Rejected Takeoff

(translated by Juergen Matthes)

Boeing 727 DeltaDespite all the uncertanties, which you encounter travelling standby on a 10% flight, one tries to improve one’s chances to be on a specific flight with all kinds of tricks! We planned to travel to Athens and go on “cultural vacations”. To Athens normally a Boeing 727 is scheduled, a somewhat smaller aircraft with limited passenger capacity. But there was another possibility, a DC10-300 was scheduled to fly to Bombay with a stop in Athens. The return flight of this DC10 then was flying Bombay direct Frankfurt, so no chance to use this trick on the way back. But the return flight from Athens is less critical, and besides,then vacations are over anyway!

So we booked this way, to improve our chances with this bigger baby. At the gate they told us, the flight is not booked out, it looks pretty good that we will be able to ride along. And this is how it worked out. We are aboard, the doors are closed. We are taxiing to runway 25 R.

The engines are spooling up, the aircraft accelerates, shortly before becoming airborne the pilot slams the nose-gear onto the runway and applies the brakes like mad. I didn’t know before that an aircraft could brake that hard! I bumped my head on the back of the seat in front of me, there was nothing I could do about it. It happened to everyone aboard. We slowed down and then stopped right on the runway.

The captain came on the pa-system and announced, a warning light had winked on, which was not supposed to be lit during takeoff, so he had wanted to check what was going on. We were sitting on the runway …

Suddenly a loud noise occurred. The aircraft, which had planned to land after our (successful) takeoff thundered overhead. It’s engines were running at 100% thrust, and the noise hit us exactly.

In the tower, I thought, they must be highly concentrated right now. One runway was blocked, what a mess that would create! All planning for takeoffs and landings had to be redone. I was pulled from my thoughts by the sight of the fire-brigade, which was coming alongside. Oops, more than a warning light, I thought!

Then I noticed, the engines are still running.

Escorted by two firetrucks we started to taxi off the runway, towards the big maintenance hangar of Lufthansa-Technik, we parked in front of it. Stairways were rolled to the aircraft, and the doors were opened. A technician walked into the cockpit.

After some moments they announced that while we were waiting we would be served drinks. That means it will take a bit longer! Since I had a window-seat, I could watch the technicians milling about. There, isn’t that Claude, a technician I knew from my time in Kelsterbach?

Unfortunately I could not leave the aircraft. The flight-attendants blocked the doors for the passengers. Then the captain was on again, the warning had been right, there was a minor technical problem they could fix right here. We should enjoy our time aboard. Then the purser came along, they would serve lunch while still being on the ground.

When things had calmed down, I asked a stewardess whether I could talk to the captain. Thanks to my ID from work she agreed to at least ask him. She came back smiling and told me: affirmative!

I only asked the captain, whether I could leave the aircraft for a short, I had spotted a friend among the technicians and had wanted to say hello to him. That was granted, and a short time later I found myself on the apron.

I spotted Claude on top of a ladder leaning at the middle engine. The engine cowlings were open and Claude was hanging halfway inside the engine. When he finally came down the ladder, he recognized me right a way and asked how in the world I had been able to get inside the secure area here. Not in, I replied, down from the aircraft.

Boy, he said, it’s your birthday today, and you have a superb captain. He explained what had happened during takeoff. At full power the middle engine had somehow deployed the thrust reversers! Hadn’t the captain courageous aborted the takeoff, we probably would have executed a perfect crash, with two engines providing thrust and one in reverse a takeoff and safe flight is not possible!

My face went pale! Claude urged me, don’t tell anyone before you landed. Promise!

After two hours, the repairs had been conducted successfully, as the captain said, we once again taxied towards takeoff. I was the loneliest person on board, I literally was ready to shit my pants!

Takeoff and the flight to Athens went normal. I needed another two days before I could tell my wife about the conversation with Claude!