I've been asked many times if I was not afraid of emergencies in the air, was I not taking a risk (as a mother) by flying for a career. My answer has always been that my biggest concern dealt with the drive to and from the airport, not the flying itself!
During my 39-year career I had several incidents, yes. Did I ever fear for my life? No, but there were a few times that the adrenaline did pump, HARD! One cannot fly for 39 years without there being weather related or mechanical incidents, as well as issues with passengers.
One such incident happened early in my career. I was flying on a Convair 580 turbo prop, 48 passengers, two pilots, and myself. The weather was stormy. Rain pelted the aircraft as we took off. I don't believe we ever got a high enough altitude to get out of the storm.
I was at the back of the aircraft, in the galley. All at once I heard a loud BOOM! I immediately grabbed the hand phone to call the cockpit, turning as I did so to face the front. What I saw caused my hair to stand on end! Rolling toward me at top speed was what I would describe as a fire ball. I wasn't the only one that saw it. Passengers seated in the isle seats were ducking to the side to get away from it!
Now, I will say, I had often wondered what my thoughts would be if I found myself in "in-flight peril". Would I have a prayer on my lips? At the time I had no children, so there were none to be concerned about. The only two words that came out of my mouth in this moment were- "O-O-H - SH**"! (Not one to use profanity, I surprised myself, but had no time to reflect!)
I had no time to move, and where would I go? The bathroom was to my right.(called the blue room for the blue liquid in the toilet), and was not a place I wanted to be trapped in case of a fire!
The "fire ball" hit the doorway between the cabin and the galley. It "poof"- disappeared as quickly as it appeared! What just happened?!
After I got my heart rate down, I called the cockpit, and found out we had been hit by lightning. The fire ball I saw was static electricity. (No wonder my hair stood on end!) I walked through the cabin, reassuring the passengers and explaining what had happened. One man told me the hair on his chest arms stood up so much, he thought his shirt buttons would burst!
We all had a good laugh at that one! We probably laughed as much out of relief as visualizing this man turning into a fluff ball. Others gave their reactions, some rather funny! One woman stated that she thought this might be the end- we were going to crash! The thought that went through her mind was "why did I pay cash for that TV?!" I shared with them my one thought, which they thought was hysterical.
One woman laughed when I said my hair stood on end, and said I should look in the mirror, which I immediately did. The image looking back at me was---how do I describe this?! I have very thick, curly hair. I've always worn it layered. The shorter layers were still standing up in a sort of halo all around my head, making my head look like a balloon! (Note: When this happens, do not brush the hair! It only causes ALL the hair to stand on end!) All I could do is put it up into a ponytail and let the ends fly! Oh well, so much for being "glamorous"!
I had a few passengers who were still afraid for their safety. "Is the airplane o.k.? Were we going to make it to our destination? What does lightening do to the instruments?!" The Captain's voice came over the P.A., reassuring everyone that all was fine, There were many fail-safes in place to defuse lightening,and we'd be arriving at our destination in just a few minutes. Even with the Captain's reassurance, all 48 passengers cheered when the wheels touched the runway!
As the passengers deplaned, the Captain stood in the doorway of the cockpit, saying goodbye and offering a few reassuring words to those who were still a bit rattled by the experience. A few shook his hand and said "Thank you! Good job!"
On this aircraft, you would walk down the aircraft stairs to deplane. The Captain had deplaned first to walk around the aircraft and do a visual check to make sure all was o.k.- and called to the First Officer and myself as we deplaned. At the lower part of the aircraft nose was a larges scorch mark where the lightning had hit. I don't remember for sure, but I believe that with all the instruments and the cabin pressurization checking out good, we continued with that aircraft the next day to Detroit.
I did have a few "heart pounding" situations in my career, but far more on the expressway going to work. However, never again did I have quite the fiery, hair-raising situation as I did on this occasion!