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Up in the Air

April 30, 2014

     Today, I have the distinct honor of hosting a guest… my cousin Dean.  There is a ten-year age difference between us, so he was always one of the ‘little kids.’  Since our early years, he pursued his dream of becoming an airline pilot.  A family tragedy provided the opportunity for us to re-connected recently, and I am richer now because of that experience.  

     The following is copied from his Facebook post, and posted here with his permission.  Thanks, Dean!    

     A little excitement on American flight #428 today from Salt Lake City to Denver… was my leg to fly. Everything was uneventful from pre-flight, passenger boarding, servicing the airplane to taxi out, departure and initial climb. There was an overcast layer of clouds that we climbed rapidly through in our Boeing 757-200, the greatest aircraft that I have been blessed to fly in my 27 years as a pilot.
     We leveled off a FL 310 (31,000) and as we were marveling at the view of the Rocky Mountains stretching as far as we could see. Suddenly our smooth flight took a turn for the worse. The Master Warning (Red) lights glared in our faces while simultaneously the fire bell began blaring loudly and incessantly. We sprang into action. I punched the master warning light, which silenced the bell, immediately calling for the memory items for the Engine Fire/Severe Damage/Separation checklist.
     I reached up and turned off the auto throttle switch, then grabbed the left engine thrust lever, confirmed–idle. The captain identified the left fuel control switch, confirmed–cutoff. He then identified the left engine fire control switch, confirmed–pull. He rotated the handle to blow the first fire extinguisher.
     I instinctively pushed forward the right thrust lever and pushed the right rudder to compensate for the loss of thrust. At the same time, the Captain made a “Mayday, Mayday, Mayday” call to ATC (Air Traffic Control)…..we would not be able to maintain altitude for much longer. Salt Lake Center cleared us to descend to FL 190 and I set the power for a gradual descent.
     I had the easy part–just flying the jet. Again, the 757 is built to handle just this kind of emergency–lots of thrust and great control once you get it down from the rare air of 30 thousand plus. The captain ran the checklists, coordinated with ATC and the company, and set the flight attendants to preparing for an emergency landing in Denver. He calmly assured the passengers that they were in the very capable hands of a skilled pilot–I appreciated that, by the way!
     The approach and landing were exciting–you don’t do this everyday, you know? That little bit of extra adrenaline tightened my scan and the glide slope and localizer needles were locked in with our airspeed stabilized at 150 knots, the target speed. The touchdown was smooth, on the center line of runway 34R and at about the 1500 foot point, right where I wanted it.
     As we rolled out the Captain asked the Airport Rescue Firefighting personnel if the indicated any heat from the right engine from their infrared sensors. Thankfully, the answer was “No.” We turned to taxi off the runway.
     At this point, Dave leaned forward and said “Park the brakes and do your shutdown checklist. Great check ride guys!!”
    Now I sit on a regional jet in Dallas/Fort Worth on my way to Cedar Rapids and a few days off with my girls before I take to the skies in a real jet on Saturday for Manchester, England–qualified for another 9 months on the line.
    I gotta say, I love my job!  Simulated emergencies, and all!


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