Belfast Telegraph

FlyBe plane fire: There was no 'dog eat dog' trampling of each other, just solidarity in a crisis

Lobbyist Quintin Oliver was a passenger on the troubled flight. Here, he tells in his own words what he saw and felt

Do I want to write this story? I'm not sure. I was an unwilling and accidental participant in the Flybe emergency landing drama at Belfast International. No one was seriously hurt, the staff were brilliant and everyone was home safely in a few hours.

Meanwhile, over 100 children were killed in Pakistan, the number of refugees from Syria has topped three million and hunger and poverty continue to stalk the land. Let's keep this in proportion.

Returning from delivering a day's training in Glasgow with some wonderful Scottish engagement experts, our plane was airborne at 18.20 after a short delay.

Then suddenly the aircraft lurched, as a fireball seemed to engulf the left-side propeller. The cabin lit up with the flash and flames licked around the engine casing. Scared? Yes, very scared.

People's reactions to a situation like this are interesting. They say we default under pressure to our real selves. No one screamed, no one was hysterical; some went quiet, some prayed, some tried to activate their mobile phones, some turned to banter and gallows humour. Even the two cabin crew seemed as scared as us passengers, hugging each other and white with apprehension. It was an endearing human reaction, but not altogether reassuring.

The next 15 minutes were long, as we diverted from Belfast City to the International Airport, since it apparently has better emergency facilities and a longer runway.

I now know that a Mayday call had been issued by the captain, and that we experienced an 'emergency landing' (it felt pretty normal to me, until the call to 'evacuate, evacuate...') and that the engine was still smoking when we landed. There were no oxygen masks falling, no 'brace, brace' - actually no information at all, which may have been wise.

My rational brain was reminding me planes land on one engine relatively often, but my other brain was less sanguine; indeed it was pumping with fear and tension as I gripped the woman next to me.

As we left the plane, some front left by steps, many back right by jumping to the tarmac, a kind of aftershock set in. Some had fallen, cut and bruised, but nothing serious. Throughout it all there was no 'dog eat dog' trampling of each other for precedence, just human solidarity in a crisis.

That bonding continued and deepened as we were herded into the terminal, and were variously attended to by customer services (ready and waiting), first aid, (20 minutes), social services (30 minutes), tea, coffee and chocolate (35 minutes), Servisair, clipboard and pencil in hand, one by one for baggage reclaim (40 minutes) and PSNI (50 minutes).

Three-and-a-quarter hours later, at 10.10pm, the final passengers left the airport by bus, taxi or lift, with or without their cabin and hand luggage, nursing memories and a sense of sheer relief.

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