by Kent Fletcher
With all the hoopla going on with intoxicated pilots lately, I thought about something that happened to me on my way to a cousin's wedding in Pueblo, Colorado, in the early ‘70s.
I was stationed in the Pentagon at the time and had taken two weeks leave. I flew home to Mississippi, and a day or so later my mother Madeline and I hopped another plane to Denver, Colorado. By the time we arrived in Denver, a major snowstorm was underway. We sat in the terminal for several hours, waiting for Frontier Airlines (now defunct) to determine whether we would make our connection to Pueblo. Seeing how there was not much else to do but wait, I consumed several cups of coffee. Madeline consumed several cigarettes and a couple of drinks. I think she was nervous.
We were finally told to board the aircraft, a two-engine prop job. When we found our appointed seats, the plane was colder than icicles, but with all the heavy wool both Madeline and I had on, it's a wonder we weren't sweating.
The flight was to leave in a short time, stopping in Colorado Springs, and then on to Pueblo. The flight attendants (aka stewardesses at the time) were already serving drinks and coffee, even before the rest of the flight crew came onboard.
After sitting for maybe 30 minutes, the flight crew--Captain, Copilot, and Navigator--came on board. The passenger compartment was near freezing by then. The Captain keyed his microphone into the passenger compartment and informed us we would be taking off within just a few minutes. But his voice sounded strange, slurred really. Madeline and I looked at each other, wondering what the heck was going on.
Shortly the engines were fired off, and the plane sat there for a bit, letting the engines warm to operating temperature. Again the Captain spoke over the intercom, telling the passengers he was about to release the brakes and head out to the runway for the trip on down to Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Again, Madeline and I looked at each other, each pulling an extra tug on the seat belts.
There was still no discernible heat in the cabin, but that was okay for us, at least we knew (or thought) this thing was going to get off the ground.
Sitting next to the window (Madeline didn't like looking down too much), I could hardly see the terminal just a few yards away, for the wind and the prop wash were blowing snow all over the place. Soon we could feel the tremble in the plane as we started rolling away from the terminal. But in about 30 seconds, we stopped and the motors were shut down. At that time the Captain keyed his mike again, telling us the flight had been terminated due to bad and/or unflyable weather. And this time his speech was slurred even more than the first time!
Looking out the window, I could barely make out the terminal we had supposedly just left! The Captain had locked the starboard wheels and simply made a 360 turn, stopping the forward (?) motion exactly where we had begun!
So, the walk-up ramp was returned to the plane and we disembarked.
As it turned out, the Captain was fully liquored up and was not capable of even getting us away from the gate, much less fly. I vaguely remember his walking off behind us, staggering a bit.
Once again, Madeline and I just looked at each other, breathing sighs of relief that the flight had been canceled.
Madeline called her sister in Pueblo to tell her what was happening. We finally caught a Trailways bus to Pueblo. Because of the snowstorm, we didn't arrive in Pueblo until the wee hours of the morning. The Interstate was so icy just south of Colorado Springs that the driver actually detoured through the Fort Carson Army Base for about five miles, eventually taking the frontage road back to the Interstate.
We made the wedding in fine time, all things considered. But with all the news now about people flying drunk, pilots and copilots flying drunk, what my mother and I went through was way ahead of its time!
Contact Kent Fletcher, Mississippi native and now a proud Texan, at: hots64
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