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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Airplane Crash Survivors

I’m not a frequent flyer, but I fly often. When I clicked on the headlines of the US Airways crash, it was one of the strangest sights I had ever seen. The jet rested on top of the water with survivors standing on the wings waiting for their turn to be rescued. I immediately Googled the crash to see what else I could learn. The miracle story just seemed to get better and better. Then I saw a YouTube of an Airbus Crash. Wow! That was quick.

I clicked on the video and watched a plane getting lower to the ground. I was disappointed as the plane went out of sight because I wanted to see the water landing. When I thought the video would end, the jet exploded and a plume of smoke and flames shot skyward. Wrong video.

It did give me pause. Why did one jet crash and burn and the other land in water and float long enough for all passengers and crew to be rescued? What separates victims from survivors?

Why are so many people terrified of flying while others, like me, get no more excited than stepping on an elevator? It has nothing to do with bad experiences, but seems more to be something hard-wired in our brains.

I’ve had a few harrowing experience aboard aircraft, but it hasn’t interfered with my love of travel. When I was eighteen, I flew to Hawaii where Jim and I planned to marry while he was on R&R from Vietnam. My first flight was a non-stop out of Kansas City to San Francisco. After a breakfast of eggs benedict, the flight attendants (called stewardesses back then) picked up our trash and made sure everyone’s seats were in an upright position and seatbelts securely fastened. The plane began a sharp descent and we came in for a landing.

As the plane barreled down a runway seemingly in the middle of nowhere, police cars, taxis, fire trucks and ambulances followed us. As soon as the plane stopped, an announcement came over the speakers, “Exit from the nearest exit and get into the taxis.” We were herded into a building and stood beside our luggage as it was searched. Our emergency landing in Denver was a precaution because someone (“do any of you know someone who would have done such a thing?”) phoned-in a bomb threat specifying our flight and destination. In 1986, about two weeks after the Challenger explosion, I flew back to Hawaii. That time a TWA plane came so close to us that my sister swears she saw the shocked look on the pilot’s face.

It is not so much experiences as our personalities that determine how we feel about life’s challenges. Some of us are survivors and expect to continue moving forward with our lives. Others feel like victims and expect more catastrophes in their future.

Those of us who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s, or lost loved ones to the disease, know the only survivors are the caregivers. We are the pilots who land the plane on the water and wait patiently on the wings with knowledge in our hearts that we will endure, overcome, and continue forward with our lives.

My next scheduled flight is to the Alzheimer’s Association Public Policy Forum. During these hard economic times, we need to ask for continued fast-track research to find a cure for the 5.2 million Americans with Alzheimer’s. It is unthinkable that all my friends with dementia are on a plane that will crash and burn. We need to adopt a survivor mentality for those with Alzheimer’s, and not lose hope that science can bring them in for a safe and miraculous landing.
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