions.
The first escapees may have waited for several minutes after the crash, or conversely, the first one out the door might have seized his opportunity and shoved off immediately, stranding others to share more crowded rafts. My period of blankness would forever keep that knowledge from me. It was not possible to determine whether they had checked on the welfare of others aboard. Perhaps they had, and I was either too buried to spot, or they believed me dead, but I was not amongst those who escaped in the first wave; thus, I was without the best possible conveyance.
Whatever had occurred, I found myself with no ready route of escape and armed with the knowledge that an aeroplane will not float indefinitely on the ocean. And with a storm pummelling her, it will indeed not last very long in a buoyant state. Water was lapping at the doors of the cabin and time was running short.
I began tearing apart the seats nearest the emergency exit. Aircraft seats may be used as floatation devices, but they are not the same as life jackets. The seats, at least aboard this flight, were equipped with a couple arm loops on each side of the cushion and floated like a pillow on the water. If I lost consciousness again—a distinct possibility—my head would not be held above the waves. I knew neither where the flight had landed nor when or if a rescue was coming. Nor did I know how long it would take to arrive. So, I gathered a dozen of the seats and tied four together in a square using some rope that had fallen from the overheads. I then tied eight together end to end as firmly as I could and quickly secured them to my square. Grabbing a couple water bottles, little caring that they were both open, I shoved my raft out the door into the choppy water and jumped onto the middle of the square of four cushions, sinking to my waist but free floating safely, with a long tail of eight seat cushions trailing behind me in a line.
I wish I could have investigated the plane as I cast off, but my first priority was to make my seat-cushion raft as seaworthy as possible. The storm was still blustering and dark. I had no idea what dangers lurked in the water.
The four-cushion square acted as the floor of my boat while I feverishly tied the eight remaining cushions around the outside of the square as a one-cushion tall wall. I intended this to be my little walled raft, floating like an open-topped box in the waves. I cursed the clouds, the rain, the wind, the waves, and the unyielding pains in my body, particularly my head. The rain lashed at my skin and clothes and numbed my hands while I endeavoured to finish my boat. Every gust and wave blew bitter saltwater into my eyes and mouth.
I lashed the seats together as best I could, but found my teacup, which in my mind was supposed to appear like a square-bottomed, open-top box, instead was more of a twelve-panelled wet sock. I found that trying to sit or lie on one or several of the seats just resulted in either falling into the water or into a crevice between two lines of seats. After much effort, I surrendered, lying prostrate on one side of the craft, which was folded in half like a pita pocket. My arms splayed out to the sides in another gap, wrapped amongst the ropes. The remaining six seats more or less sat on top of me, providing little more than a wet, dripping, porous umbrella against the rain. As secure as I felt I was going to get, I strained to look back at the plane that so nearly had become my resting place.
It had not been a conscious thought, but I became dimly aware that the plane was no longer above the waves. Without a means of propulsion, the hulking mass of aluminum behind me had silently tucked in beneath the waves not to be seen by my eyes again. The realization that it was gone left me with a desperation and loneliness only someone who has experienced a similar shock and trauma could understand. There I lay on a pile of seat cushions, completely alone, with no idea where I was, other than in the vast Pacific Ocean, floating in a hurricane. I was rapidly losing hope, realizing that even if a rescue plane was on the way, even if the wreckage could be found, my little makeshift raft wouldn’t look like much more than debris. The depressing reality of my predicament was clear. I had two half-drunk bottles of water to sustain me. If I survived the night in the blowing hurricane, I would still have to survive days floating in the direct, burning, unrelenting sun, somewhere in the tropics, and my fair skin was liable to singe. If my adventure wasn’t to be ended by the water, it would surely be by exposure, heat stroke, or dehydration.
I began to consider more radical alternatives to my situation but succumbed to rest. I kept as hydrated as I could and hoped and prayed against Herculean odds that somehow I would, in some way, be delivered to safety. In no way was I a religious person, and I did not know how to pray to a god, whichever god that would be. I blindly hoped that some power, human or divine, would pluck me from the waves, though I knew the odds were against me. As the water sapped the energy from me and the pain of my injuries began to overtake the adrenaline that had thus far sustained me, I submitted at last and rested my head to the side on a salty seat cushion and slept.