Day of the (Almost) Hero by Barry Napier

EasyJet Flight 4565 from Berlin, leaving at 2.30pm, 10th November, 2005, began as any other…
As favoured Class A passengers, my wife and I swaggered aboard the great iron bird ready to choose our seats. Wanting extra leg-room we sat next to the emergency doors over the wing.


The usual gesticulations and chat were effortlessly, performed by the bubbly cabin crew and we soared away into the bright blue yonder, unaware of the soon-to-unfold drama in the skies. When the stewardess asked me to read the emergency instructions for opening the wing doors, I quipped “Shall I practice?” Pretending not to have heard the joke a million times before, she smiled and bantered with me, probably hoping I would just shut up.


About 20 minutes into the flight, over northern Germany, a curious white panel suddenly lit up next to my head. On it was the ominous legend: ‘Slide Armed’. Taking that to mean something awkward, I couldn’t help wondering if the door was properly shut, or if it was about to be ripped open by the pressure, sucking everyone out to their doom. The senior stewardess walked calmly to the flight cabin to speak to the pilot, who was, I think, in the staff sauna at the time.


As the crew decided who would jump out first, I planned what to do when the door ripped off. It was now up to me to save the whole ‘plane, at least until it hit the ground at devastating total-annihilation speed. I decided that when the call came and the door flew away to clobber a productive Bavarian cow below, I would push my legs hard against the seat in front, or maybe stick them to the side, so that they jammed tight. No doubt this would break my legs, but what is pain to a hero? At the same time I would press backward into the seat I was sitting on. Then I would keep my back to the opening, making sure my body prevented anyone from being sucked out to their inevitable and probably yucky demise.


Obviously, some would be dragged toward the opening, but they would be stopped by my selfless sacrifice.
Of course, because of the freezing atmosphere outside, my whole back would be racked with agonising frost-bite, requiring an operation to remove one half of me when I got back home. But, that’s the price I had to pay. This was all worked out by the time the warning siren started to blast in my ear. The higher the ‘plane climbed, the louder was the siren. In the end the pilot had to get out of the sauna and decided to go back to Berlin. I just sat stoically, the unsung almost-hero, waiting to do his bit.


Back in Berlin, the engineers got on and nonchalantly pushed their hands around the edges of the door to see if anything was stuck, and fiddled with a few technical pieces. One engineer found that when he pressed the inside plastic edging into place the light went off. Fixed! He told the pilot who, by this time, had transferred into a fluffy white bath towel, hair still wet but manly.


We were off again into the now darker blue yonder. But, life is full of surprises…
Back in my seat, I started to read my book…only to glimpse, out of the corner of my right eye…yes, the white light telling me the slide was armed (again)! I imagined that if the sign could easily be lit and the slide could be armed without provocation, then the door could just as easily get ripped open and finally hit a productive Bavarian cow on the head in a distant Black Forest field.


The stewardess went to see the pilot, who was, by this time (I think), in his shorts under the fast-tan machine. The crew were called to the front for an emergency panic, but decided to stay calm for the sake of all those non-heroes who thought it might be best to scream and run amok just because of imminent death. What made matters worse was the crew had not yet brought along the wagons with snacks, gifts and drinks! Eventually, the pilot announced we were to return, for the second time, to Berlin. Surely a first in aviation history – twice in one day, on the same ‘plane! My wife and I were advised to sit at the back, “just in case”, so I told the cabin crew my brave plan to save everyone. I was clapped on the back and the lady sitting opposite wanted to buy me a drink for my bravery. They recognised my qualities.


We got back to Berlin again and had to leave the aircraft. We’d get another ‘plane, we were told. We all trooped off in chaotic formation and returned to Departures 65 to await our fate. Then along came another EasyJet ‘plane (or the same one after being scrubbed), to be refuelled and restocked with food. Meanwhile, we all had to identify our own baggage on the tarmac, which was then put onto the new (or scrubbed) ‘plane. It was now dark and raining.


Eventually, we were allowed back on the ‘plane and sat in the same seat, next to the emergency wing doors. When the time for bravery came, I wanted to be the one with half my body removed from its frostbite, sure in the knowledge that I had saved the deserving, the not so deserving, and maybe some who would never be on my Christmas list. As a reward for taking part in the record-breaking return of the same ‘plane not just once, but twice, we all had a free drink. I requested lobster and champagne, but was gracefully refused.


As the single (small) drink flowed, everyone was happy, apart from the crew, who now had to deliver drinks they would not normally have given. But, the whole ‘plane was in a great mood and we arrived back home in one piece. I never had the chance to prove myself as a genuine, one-of-a-kind hero, and I never had to lose half my body to frostbite. But, the EasyJet crew all proved their mettle, their homeliness and their professionalism. As we all left the aircraft, I smiled the smile of an unsung hero and said to the senior stewardess, in a kind of heroic drawl (which I thought was attractive), “Y’know, tonight we became kinda ‘family’”


She clasped me around the waist, and I returned the gesture, as we briefly kissed each other’s cheeks, whimsically. The pilot came out and added a quip of his own, but no kiss. We waved to each other as I left my near-moment of fame.
That night, the crew and I were magnificent, and are now bound together as one family, by a single moment in history, when lives (almost) hung in the balance on board Flight 4565.