"I Can’t Swim!"

Posted 05/04/04

By "Buck" Pratt

One day during the late 80s, a TWA 767 under the command of STL-based Capt. Ken Carlson was enroute to St. Louis from a European station, when a malfunction occurred that required an engine shutdown and diversion to an alternate airport. The flight was over the ocean and the nearest suitable airport was Goose Bay, Labrador. Capt. Carlson immediately began the diversion and notified the appropriate air traffic control facility as well as Flight Dispatch. He also informed his passengers of the problem and advised that they would be landing at Goose Bay.

In the meantime, internal notification spread throughout TW operations, and various departments began taking necessary steps to protect the load and see to aircraft maintenance needs. I was the Chief Pilot at STL and quickly had been notified, and after the flight landed safely I called Capt. Carlson to see if there was anything he needed over and above what was already being done.

He was satisfied concerning the care and handling of his aircraft and passengers, and provided me a quick overview of the circumstances. One of the items mentioned was that somehow the media had been notified and they were milling around on the Goose Bay ramp as his flight taxied to a stop. Passengers were being interviewed in the gate area, and some even got cornered as they deplaned down the steps. The media were desperate to make a story out of something that really was a non-event.

One of the deplaning passengers was a little gray-haired lady who came down the stairs in her stocking feet, with her shoes gripped tightly in one hand and her purse in the other. Immediately surrounded by news people, she began to marvel over the wonderful skills of the pilot, heaping endless praise on him. She said that when the pilot advised them that they would land at Goose Bay, she knew she would surely die because she didn’t know how to swim. She said further that only through the Captain's superior skill and talent were they able to avoid the bay "and make it to a nice airport."

Capt. Carlson passed away shortly after he retired in 1989, but he and I always had many a good laugh as he never once missed an opportunity to remind me of his "superior" performance as an aviator in reaching dry land with his "crippled ship!"

H. B. "Buck" Pratt (1955 -1989) served in Flight Operations

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