Flying to Paris the other day I had the worst take-off. It was a little after 8pm and I had rushed the farewell calls to loved ones when the captain ordered all gadgets be switched off. After obliging, tightening the safety belt and squeezing in a little prayer, I anxiously waited for take-off.

It was drizzling lightly outside and another announcement said we were waiting for clearance from those on the ground. True to their word, after about five minutes the big Air France bird started to move. Now, let’s get something out of the way – I am one of those people who hate flying.

The idea of having no control whatsoever over my safety does not sit well with me. I know you are more likely to die on land than in the air, but that doesn’t make it any easier. On the night in question, my feelings about flying were reaffirmed.

We raced down the runway and, as we did so, it appeared as if the rain was intensifying. The pilot must have thought of cutting through the saturated clouds and flying above them. That is a great idea on paper, but in practice it can be daunting. As we rose into the sky, the rain intensified and soon you could see the plane cut through the heavy clouds.

Normally we see lightning from the ground, but on this occasion I could have sworn I saw several bolts really close to us. It didn’t help that the big metal bird hit some turbulence which made it feel as if the plane was going down at times. As I closed my eyes and prepared for the worst, I kept losing concen- tration because the passenger next to me screamed with each bump.

This is it, I thought, while trying to be brave on the outside. I saw flashes of all the movies about plane crashes I had seen and they just worsened my anxiety. It took a good 10 minutes, which is eternity if you think you are going to die, before things returned to normal and we were grateful the pilot had steered us through potential danger.

As you will see in the National Geographic documentary, Miracle on the Hudson, there are cases when a small problem leads to actual danger. In the 2009 Hudson incident, US Airways Flight 1549 struck a flock of Canada geese, losing engine power.

You’d think with Orville and Wilbur Wright long gone, advance- ments had been made to avoid such things from haappening, but that is not the case.

Slowly the plane started to lose altitude and it was a matter of mere minutes before the crew agreed that there were no airports nearby and they had to do the unthinkable – land on the Hudson River.

You know how those pretty air stewardesses always tell you what to do if the aircraft were to land on water? Well, it looks like the passengers on Flight 1549 were listening because no one died.

We see all this drama unfold in the documentary. We also see how everything happened through accounts from the survivors. The incident is now known as the Miracle on the Hudson and this has to do with the fact that even when they landed and the plane was slowly sinking, rescue teams managed to take everyone to safety.


• Miracle on the Hudson airs on Sunday at 9.55pm on National Geographic (DStv channel 181).