In the mid 90s, I began an adventure that’s still going strong, despite its inauspicious beginnings. I grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and, apart from a trip to New Zealand when I was ten, I’d never been abroad. When I was 19, it was time to take matters into my own hands.
Dressed in dungarees (overalls) with an unsullied passport and 15 kilos of carry-on luggage cutting into my hand, I boarded a 747 at Sydney airport. I was so excited. This was it. The start of something new. And my guy (at the time) was waiting for me at the other end.
And then, about an hour after take off, I watched the east coast of Australia disappear from my lefthand window. The view was replaced with the Coral Sea, stretching blue, dark and deep to the horizon. We were heading in the direction we came and nobody else seemed to notice. While the other passengers continued to fiddle with their camcorders, Opera House fridge magnets and didgeridoos, I felt a growing dread develop deep beneath my denim bib. I was never going to get out of here.
I should, however, have been more concerned about aeronautics. We were somewhere north of Brisbane when the plane banked south. Not long after, the captain announced that oil had been leaking from an engine and that we were heading back to Sydney. The fuel dump started, gushing from the wings so that the plane would be light enough to land. The cabin crew strode up and down the aisles with purpose, not bothering to hide their concern.
An hour or so later we began the descent. The plane dropped slowly, but the pilots lost control on impact. The nose wheels failed and we plummeted down the runway towards Botany Bay. Fishtailing, seesawing, metal on tarmac screeching. Fire engines. Foam. An acrid smell. Shock and screaming. The least they could’ve done was let us get off via the emergency slide.
That day I was a celebrity, of sorts. On the news in my dungarees. In the papers in my dungarees. On the radio in my dungarees. At an airport hotel with friends and family in my dungarees. On a different plane the next morning, in the same seat number (spooky), in my dungarees.
I was assured that my luggage, which had been stuck overnight in the ass-end of the crashed plane, was in the hold. I was grateful for the clean underwear the airline gave me and the Johnny Walker miniatures I guiltily stole from the hotel. I expected a bill for months – now I realise I could’ve demanded so much more.
We took off in an exact replica. Sydney disappeared. Once Papua New Guinea (my would be future home) came into view, I felt the weight lift and my newly acquired fear of flying evaporate (lightening doesn’t strike twice, right?). I never, however, wanted to wear dungarees again. Until I saw this picture.
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Image via here.