A DUNDALK man had a near miss when the plane in which he was travelling to Columbia in had to make an emergency stop on a remote mid-Atlantic volcanic island.
Neil Ahern, who is from Blackrock but currently working in the UK, boarded the flight from Paris to Bogotá in Columbia to fly to a golf tournament in South America for work.
Little did Neil know is that the plane had a techinical fault which meant it had to make an emergency stop in the Azores.
“It was about five hours into the eleven hour flight and I was tapped on my shoulder and told to but my laptop away and fold up my table. There had been an announcement on the plane but I hadn’t heard it as I had a headset on.
“The passenger next to me told me that we had to make an emergency landing. I looked at the flight plan which showed that plane was in the middle of the Atlantic, thousands of miles from any landmass.”
The Airbus A340-300 then had to make a rapid descent to dump fuel to accomodate a safe landing on one of the Azores Islands. Understandably an ordeal for the hundreds of passengers onboard.
“It was definitely unnerving. That said I didn’t hear anyone crying or panicing. Obviously the pilot had kept the information that he gave us to a minimum as he didn’t want to start a panic.”
The plane had to make a U-turn to head back to the Azores island of Terceira at about 1.30pm on Monday afternoon.
“When I eventually saw the island we were going to land on there was a huge amount of relief, though when I saw the island, which was a volcanic one, I thought how the hell are we going to land on this?”
Yet land they did, on an army base runway.
“It was like a Hollywood movie when we came in to land. There were fire crews and ambulance crews waiting for us as we came in to land, and they were driving alongside the plane. Presumably they were expecting the worst.”
It landed safely however, and the passengers had to spend a night on the island while a new plane was organised to take them to Bogotá.
Brave Neil says that newspaper reports of the incident were exaggerated. “It was unnerving but it wasn’t as bad as has been made out. Though the passenger beside me said that he had been flying regularly for work for three years and had never experienced anything like it.”
According to reports after the incident some passengers questioned whether the flight should have taken off, after its departure was delayed for 34 minutes due to unspecified technical problems at Charles de Gaulle airport.
Ironically there was another near miss for Neil, who had to fly on from Bogotá to the region where the golf tournament was taking place.
“As we were landing there were dangerous cross winds and we had to actually abort a landing and retry. I was thinking what have I done to deserve this!
“Air France were very accomodating and offered us a €500 voacher for their on flight shop.”
Luckily for Neil, his ordeal hasn’t put him off flying. “I’m not a nervous flyer and I don’t think it will any effect on my flying in the future.”