The Crash

By David S. Wills


On Wednesday, 28th July 2010, at around 4pm Japan Standard Time, I was sitting in Narita airport, waiting for a journey that would carry me a significant way around the world. I was, however, not as excited as I could have been. I couldn’t shake the fact that I was leaving a comfortable life, leaving my girlfriend, leaving my cats, leaving my motorcycle… I couldn’t look forward because I was so focused on all that would cease to be a part of my present.

Boarding was uneventful, as had been my flight from South Korea’s Incheon to Japan’s Narita. I waited and waited and finally moved my bags onto the hideously crowded peak-season airplane, and took my seat in the middle of a five person aisle, right at the centre of the plane. My heart sank a little as I realised I’d been given the worst seat on the plane.

I didn’t look around at my fellow passengers. I don’t like people, for the most part, and I find my life is a little easier if I simply pretend they don’t exist. I had no idea then that these faces would become so familiar to me; that these people would become my friends, allies and enemies in the coming days.

Instead, I picked my book from my bag and decided to read until take off. If I did that – I knew from experience – I’d soon be flying and in no time at all the drinks cart would arrive. I’d order my standard two free beers and a glass of red wine, and pretty soon I’d forget that I was sitting in the worst seat on the plane, hurtling across the Pacific Ocean towards a country whose immigration department I knew had me blacklisted.

As the plane took off there was nothing unusual; nothing to suggest what was about to happen. I’d been on dozens of flights on all kinds of aircraft and looking back I realise that the take off was probably one of the smoothest I’d ever encountered. I didn’t note that at the time, though. You never think about things when they’re going exactly as their supposed to go.

I remember noting the man and woman to my right. The seating was terribly confined and their American-size bodies were folding over the sides of their chairs. His was spilling into my space, and I rued the fact that we’d just left Asia – a land free from the curse of obesity.

They were noisy, too. The sort of outspoken Americans that give the rest of the country a bad name. If I had to pick an accent, I’d say New Jersey, but I’m not terribly good with accents. It grated, though. Their inane comments broke my shield and interrupted my reading.

I yearned for the drinks cart, fearing, however, that when it arrived it would not be staffed by cute young Japanese girls, but instead by fifty-something American woman with take-no-shit attitudes, who might even dare ID me or cut me off before I even came close to my record of fifteen free beverages.

It was not long, however, before things began to take a turn towards the notable. The flight and its mild annoyances had only been level for a short time before everything went wrong. I can’t say exactly how long it took, but we had reached cruising altitude and the pilot had informed us that it was safe to get up and walk around.

There was a tremendous explosion. Not the ear-piercing rip of a firework or the deafening clap of a gun, but rather an almighty thud. It was as though someone had slapped me in the side of the head with an open palm. The sound was immense, but it very definitely came from outside the airplane.

Immediately the lights went out and the plane plummeted. My stomach rose into my throat and I felt an overwhelming sense of pleasure – as though riding the wildest rollercoaster imaginable. People began to scream and cry and I began to smile to myself, then let out a tiny laugh.

I didn’t think for one moment that I was about to die, although I was pretty confident that the plane was falling straight down into the ocean. I thought it would crash into the water and be destroyed, and that everyone else on board would be killed. I, however, would not die. I was invincible.

The plane banked sharply left and continued its route towards the waves as the screaming and crying persisted. We all looked out of the windows to our left and watched as the water not only became visible, but crashed closer and closer at the edge of the wing.

Soon we were flying low over the water, but no longer falling or banking. The lights were back on and the plane seemed to be flying well enough, although it felt as though we were pushing through mild turbulence.

The pilot’s voice came over the speakers: “Folks, as you’ve probably already noticed, we have encountered somewhat of a problem… It seems that one of the plane’s engines has exploded.” In spite of his strong, nearly confident voice, a high-pitched wail rose up from the passengers. “This isn’t as bad as you might think. We are going to have to attempt an emergency landing, and there is a chance that we will all survive.”

The pilot stopped talking for a while. Everyone stopped talking. There was an occasional sob, but no one spoke. Up front we could see the flight attendants huddled and crying. They were not the tough old American women I’d expected. They were inexperienced young Japanese girls, given jobs for their looks rather than their skills. If we attempted any sort of emergency landing I knew they would be of no use. They could cope with the grabassing of drunken businessmen, pour a mean drink, and speak numerous languages, but when faced with the possibility of death they were useless.

I was still smiling by this point. We were flying low enough, I thought, that a crash would not necessarily be fatal. We had successfully dropped from above the clouds to a short dive from the ocean and I could imagine us plunging in and some of us being plucked from the waves by rescuers.

It would make a great story, I thought.

The large woman who was possibly from New Jersey, sitting two seats to my right, asked, “What the hell is wrong with you?” and swiftly punched me in the side of the head. I grinned stupidly at her and shrugged.

“I just can’t see us all dying,” I said.

And indeed I couldn’t. My life has read thus far much like a work of unbelievable fiction. I am a magnet for trouble, for the weirdest of situations, but I always walk away. The final chapter has not yet been written.


The pilot spoke to us after another few minutes. He said, “Folks, it looks like we’re all set to make an emergency landing. However, if we go down with this much fuel on board we’ll be too heavy and there’s a good chance we won’t make it… So, if the one remaining engine holds out I’m gonna try and dump the remaining fuel.” He paused. “This will be an unpleasant landing and things can go wrong, so, ‘yknow… You might wanna offer up a little prayer or make peace with yourself or something…”

I have no idea how long we were flying, but knowing that we were heading back towards land seemed to stall the fears of the passengers. No longer did they expect death at any given moment; now they waited for some traumatic event in the near future. I could tell they wanted to stay in the air as long as possible. Getting off the plane meant hitting the ground and we had no idea whether that would go smoothly or not.

The last thing I can recall the pilot saying before we began the extremely short decent into Narita airport was this: “Don’t worry too much if you see flames, folks. The emergency services have been alerted and they are ready for our landing. They’ll take care of it.”

Indeed, dozens emergency service vehicles were visible all along the empty runway as we drew closer to the ground. Nobody spoke and only the sobs of the flight attendants were heard in those last seconds. I couldn’t stop grinning, though.

The plane hit the ground awkwardly as white knuckles clenched anything to hand, eyes closed tight, and somewhere a baby finally awoke and cried. We bounced a little and it felt just like the plane was about to veer off the runway, but eventually it drew to an awkward stop.

In seconds we were surrounded by fire engines. My view was obscured by my fellow passengers as they rushed suddenly to the windows, but from what I gather they got a quick glimpse of the promised flames before fire fighters managed to extinguish them.

Everyone cheered, unaware that the real nightmare had not yet begun.


It was exhilarating; a thrill unrivaled. If I’m honest with myself – totally, utterly honest – I would say that coming close to death is about as alive as I’ve ever felt. Whether clinging to some cliff as a child, or skipping between buses on my motorcycle as an adult, I’ve always felt a greater affinity for existence when faced with the prospect of something entirely different.

The fact is that five minutes in hell is heaven compared to an eternity in purgatory. Even a nightmare can be enjoyed when taken into perspective; when viewed as an adventure of the imagination. But nothingness and uncertainty are, for me, intolerable.

We were on the plane for hours. I’m not sure how many hours, exactly, but the pilot kept updating us on the situation: First we weren’t allowed to leave because fire engines were circling the plane, making sure it wasn’t liable to explode or catch fire again. Then we were informed that immigration didn’t want us back in Japan, as we’d all had our passports stamped for departure.

After hours on the plane we were allowed into a confined area of the airport, without food or drink, for another few hours. This time there was no pilot to keep us updated. We were lost, with only the occasional garbled message over the speakers.

When eventually we were told we would be put up in a hotel, I was the first in line to get out of the airport. I ran as fast as I could to beat my fellow travellers to the immigration gate, where we were given entry stamps in our passports. I remember thinking, even then, that these people were my enemies. After the crash and the waiting we were all desperate for sleep. Nobody wanted to be last in the line of three hundred displaced, pissed-off foreigners.

The bus ride to the hotel took about two hours – allowing us the briefest of sleeps – and the following morning we spent two hours travelling back. We were all in higher spirits, chatting inanely to one another, because we thought that we would all be sitting on a plane soon enough. Two short hours on a bus and then United Airlines would push us quickly back through immigration and onto another plane…

Of course, that was wishful thinking; the delirious idiocy of the travel-fatigued mind. The reality would unfold over the following twenty-four hours, during which time we all stood in line with our bags, unable to go to restaurants or even the restroom, and denied any sort of complimentary food or drink. We were lied to consistently by a little man with impeccable English, and who began every sentence with, “Sorry guys, but…”

Peak travel season isn’t the best time for three hundred exhausted, dehydrated, starved, deceived travellers to be assigned new seats. Our line snaked around half the departure terminal, waiting for cancellations. Every flight to North America was booked solid.

When it was my turn to stand at the front of the line and find out where in America I would be sent, the little man who’d been lying to us all day turned the line around to another kiosk, and I found myself suddenly at the back, staring at faces I’d come to loath simply for being near me, and for wanting the same limited seats I wanted.

I complained, very quietly and politely, and was sent to the business check-in to make amends. At the business check-in they said they couldn’t process me because I wasn’t a business-class passenger. I was sent back to the back of the line.

I complained again, very quietly and politely, and was eventually sent to the front. “Here’s your boarding pass,” the woman said. “Your flight departs in five minutes. Run.”

When I miraculously took my seat on the plane I found I’d been placed in business class. It was a small consolation. Then I looked at my ticket: I was no longer heading for San Francisco. I was destined to spend the next day standing in line in Seattle.



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DAVID WILLS is the managing editor of Beatdom Magazine, and the author of The Dog Farm and Scientologist! William S. Burroughs and the 'Weird Cult'. You can learn more about him on his website.

105 responses to “The Crash”

  1. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Good Lord, man! Should we ever meet in person, I’ll need to tailor the seating arrangement to avoid secondary damage from… well… apparently anything’s game with you!

    I think my favorite bit is the pilot saying, “…and there is a chance that we will all survive.” That’s awesome. “Look on the bright side, folks – you’ve got two of most things so you probably won’t end up a complete sausage after they graft the skin back on.” Nice bedside manners. Yeesh.

    Oh and fat, loud and punched you in the head? Yeah – sounds like Jersey to me as well. Should’ve popped her neck and blamed it on the impact. Glad you lived to tell the tale.

    • That was the start of it. At Seattle I was detained by immigration for hours, and then every time I took some mode of transport something seemed to go wrong… cars, buses, trains. Hell, in the middle of a Pennsylvania corn field the fucking engine blew up on my train! I’m cursed!

      I was impressed with the pilot, though. He really kept us informed, even though his words were a little disconcerting. It was nice to hear that we had a chance of survival… I think most people thought we were fucked.

      And I actually made it to Jersey after travelling the length of the States… and all the way I heard people say, “Those New Jersey dumbasses…” etc etc… And honestly I thought the place was fantastic. I really loved it.

  2. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    You loved New Jersey? Uch! Poor man! How bad was the concussion from the crash, David?


    • Haha, I guess I must have been a little stunned. To be fair though, I was never even remotely sober in New Jersey… And I saw it shortly after Ohio – which has to be my least favourite state so far.

  3. Zara Potts says:

    This just confirms what I have always thought about you – you have some weird internal magnet for drawing crazy trouble to yourself! Jesus, David! You survive a near airplane disaster AND then get punched in the head?? What are the chances???

    This is my worst nightmare. Being an anxious flyer, I can’t imagine what I would do if I had been on your flight. I’m so glad you are okay.

    Oh, and I love the way you told this. Perfect amounts of ‘pissed-off-ness’ and awe. PLEASE keep yourself safe and sound, will you?

  4. Becky Palapala says:

    EH! Grumpy Scottish person! If we were not united in our all-to-rare (and oft-described as grating) rhotic Englishes, I’m not so sure I’d talk to you again!

    Fully half the world must look monstrous to you, being a string bean as you are and living amongst some of the most diminutive people on planet earth.

    (I don’t know why I’m even pretending to be bothered. I’m neither fat nor loud. I’m not sure if my accent is grating, but it’s not as if there is anything I could do about it if it were.)

    Okay. I’ll go finish reading now.

    Sourpuss. *snort*

    • Sorry, grumpiness is in my blood. I think I’m addicted to complaining. Anyway, I think I come across as more bitchy than I actually am. Half the time people seem offended by my descriptions when actually I’m neither pissed off nor in fact intending any sort of criticism.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        I’m kidding, David.

        I’d be a liar if I said the fat & loud stereotype doesn’t irk me somewhat, but I know well enough that its basis lies in a modicum of truth.

        That said, turn about is fair play, so should I ever find myself needing to describe Scottish people, I’m going to say they reeked of haggis to the man.

        Except the expat from S. Korea, who smelled of dog soup.

        • Yup, that’s me. I stink of dog soup. I keep it in the hip flask in my sporran. Which I always wear.

          I usually find myself defending Americans against these stereotypes. People over here really hate you guys. And people in Asia tend to hate Americans, too. I guess it’s a global thing… Which sadly can be blamed on loud, arrogant tourists and a questionable foreign policy. But there are so many awesome people there and people get lost in these stereotypes. It’s a shame.

        • Becky Palapala says:

          I think tribalism and stereotypes are a global phenomena. And, indeed, to what extent people bother to express love or hate with them is largely a matter of politics.

          Ain’t no arguin’ with that, Pard.

  5. Irene Zion says:

    oh my oh David, oh my,

    I have been waiting and waiting to hear this story!!!!!

    It did not disappoint.

    Worth every minute.
    What material you got!
    You lucky guy, you.

  6. Irene Zion says:


    I know!
    Being a writer makes you just a little bit crazier than other folk.
    We can enjoy our death throes,
    if we believe we can survive them long enough to write about them.

  7. James D. Irwin says:

    I read the whole thing and all I want to know more about is the 15 free beverages record…

    • I smashed the shit out of that record, actually, with a fantastic 23 free beverages – comprised mostly of beer, but with a couple of glasses of red wine. It turned out not to be a great idea. I was still unable to sleep on the flight and at the airport I was seriously hungover.

      This actually happened on the flight from Tokyo to Seattle. My excuse is the trauma I suffered on my previous flight…

  8. Judy Prince says:

    Everybody’s worst nightmare, David. And you were smiling. Incredible. And it’s not like other forms of transport were better! Please never come even remotely close to me, or even the country I may be living in. You are a MAGNET for disaster! Please do NOT use a pseudonym, it’s essential to let folks know who you are so they can run like hell!

    Welcome home!

    • What if we decide to book a TNB cruise around the ice-berg strewn North Atlantic? That would be fine, right? No danger there.

      Maybe that’s why they always grab me at airports. Several times I’ve literally been given giant red cards and made to walk with them. They say it’s because I look sketchy, but I think they’re just warning other passengers that I’m cursed.

      • Judy Prince says:

        Valium and vodka, David? No wonder they think you look “sketchy” and make you carry giant red cards around to warn people. 😉

        Oh those lucky folks who’ve bought the haunted house!

        • Tis the cornerstone of any healthy diet.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I seriously wish you well with kicking that cornerstone, David.

        • I was kidding. It’s just the cornerstone of healthy travelling. Not for everyday use.

        • Judy Prince says:

          Glad you were kidding, David.

          I’ve always wondered why men (most noticeably of the rock star variety) seem to think it macho to get drunk/drugged. Seems to me like bragging about self-administering anesthesia whilst doing one’s job. Daft.

          Binge drinking here in the UK is a prob. Someone once advanced the theory that it’s bcuz, historically, most folks here, understandably, didn’t drink the water, so they drank ale (beer) every day, even at work (where it was considered fine to do, even encouraged). I don’t know if drinking alcohol is statistically more of a prob here than in the USA. I just pray that no one in either country will drive drunk.

        • Yes, I agree that it is a little immature to brag about such things. Drinking and taking drugs are all well and good but when a grown-up talks boastfully about his excesses it makes me wonder: juvenile mind or cry for help?

          I myself am a heavy drinker, but I try and play it down in my writing. Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski managed to pull it off but others didn’t, and it can sound pathetic or derivative, or both.

          I think that when it comes to drinking problems the Brits fight and the Americans drive. That’s my experience, anyway. A night out in either country will see examples that prove my theory.

        • Judy Prince says:

          I think you’ve nailed it, David: “I think that when it comes to drinking problems the Brits fight and the Americans drive.” God help all of us USAmericans. Especially when you realise that Brits fighting isn’t anywhere near the equivalent of USAmericans’ shooting.

        • I don’t know what to make of that last comment… A walk at night through any British or American city gives me the fear. But then again, knives and guns both scare the shit out of me. You don’t have to be drunk to make those evil devices, but it helps.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          our modern drinking culture is awful, where it seems to be the aim to get as drunk as possible, as quickly as possible as cheaply as possible.

          I got drunk quite a lot last year, but I never planned on it in advance. It was never the objective— it was the by product of having a few pints in a pub with friends. Except a few occasions where it was a party or St. Patrick’s Day where maybe you drink a bit more than you would usually.

          I find myself quite fortunate that most of my friends prefer quiet pints in pubs and bars than clubs or city centres.

        • Alcohol is great. For socialising or relaxing there’s nothing like a beer or a glass of wine, and every now and then it’s nice to have a little whiskey or rum. I admit I drink too much, but not since I was a dumb did have I ever gone out with the single intention of getting blackout drunk.

          In Britain we’re constantly raising the taxes on booze, and it doesn’t seem like we’re interested in using those funds to aid the police or medical services primarily. It seems like the voiced argument is that higher prices will stop people drinking… Yeah… All that does is make alcoholics poorer, and force people to drink faster.

          Looking at the problem it’s hard to explain. Why doesn’t mainland Europe have this problem? Why are we Brits doomed to be the louts of our continent?

          (It is funny though that all British nations are as bad as each other but England usually gets the blame…)

        • Judy Prince says:

          HAHAHA: “It seems like the voiced argument is that higher prices will stop people drinking… Yeah… All that does is make alcoholics poorer, and force people to drink faster.”

          Nice observation, David.

          I’m totally lucky in finding that the wine here in the UK is awesomely better than what I’d been accustomed to in the USA. Dunno why, though I usually choose French wines here, and chose California wines there. But no matter how good a wine is, after the second glass I’m sloshed and no longer drinking it for the wonderful mellow taste.

          You made me laugh, too, at these bits: “Why are we Brits doomed to be the louts of our continent?”

          “(It is funny though that all British nations are as bad as each other but England usually gets the blame…)”

          I keep hearing that Irish and Scottish are the big drinkers in the UK, but don’t have any stats on it.

          Doesn’t seem possible that UKers are bigger drinkers than other European folk. Seems worth getting some statistics. Maybe someone reading our comments will find recent trustable statistics on it all.

        • People always bash Californian wine, but I’ve always rather enjoyed it. Then again, maybe I’m just a wine pleb.

          I think that Scots and Irish are meant to drink more than the English, but all across Europe you’ll find the image of drunken Englishmen fighting in the streets while their chavvy womenfolk get down on their knees in the back alleys.

          Yet, to be fair, this seems like Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow, and – from what I’ve heard – Dublin and other parts of Ireland.

          Statistics aside, I think it’s important to note that regardless of the quantities of booze drunk, we Brits drink faster and handle it worse. We spend more money, I believe, on booze-related crime than most European countries.

          Personally, I’ve always been a sleepy drunk. (Uche, Megan and Erka will testify to that.) I fall asleep in bars or disappear home. “No crime for me, thanks! I’m off to bed!”

        • Judy Prince says:

          You make an excellent point, David: “A walk at night through any British or American city gives me the fear. But then again, knives and guns both scare the shit out of me.”

          When it comes down to it, I’d prolly be more terrified facing a knife—-and have had such an experience (in the USA, Chicago) …..facing a man who held a butcher knife to my son’s arm whilst taking my purse off my arm and then fleeing. So far, thank goodness, I’ve not had to face a gun barrel.

          Jeffrey Pillow, in his awesome TNB post, “Fatal Sunset on the Blue Ridge Parkway”, re gun control legislation in the USA and serial killings: ” . . . riddle me this: how many people can be killed at a distance with a knife, a pencil, or a piece of broken glass?”

        • Guns scare me but knives make me nearly sick with fear. There’s something primal they inspire, that makes me ill. Fortunately my life has been relatively free of that sort of thing, but your story sends my guts into shivers of weakness.

          But yes, it’s hard to kill someone with a knife when they’re more than a few feet away. That’s a plus, at least. I can spy a knife-wielding maniac and run, but if he has a gun there’s always the chance a stray bullet can get me.

          Broken glass is also scary. In Dundee that’s pretty much the weapon of choice. I’ve never seen a stabbing (although the evidence is always splattered across the morning pavements) but I’ve seen a few “bottlings”.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “People always bash Californian wine, but I’ve always rather enjoyed it.”

          Yes, David, and as I posted my preference for French wine, I was trying to recall the two California wineries that produced reds I really liked. I’ve remembered them: Francis Ford Coppola Winery and David Bruce Winery.

          I’ve also had fantastic South African wine.

          However, the actual earth, climate, weather, grapes and exact date of picking will determine whether a wine is to one’s taste or not. It’d take lifetimes to understand those factors, and it also means that the wine you loved today might not, despite its similar name next year, taste at all the same.

        • South African wine can be nice, but yes, you’re right: There are so many factors that assigning a verdict based solely upon region is ridiculous.


          They’re actually talking today about the price of booze in Scotland: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/sep/02/scotland-alcohol-abuse-price-rise

          Apparently the wise idea is to treble the price of cider. I’m not sure what to make of that. I used to know people who bought cider simply because they got wasted on it… but those people were poor enough already. I doubt that they’d give up the booze because of a few extra quid on the label.

        • Judy Prince says:

          “Guns scare me but knives make me nearly sick with fear. There’s something primal they inspire, that makes me ill.” Indeed, David. After the knife-wielding guy had fled, I managed with shaking hands to put my whistle (on my keychain bcuz so much violent crime was in the neighbourhood) to my mouth and blow with all my strength. Immediately and incredibly, a couple guys from my apartment complex came downstairs and ran after the guy. There is NO WAY EVER I would’ve done such a courageous thing!!! The Chicago police and the University of Chicago police came and questioned me and my (then 7 yrs old) son. When I checked later with a detective, to give more information, he said that the Chicago police report did not mention any weapon in the theft. My introduction to crime statistics. As the saying goes, “Lies, damn lies, and statistics.”

          Dare I ask what a “bottling” is?

        • Good for you summoning that strength. I bet your son was proud. Fucking police, though. What incompetent pricks.

          Bottling is basically using a bottle as a weapon. It’s also known as “glassing”, although that can be achieved with any piece of glass.

        • Judy Prince says:

          David, I don’t really know what my son thought, except from his responses. For example, when the Chicago police officers came he told them he wanted to be a policeman. What was very sad was the next day the school called and said he didn’t enter the building, but stood outside it for a long time, then went to the corner candy store (my upstairs neighbour worked there, and she told me, too), after which he went into the school. I saw him as he was coming home (school was a half block away) cross to the other side of the street when he saw a young man coming. For my own part, I never again carried a purse after the hold-up and was terrified much of the time for a few months. I acted daft, too. All of it out of fear.

          If anyone ever counted on my being physically brave, they’d be waaaay disappointed!

        • Wow, that’s so sad. Poor kid. The thugs that threaten people never think about the consequences of their actions – the lasting effects that their cruelty has on the victim.

        • Judy Prince says:

          True it is, David. And terribly sad; I agree.

  9. Joe Daly says:

    I’ve been hoping to hear more about this since your FB post about the crash. Don’t know you at all David, but I feel like I’ve got a much clearer glimpse through this story. Actually, I felt that way before I was halfway through. This piece has loads of honesty without the shame and self-pity that can derail a lot of self-observational prose.

    The captain sounds like a smack down Simon Smithson-esque pimp. I’m sure he was struggling as well, but from the way you describe it, he really seems to have danced the fine line between giving you the information you deserve without driving people to hysteria (which we can all do just fine on our own).

    International business class was probably cold comfort by that time, but you have to admit- it’s a nice way to go.

    And when can we expect a piece on your blacklisting?

    Well done, man.

    • The pilot was indeed an American Simon Smithson pimp. He really had us worried stupid, but at the same time I’m glad – and I think the rest of the passengers would agree – he actually kept us updated. If we’d had an explosion and then a fall from the skies without any information… Well, there would have been chaos. People would’ve assumed terrorism and probably burst into the cockpit.

      But yeah, business-class travel is the shit. I just wish I could’ve appreciated it a little more at the time.

      As for the next piece… Well, I’m still weighing the dangers on that one.

      • Joe Daly says:

        As for the next piece… Well, I’m still weighing the dangers on that one.

        Maybe you could try fiction? Say an entirely fictional story about a Western European ex-pat who finds himself blacklisted by US Customs? You could call him Dave Willis, the motorcycle-riding Welshman teaching English in Taiwan.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    Ah, David, you’re back. You’re one of my favorite TNBers, so I never enjoy your absence, even if you do dislike people.

    This is just a quick comment as I rush out the door. I’ll return later with more.

  11. Wow. I remember when you announced on facebook that this had happened.
    I can’t. even. imagine. – because I am no good on planes – I need to have at least
    two gin and tonics in me before takeoff. On mine and Greg’s honeymoon flight to Paris,
    our plane was hit my lightning. Our flight attendant was throwing up in the john. No
    reassurance there. Very glad you are ok – though – your ordeal on the ground and the lack of
    organization to you and the passengers’ does seem almost worse.

    Can I just say something about New Jersey, though?
    Greg and I just moved to NJ (out of necessity – long story) – and everyone is actually very thin here.
    Everyone works out all the time and is very body conscious. And they don’t seem very loud either.
    Jersey always gets a bad rap.

    • Matt says:

      Jersey Shore isn’t exactly helping…

      • True. But at least they’re thin and loud and not fat and loud.

        New Jersey has quite a lot of preserved park area. It’s a very beautiful state. And only a tiny percentage of the Jersey Shore is Snookified. And we are but an hour’s drive from the ocean – we are going there today if it’s not too hurricaney.

        • Good luck with the hurricaney weather. Since I left Korea there have been two giant tropical storms. They even shut down the subways for a while. Seems like every time I leave a place the weather gets a bit… fatal.

    • Ho ho holy shit… Lightning? I’m surprised the plane was still in the air. Having said that, when I was searching for news of my flight on the internet I found a story from ten years prior – the same route I took and I think the same plane – where it was hit by lightning. Scary stuff.

      As for your gin and tonics, I’m the same. Although I am a relatively calm passenger, I usually take valium and vodka before a flight. More than anything it speeds time up… Makes the journey go by faster.

      Jersey really did seem nice and I’m glad you’re enjoying the thin, quiet people. They’ve got some nice beaches there, too. And the pizza… excellent.

      • I know this is like a week later, and while I still love parts of New Jersey, the shimmer and sheen of my new state has dulled as I have discovered that everyone here drives like a DICK.

        And I’ve had weird run-ins with ladies at grocery stores who try to fix what I’m wearing – like straighten out my cuffs or my skirt, as if we’re in a fashion show. When, um, we’re not.

        Maybe that lady was from NJ – we’ll never know. I’m more inclined to think maybe now.

        • Well, to be fair, I only spent a day there. A drunk day. I was mostly left reeling from that shock that people there were human beings. To here the rest of America talk, New Jersey folk are evil monsters from mars.

          The drivers… I do seem to recall a few bad drivers, but on the whole I think they improved when we crossed over from Pennsylvania, and were probably less offensive than drivers in Ohio or Michigan. But then again, that’s just my brief observation. I may well be wrong.

          That’s a pain in the ass that these bitches try and fix your clothes. Maybe you should slap one of them.

  12. Matt says:

    You told me most of these details already, and this is still a horrendous experience to read about! And I know this isn’t even half of the story!

    Don’t take this the wrong way, David, but I’m never, ever traveling with you. If I ever make it to Scotland, I’ll just have my friend in Edinburgh show me around, thanks. Zara’s right – you’re a magnet for this sort of thing. We can get drunk together, or visit a haunted house, or climb a mountain (I’ll shoo away the spider), or whatever, but I’m not getting into the same vehicle as you. Nothing personal.

    I’ve never been on a flight with fee booze.

    • Until I took a US domestic flight I’d never been on a flight without free booze. I thought that was why people flew places…

      Oh, and regarding the haunted house… I actually passed it yesterday for the first time in almost three years. It’s being renovated, finally! Someone must have bought it and all the insides have been torn out.

      • Matt says:

        Maybe that’s it – I’ve never flown internationally, save for a trip to Mexico back when I was too young to drink. And actually, when I travel domestically, I prefer to take trains; so much easier to stretch out and relax. And waaaaaaaaaaaaayyy less invasions of my privacy when I’m checking in and traveling!

        • Yes, trains are far better than planes for domestic travel. I only flew around America because I was pressed for time. It cost me a fortune and there was no free booze… no assigned seats… no baggage space… It was shite. Yeah, Amtrak is awesome.

  13. Lenore says:

    okay this is all super fucked up and terrifying, but really, i can’t believe that woman smacked you and asked what was wrong with you. and i laughed out loud at your response to her. the good news is that people aren’t in more than one plane crash in their lives. it just doesn’t happen. so you’re covered now. i want you on every plane i ever board from here on out as an insurance policy.

    • Thank you, Lenore! You’re about the only person willing to travel with me now! I kept thinking, though, on all subsequent flights, that they would crash… as though I were meant to survive one awful plane incident but not the next.

      The woman that punched me in the head seemed to deal pretty badly with the whole experience. She was freaking out and I kind of understand her reaction because I was laughing… It must have freaked her out even more.

      Oh, and later on she and her husband were standing next to me in line at the airport. The man almost punched out several of the airport staff after about ten hours of waiting around.

  14. Simone says:

    David, I’m not sure if you pissed Karma off in another life or something, but holy cow man! You’re definitely a magnet for the odd, crazy and dangerous!

    Great material to write about. I’m glad you lived to tell the tale.

    I’m not sure what your belief system is, or whether you have one or not, but here’s a little gift from me to you:


    It’s Saint Christopher, the Patron of Safe Travel.

  15. sheree says:

    Wow. Great write. Glad you’re still around. Beers to ya!

  16. Brian Eckert says:

    Great story. Just enough details that I could clearly imagine everything, but not enough to bog it down. I love the way you describe your fellow passengers and the pilot’s comments.

    I have nothing that really compares to this, but I had to make an emergency landing once too. I was coming back to Denver from L.A. and we lost the air brakes, meaning we couldn’t fly at cruising altitude for some reason, and so had to remain disconcertingly low over the Rockies, where turbulence was abundant. We also landed to clutched hands and moaning and sobbing and fire trucks. No flames, however. But I agree…being close to death tends to give life a thrill that is otherwise lacking.

    Your pilot sounded great. I personally love it when the pilot speaks. If it were up to me, he would speak every few minutes. “This is your captain, folks. We’re cruising at 32,000 feet and I just ate egg salad. My middle name is Thomas. I was raised by Minnesota school teachers…” and so on.

    • Jesus, it sounds like your experience was pretty similar – although admittedly flying over the Rockies always seems to bring a disconcerting amount of turbulence. I generally find that more upsetting than exciting. I don’t know what exactly was going through my head on this particular flight. But it was utterly thrilling.

      And yes, pilots should be forced to chat with the passengers. Just a running commentary. The attendants are always so boring, but the pilots bring a few jokes to the scene.

  17. Brian Eckert says:

    I forgot to add your brilliant discernment of the difference between Asian flight attendants and North American. The former, as you note, are always tri-lingual eye candy with a penchant for pleasing. The latter typically has the air of a scorned divorcee who is working double-shifts to pay for some ungrateful, white-trash spawn back home.

    • I tried to write an article for a variety of magazines/newspapers called “Why Every Korean Girl Wants to be a Stewardess” but no one bought it. I spent a lot of time with Korean girls who wanted to follow that particular route – this was a few years ago – and it was amazing. They viewed this as the Holy Grail. They would do anything to be stewardesses. They travelled all over the world… just to interview for these jobs.

      And then there are the American ones. They can be fine, but frequently are sour-faced old trouts with no manners. I can hardly blame them. I’m no good in the service industry, either, but you must wonder…

  18. Robin Slick says:

    Crazy story – I know all about this. My daughter, Julie, had just finished playing at the Blue Note in Tokyo with the Adrian Belew Power Trio. They – Adrian, Julie, and drummer Marco Minnemann played their last show on July 27th and were heading to their respective homes in Nashville, Philadelphia, and San Diego. They all said good-bye at the airport on the afternoon of the 28th.

    In any event, Marco was on your plane. We got his chilling email in real time. I’d love to be able to post a copy of it here but I’ll have to ask permission. Let’s just say it was a life-changing experience.

    You are very lucky to be alive.


    • That’s a weird coincidence there. Let me know if you do get permission, because I’d love to hear more about it. Cheers.

      • Robin Slick says:

        Hmm…I actually discussed this with Marco yesterday, sent him the link, and he read your account of what happened. Since he remembers the incident differently, I don’t think he’ll be commenting but hey, this is the Nervous Breakdown not the New York Times so you’re entitled to a little journalistic creative non-fiction.

        The bottom line is, you were indeed in a life threatening situation that could have gone either way, and yeah, you’re pretty lucky to be alive.

        Have a nice weekend and enjoy the fact that you’re still breathing. 🙂


        • Well, as long as he wasn’t the bloke beside me or the little Japanese guy who lied to us… I hope my remembering of the incident didn’t offend him too much.

        • Robin Slick says:

          No, he just had a different experience, but that could very well be it was because he had the unfortunate seat located at the emergency exit and was not only extra privy to what was going on, he had to listen to and comprehend some very explicit “just in case” instructions.

          But yeah, his recollection of some other stuff is not quite the same but I bet if you questioned every person on that plane, there would be many varied accounts. A life and death situation will do that to a person!

  19. Danny says:

    I’m glad you are alive, but…edit, David, edit. Lots of extraneous, unconnected details and callow misanthropy made me want to stop reading 1/3 of the way through. It is a compelling story, cut it to the bone and it will read much better. MHO, for what it’s worth.

    Best of luck.

    • Thanks for the honesty, Danny. I’ll argue that my “callow misanthropy” is pretty much just the bare-bones honesty with which I always write, but your opinion is noted and welcome.

      • Danny says:

        Cool. Honesty IS an absolute necessity, but writing is about more than honesty – it’s about the story, being honest to the story. It is as much about what’s left out as what is put in. If anything distracts from the story you must consider it expendable argosy.

        Like I said, I’m glad you’re alive.

        • I see your point, but I guess that’s why we have editors, right? One should be able to editor one’s own work, but it’s always a hard task to pick and choose the right parts. What is important to me is not necessarily what is important to the story in the eyes of one or many readers. Thanks for the advice.

  20. Richard Cox says:

    Wow, man, this is terrifying. I’m not sure what I would have done in your shoes. It’s impossible to know until you are in that situation, but I love the way you just smiled and enjoyed it. What else are you going to do? Like freaking out and screaming is a better way to go?

    I hate being seated next to fat, obnoxious people. Americans or otherwise. I also do not like being seated next to people who do not bathe daily. This happens often on international flights. Also, my feelings about the boorish and infrequently bathed are not a political commentary. I just don’t like it. I’m sure there are things people don’t like about being seated next to me, like I rarely want to talk to my fellow passengers. Unless it’s a cute girl. Then I might.

    I’m glad you arrived safely. Sounds like you had the worst travel experiences but still a fun trip. Good for you.

    • You’re right – you never really know until it’s happening. Unfortunately I was on numerous flights in the days after this incident and I experienced the highs and lows (no pun intended) of fear. Sometimes you ride it out and enjoy it; sometimes you wish you were brave enough to cry.

      I can’t help feel from your 2nd paragraph that maybe we’ve sat together at some point. I’m quiet and skinny, but I’m pretty much the stinky traveller that everyone hates. It’s not my fault… sometimes you just find yourself spending days in airports and in the sky, sweating as you plummet… Ok, yeah, it’s my fault. I just stink.

      I have been seated next to a whole variety of passengers in my time. Only twice have they been fat, loud Americans. I think people have taken from this post that I think that all Americans are fat and loud… which is not the case.

      • Richard Cox says:

        I don’t think you wrote that all Americans are fat and loud. I haven’t read all the comments but I’m not sure from your original text how anyone could believe that. It sounded fair enough to me. I mean, it’s true, some are loud and fat.

        And some punch you for no good reason. I still don’t get that. What’s it to her if you don’t react the way she does? I’m not giving her a pass for being frightened, either. How we deal with stress says things about us, no?

        It reminds me a bit of when I was laid off. I was in a room with 15 or so other people and when the layoff consultant started with his placating speech I was so overwhelmed with deja vu that I almost burst out laughing. I love the film Up in the Air and I couldn’t believe I was living it in person. But I figured if I laughed, people would think I was cracking up. Most of the women in the room were crying. It would have been inappropriate.

        The funny thing is I asked the consultant later if he had seen the film, and he didn’t know what I was talking about. How do you work in that field and not know of an Oscar-nominated film just released about your own vocation?

        • Yeah, she was a bitch. I didn’t mind the punch, honestly. It was the later parts. The bits when she was a bitch in line (which I missed out) that got me. Dumb fat cow.

          Up in the Air was fantastic, but it depresses me greatly to think that any part of it was true… I’ve been so fortunate and sheltered that I’ve never experienced the corporate layoff.

          The guy who fired you was obviously a bit of a moron if he hadn’t seen that movie.

  21. Simon Smithson says:

    David, I think this is the best post of yours that I have read at TNB. I loved it. I especially loved this:

    ““I just can’t see us all dying,” I said.”



    Also: I’m very glad you are alive. Let’s go find that woman and punch her.

    • Thanks, man. It was probably the hardest post that I’ve had to write because it’s something that everyone here already knew about and was expecting. Usually I write about some random thing in my life and if it’s no good I toss it away, or come back to it later. This time everyone read about it on Facebook… So I spent the last month trying to find the right angle.

      I did feel like a bit of an asshole writing that line, but I always go for the honest approach and that was it: I said those awful words and I wrote them because it was true. I had visions of the plane crashing into the sea and then the survivors would all float around for a while, and the sharks would pick some of us off… But then I’d get rescued, along with some others.

      In the end we all survived. I forgave that woman for her punch, but she was annoying as hell at the airport.

      I don’t know if I mentioned earlier, but around the same time as this was happening a plane crashed in Pakistan. Sadly, no one on that flight survived. That was what we all saw on TV at the airport the next day. As though we needed reminding of the dangers of flight…

  22. Genuinely enjoyed this, David. I’m sure its been said quite a few times already, but I love the deadpan honesty of the pilot. I don’t know what airlines you’ve been on, but free drinks aren’t something I’ve seen since the 80’s. It’s ok with me though, cause I hate drinking on a plane. If I’m going to avail myself, I like to be able to get up, shoot pool, walk around, piss freely. Being stuck in a seat, with a book and the elbows of strangers on either side, has always said “wait until you land” to me.

    • It’s so weird that everyone reads this and is surprised by the free drinks thing… because I was shocked and horrified when I took my first flight without them. Really, it was awful. I rely upon booze quite heavily when I’m flying, just to pass the time. They say you get drunk 2-3 times quicker at altitude, too.

      The airlines I’ve found serve free booze include, but are not limited to: Air France, Lufthansa, Asiana, All Nippon Airlines, Korean Air, Air China… and every other Asian one.

      God, I sound like an alcoholic… but really I get bored flying and booze tends to make me look at my watch and say, “Shit, did four hours just pass?! Fan-fucking-tastic!”

  23. […] and America, however, my plane crash landed. Rather than repeat the story here, I’ll point you to The Nervous Breakdown, where I wrote about it in greater […]

  24. i have white knuckles from reading this. For a second I thought an O2 mask would drop onto my desk.

    • Haha, that’s the idea. In fact, I was a little disappointed when that didn’t happen. Though I think there would’ve been a couple of heart attacks and several pairs of pants soiled.

  25. angela says:

    oy! i’m weeks late reading this but i had to comment. what a terrifying experience, but i understand that exhilaration – i felt it when i saw the Twin Towers come down (on TV), that simultaneous horror and, “Oh cool! Like a movie!” shock and awe, for lack of a better term.

    i never understood the whole keeping-passengers-trapped-and-starved idea. no water or food? no bathroom? i really don’t get it.

    • Thanks for reading. It is funny how shock can just rob of the reality of a situation. I think I’m particularly susceptible to that for some reason. I never fully appreciate something awful until well after it’s happened. Disbelief, I guess.

      I think the airport and airline and government were in cahoots to keep costs down, whilst also completely confused. I think they constantly wanted us out of the country but couldn’t get us out. It was ridiculous.

  26. […] in Denver – yes, more travel troubles for this doomed journeyman – caused my bus to roll into Glenwood Springs several hours later than […]

  27. […] Having said all that, I’ve spent most of my life in Scotland: risking heart disease or getting glassed, knifed or bottled on the way home. I’ve also lived in America where I constantly feared being shot, and in Korea where there always lingered the threat of war, wild boar, and the world’s most aggressive geriatrics. I’ve met giant lizards in Malaysia, been paralysed in the Philippines, and had my plane crash in Japan. […]

  28. […] back Quenby Moone He had a bittersweet reunion of the Boulder commune We caught David Wills after a flight from Hell And J Evinson with a killer book to sell We come to TNB for what we create Then lay down law from […]

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