What To Do When Catastrophe Strikes – Fly the Plane!

“It was not a crash.  We knew what we were doing.  It was a forced water landing.” – from the Movie, “Sully”

Aviation, both as a pilot and an air traffic controller, have taught me what to do in an emergency:  Fly The Plane.
When I found myself talking to an aircraft in distress, one experiencing an emergency, I had one task, do whatever was within my power so that the pilot had only one thing to do:  Fly The Plane.
The one time I myself piloted an airplane during an emergency, there was only one thing to do:  Fly The Plane!
I have found the skills developed though my air traffic and pilot training, simulations and real time experience dealing with emergencies transferable to handling life’s curve balls.
The past couple of months of prolonged uncertainty, stay-at-home, stay safe and now the unsteady uncertain “reopening” of our lives is no different.

When Nothing Is Certain – Fly The Plane

This pandemic demonstrates that surprise attacks, disappointments, crisis and even devastation, do not discriminate.  They come at us, smack us in the gut, leaving us to cope.
As a pilot and a controller, we train for those times when, in spite of the best planning and precautions, things go wrong.  Those times when we must shout MAYDAY!
I was reminded of this while watching the movie, Sully.  For me, as a former air traffic controller, aircraft accident investigator and current private pilot it was more than just a good movie, it was visceral.
It epitomized the value of what to do when things go wrong: fly the airplane.  To do this well, one must choose to resist the natural urge to:
  • Panic
  • Sit down and cry
  • Scream and holler
  • Freeze
  • Ask “why me?”
and so on, and so forth.  None of these reactions are helpful or productive in the moment.

Unwanted Challenges

fly the planeSome time back, a friend called to cancel and appointment we had.  Within 24 hours, her life had completely unraveled as a result of a deep betrayal by a loved one.
It was during the Holidays, with twinkling lights and festive music all around, but she is looking for a lawyer, a place to live and dealing with the “wouda, coulda, shoulas” that flood one’s very being in these situations.  My advice to her:  Fly the airplane.
It’s the difference between crashing and burning or making a survivable landing. The plane may be gone but you are alive.  There will be time in the future for processing emotion, rearranging of plans, dreams and all that goes with these unexpected events .
Even when you survive the landing in a spectacular way, as Captain Sully did, it does not minimize the trauma to one’s soul.  But right now:  Fly the Airplane
So whether you realize it or not we are all dealing with deep trauma.  Some more than others.  From loosing a loved one, a job, or, like me simply realizing that wearing a mask when I go out is now a way of life, I have one piece of advise:  Fly the Airplane.
Live each day, Put one foot in front of the other, take the one next positive step, because no matter which end of the spectrum of experience you are at, we only have today.  This moment.
That is all we are created to handle – today.
What one thing are you doing to fly your plane – today?  Please comment below, or email me


I am a former air traffic controller, pilot, Aircoupe owner, married 42 years to a great guy. We live in a 125+ year old historic Victorian, enjoy cats, vintage anything, precious friends. My passion is Giving Lost Stories A Voice – Giving Found Materials Fresh Form and Purpose!

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