Elizabeth Otto fell to her death from a corporate plane just south of Sacramento, California, after the door on the twin-engine turboprop opened in mid-flight. Another passenger desperately tried to save her, but Otto was sucked out of the plane and plummeted 2,000 feet. That was in December 2000.
A similar story involving a woman from Kenya appeared in the Israeli press a few months ago. When I read it, I blamed that tragic fall on Third World safety standards, not even dreaming that the same thing could have happened in the United States nearly 10 years earlier.
I have no fear of flying, but these stories haunt me. Whenever I am on a plane, which is often enough, I keep my seat belt fastened even after the pilot has switched off the seat belt sign. When I’m in line for the toilet, I hold on tightly to anything graspable and wonder if I could really save myself from the horrible fate of those women if the door blew open. Probably not. I think of laptops, purses, shoes and books whizzing past passenger’s heads and out the doorway. I imagine it raining laptops and shoes in someone’s backyard. Or a dead California woman, her mouth still open in terror and surprise.
Sometimes I think that life is like a plane, providing an illusion of safety as long as the door is closed. But the door can blow open suddenly, making plans, projects and dear ones—even ourselves—disappear into oblivion, like poor Elizabeth Otto.
Text copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.