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The Worst-Case Scenario

April 4, 2017

My friend, Pete, was flying from Omaha, Nebraska back home to Minneapolis.  It wasn't a commercial airline.  It was only Pete, the pilot, and 7 other passengers in a very full, very small plane.

Even though there were 421.78 km to cover, with the wind blowing favorably, the trip was a quick one.  Pete would be home in just over an hour.  

Except he wasn't.

The plane had started off fine.  No mechanical issues.  Passengers and Pilot were there on time.  The only hint of a problem might be the weather report in Minneapolis: Cloudy with light drizzle.  

Soon they were in the air.  It was smooth sailing.  No turbulence--even for a small plane!  

 


But during the flight, the weather in Minneapolis became a little more challenging.  The dew point was high and the temperature was just about the same.  Thick clouds were forming on the ground.

By the time they were flying over Minneapolis, it was invisible.  Thankfully they were flying to a small plane port called Crystal to the north of the Minneapolis International Airport.  Maybe their destination in the north suburb would be better.  

The pilot and passengers looked at the blanket of grey below scanning for a break. Looking for trees, houses or lights along the freeway.  Soon the instrument panel said they were at the Crystal airport.  But none of them could see it.  The pilot called over the radio to verify his position.  They radioed back that the airport was closed.  The pilot stayed on the radio with the ground.

"Is Minneapolis open?  Has the fog receded there?  Over."

"Negative.  The fog is just as thick at MSP.  MSP Int'l is closed. Recommend Rochester. Over." 

The pilot let out an audible "Hm."  Before clicking back on the radio.

"Negative Ground.  When we flew in, conditions didn't look much better in Southern Minnesota and I'm not certain I have enough fuel to go as far as Rochester.  Over."

"Repeat.  MSP is closed.  Recommend Rochester.  Do you copy?  Over."

The pilot radioed back on to say "copy that."  But he headed for Minneapolis anyway--praying  for a break in the clouds. 

Several minutes later, the passengers couldn't tell a difference.  Looking out the windows only showed them a thick grayness.  Only the pilot could know they'd reached the Minneapolis International Airport.  And the only way he knew it was from trusting his instrument panel.  He had zero visibility.

The pilot looked at his fuel gauge and radioed the tower for clearance.  Denied.  

Just as he had heard from the Crystal airport, it was completely closed.

The pilot didn't believe he had enough fuel to get to Rochester.  So there weren't a lot of options.  1.  Attempt to land in zero visibility at the largest possible airport--and potentially crash.  Or 2. Attempt to fly to another smaller airport and likely run out of fuel--and potentially crash.

He radioed the tower. 

"Mayday, Mayday.  Minneapolis.  I'm low on fuel.  Cannot make it to Rochester.  Requesting emergency landing.  Over."

While the airport prepped the emergency teams, the passengers began to pray.  The pilot went over the landing checklist and Ground control gave the go ahead.  The plane began to descend into the final approach.

 

 

The above video shows what the fog looked like.  Fog so thick that you can't see anything until you're right up next to it.  Unfortunately, in Pete's story, the plane didn't see the runaway at the end of his approach.

The radio crackled to life, "You're too close to the Terminal, pull up!"  

The plane hadn't made it to the runway.  The pilot had misjudged and had to pull out of the approach.  He pulled back on the stick and the plane lurched back up into the air.  Once they resumed height and adjusted the trim,  he circled the plane back while the passengers took deep breaths and tried to calm their nerves.

The pilot apologized to the passengers.

"Now, I've got my bearings,"  He thought.

He radioed the tower to confirm his missed approach and radioed through the missed approach checklist.  Then the pilot and the tower prepared for the next approach.

This time, the video looked much more like the video above.  They got onto the runway!

However, the radio warned them that they were coming in too close to the terminal again.  The pilot listened to the advice an took off again.  The passengers watched as they plane nearly skimmed the roof of the terminal.

More prayers ascended to heaven along with the plane.  The pilot adjust his speed and trim again.  He went through the missed approach checklist and requested a 3rd  approach.

The third time is the charm.  Most of the time.  OK, at least some of the time.  But not, this time.

Soon they were up in the air again going through the terrifying process of realizing that they were in a very tough situation.  The passengers had plenty of faith in the pilot when they left from the airport in the sunny skies of Omaha.  They had faith in him when he took the advice of the tower and didn't land at the Crystal airport.  They even had faith when he made the call to land in Minneapolis.  But after 3 failed attempts, their faith was shaken.

And the pilot?  Well, his faith was shaken, too.  His faith in his own abilities was shaken after the first approach.  The experience made him less confident on the next approach.  If he was on his own, he'd be in trouble.

But was he alone?  No.

He had the tower.  The tower has a perspective.  They were there to help him and keep everyone in the plane safe.  Both the tower and the pilot are trained to use the instruments to navigate through these difficult conditions.  

 

But that doesn't make it easy.  Knowing what to do.  And doing it are two very different things.

You can read books by Warren Buffet or his annual letter to learn about investing.  Does that make you an investor?  You can read about Michael Jordan's work ethic.   Does it make you an amazing basketball player?  You can read your Bible everyday.  Does it make you live a more righteous, gracious, and exciting life?

Only if you apply it.  Thought cannot change your life.  That is unless, you act on those thoughts.  See reading and learning are like pressing the primer on your lawn mower.  The primer is a rubber bulb that you can press that uses air pressure to get the fuel closer to the carburetor.  Just like the primer, Learning new Information prepares you for a successful start.  However, priming a lawn mower won't start it.  You have to use your energy to pull the ripcord.  But also, if you haven't used the primer, it's going to be a lot harder to get the mower started.

So I advise you to both prime and pull.  Learn everything you can.  Then put your learning into practice.  You're rarely going to succeed at something new the first time.  You're got to start by practicing.  Not just thinking about it.  Put your energy into it.

Now, this pilot--I'm presuming--must have been well primed.  He not only had the knowledge of how to fly a plane, but he had done it.  He had practiced it long before he received his license.  He'd flown many times.  But just because things had gone well before, did not mean they were going to go well this time.  

This pilot had not made a safe landing within 3 attempts.  What was he going to do now?  It was now far too late to attempt Rochester.  

 

He only had one course of action: Land the plane.  

 

But there were 2 possible outcomes: 
1. Crash the plane

2. Land Safely

Of course, this pilot had the pressure of 8 passengers watching him.  His failed attempts had made their confidence wane.  However, their perception of him as a pilot didn't change the position he was in.  It didn't change his mission.  It could change how he reacted, if he let it.  He could let their lowering opinion of him change his approach for the landing.  But he didn't.  He didn't ask their advice--even though they had a vested interest.  They weren't experienced.  He was.  So he performed what he knew--as he had practiced.

He lined up for the 4th approach.  He looked at his panel and read the distance.  He didn't look at the fuel gauge. He looked at his altitude and positioning.  Once the tower gave clearance, he approached again.  The sky couldn't help him--it was an indifferent Gray.  He watched the instruments that told him his speed and position.  He needed to touch down on the runway earlier, but he was determined to not hit the ground too hard.

The lights came out of nowhere.  The lines of the airstrip blinked by.  He was just over the ground.  The wheels touched down with a--relatively--soft bump.  He started to ease back the throttle.  The radio came to life.

"Pull up.  You're too close to the terminal."

He reacted.  He accelerated and  pulled up again.  He zoomed over the roof of the terminal for the 4th time.  

Yet another failure.  He resumed his altitude.  Went over the missed approach checklist with the tower.  After 4 attempts, the pilot was back to square one.  

The mission hadn't changed.  The potential outcomes hadn't changed.  The weather hadn't changed.  The only changes were:

1. Less confidence from the passengers
2. Less fuel in the gas tank for another attempt  

3. More Pressure on the next attempt 

He told a deep breath and tried again.  

"Pull up.  You're too close to the terminal."

A fifth failure.  The passengers were panicked.  They began going over their wills in their minds.  People were crying.  But for the pilot the mission hadn't changed and the potential outcomes hadn't changed.

He failed a sixth time.

Well, he failed to land, but at least he hadn't crashed, right?  That meant he had another chance.  They were all still alive!  He was actually regaining confidence.  He had actually touched down in zero-visibility 6 times without anyone getting hurt.

What have you wanted to do in life that you have failed at?  Have you tried 6 times?

 

For me I've wanted to make a living as a musician.  I've never done it.  In fact, my musical aspirations have left me in the red.  Thankfully, my day jobs have paid for equipment and recording and transportation.  Just because I haven't done it in 15 years, doesn't mean that I won't make it someday.

The 7th approach came and went.  They were back up in the air.  By this time, the passengers were sure that if they ever made it home alive, they would not be flying in a small plane ever again.  

 

The beautiful, charming, talented, and quirky, Beth Carter, never wanted to be more than friends for the first 7 years that I knew her.  But I loved being her friend.  I stayed with her as a friend even while she and I dated other people.  Finally, one night after a long walk (on a night before I was leaving to go live in another city for the next 9 months) she changed her mind.  3 month's into our long-distance relationship, I asked her to marry me.  Now we have 3 kids.


After the 7th approach, they were only half way through the ordeal.  It took the pilot 13 attempts before he finally landed them all safely on the 14th approach. Everyone walked away physically unharmed, but psychologically and emotionally shaken.

While I know that Pete has an aversion to small planes, the pilot went on to fly in the Air Force.  That horrible day or incredible challenge made him a stronger and more experienced pilot.  It gave him new perspective and greater confidence in his future endeavors.

So even though you might not be able to see it now.  Remember that your greatest challenges can be your greatest growth.

 


 

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