Saturday, January 17, 2009

Ditching Dialogue

  Anne facing camera, second from right, on Lake Nokomis

Felix Perry facing the camera on Lake Harriet, August, 1946

In the wake of Captain "Sully's" flawless ditching of U. S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River a couple of days ago, some of us old airline geezers remember experiences of ditching practice, emergency equipment testing and even a real ditching of a NWA Boeing B-377 Stratocruiser in Puget Sound 50 years ago, give or take.
Practicing and testing was mostly done on Minneapolis lakes in those days. Although Captain Sully would have been hard pressed to successfully set his Airbus A320 down on Lake Nokomis, that is exactly where we stewardesses fulfilled the requirement for twice-yearly ditching practice required by the Civil Aeronautics Board (forerunner of the F.A.A.) .
A  few years earlier over on Lake Harriet, Felix Perry was testing life vests and life rafts for Northwest Airlines.  As part of the project, Felix and his crew devised  airplane seat cushions that  did double duty as flotation devices.  I clearly remember the sign on the seat backs "Use seat bottom cushion for flotation," recommended by Felix and his team. 
On April 2, 1956, NWA Boeing Stratocruiser Tokyo, ship 708, ditched in Puget Sound after takeoff from Seattle/Tacoma.  All of the passengers and crew made it safely out of the airplane, but some drowned before rescue teams could reach them. By contrast, the close proximity of so many boats at the time of the U. S. Airways ditching this week was surely providential.

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