Fear of flying? Blame Gus

October 03, 1994|By KEVIN COWHERD

People wonder why I'm such a nervous flier, but you would be, too, if you went through what I went through.

This is a true story: Back in the early '80s, when I was a young and extremely bad sportswriter, I was about to fly from Miami to Baltimore on the Colts' charter.

The Dolphins had just crushed the Colts 75-0, or something like that. So they weren't exactly passing out champagne and party hats on the plane.

Anyway, we were hurtling down the runway in preparation for takeoff when suddenly the brakes screeched and we skidded off onto a patch of grass.

There was a moment of stunned silence in the cabin, which I took advantage of by waving frantically for the beverage cart.

Then the captain came on the intercom and said: "Uh, folks, one of our gauges indicated a problem, so we aborted takeoff. We're gonna get towed back to the hangar and have it checked out."

Me, I had no problem with this.

My whole philosophy on flying is this: If there's any chance that we're going to crash and burn, let's not even take off.

If we've got a gauge that indicates a problem, hey, by all means, let's check it out.

So a tractor arrived and towed the plane back to the hangar.

At this point, sitting in a window seat above the right engine, I have certain expectations.

I want to see teams of alert-looking mechanics in crisp, white uniforms swarming all over this plane.

I want to see dozens of sophisticated instruments hooked up to the engines.

I want to see technicians from NASA performing stress tests on the wings and tail assembly.

I want every rivet, bolt, screw, wire, light, dial, gauge, panel, etc. checked out before we get the thumbs-up sign.

Instead, what happened was this: The door to the hangar opened. And this old guy in dirty overalls came shuffling out with a stepladder.

As he neared the plane, I could make out the name embroidered over his breast pocket.

The man's name was Gus.

Gus was going to fix our plane.

You think I'm kidding.

I'm not kidding one bit.

At this point, I felt it only fair to turn to my fellow passengers and inform them that we were all going to die.

"Why do you say that?" they asked.

"Because Gus is fixing our plane," I said.

"Gus?" the said.

"Come watch," I said.

What happened next was like something out of a Mel Brooks movie, only none of us were laughing, seeing as how we were all going to die.

When Gus finally reached the plane, he set his stepladder under the right engine.

Then he climbed up, pulled a wrench from his pocket, and whacked the engine three times: WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

Then he climbed down, folded the ladder, and shuffled back into the hangar.

Swear to God.

Ten seconds later, the captain clicked on the intercom: "Well, folks, looks like we got that problem cleared up. We'll be under way shortly."

Well. If there was any doubt before that we were all going to die, it was gone now. The entire front of the plane was in a state of intense panic.

As one of the flight attendants passed, I yoked her around the neck and pulled her toward me.

"Do you realize that a man named Gus just worked on this plane?" I said.

"Gus?" she said vacantly.

"Gus!" I said. "And all Gus did was whack the engine with a wrench! And now we're taking off!"

"I'm sure everything will be fine, sir," she said.

"Everything will not be fine!" I screamed. "The engine that Gus was supposed to work on will drop off when we're 27,000 feet over Atlanta, at which point we'll come barreling out of the sky and splatter into someone's back yard!"

To make a long story short, we took off without incident. The flight was uneventful, too, although I was a nervous wreck and spent the time alternately sucking down beers and checking the right engine for flames.

When I told this story some months later to a pilot from another airline, he shook his head in amazement and said: "Gus, huh?"

And people wonder why I don't like to fly.

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