“Welcome to London”

David A. Laws
Feb 23 · 4 min read

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Hail Mary …”

British European Airways (BEA) Viscount. Photo: Courtesy The Flight Detective

Story by David A. Laws

I’m typically calm and collected about situations where I know there is nothing I can change. But a view of the pub where I planned to meet friends for dinner that evening, stirred a twinge of anxiety. There was a real possibility that I might not join them.

My routine business trip seemed fated from the moment I awoke. The hotel forgot my morning call. My taxi broke down on the way to the airport. After missing my flight, I waited hours for another. And now this!

“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee …….”

“I wish she’d stop. It’s just making me more nervous,” hissed the passenger shoe-horned into the center seat beside me.

I peeked over my shoulder. A black-clothed nun, steadily pulled a string of rosary beads through her fingers. Far from the anxious faces of others seated around her, she appeared serene in the protective shadow of her wimple.

“This is your Captain speaking,” a reassuring tone filled the cabin again.

We had heard from our pilot more frequently than usual on such a short flight. I had not seen him board the aircraft before we departed, so I tried to picture the face that would go with such a calm, confident voice. Walking a fine line not to cause unnecessary alarm, he had kept us updated on the status of our damaged landing gear and the precautions he planned to return us safely to the ground.

“By circling for the last two hours we have consumed most of our fuel, so it’s now time for our approach to Heathrow. Please follow the instructions of your cabin crew. I will speak to you again when we are on the ground.”

“Blessed art thou among women and blessed is …..”

My neighbor winced and closed her eyes, sweat beads forming on her furrowed brow. I glanced around, seeking the best emergency exit strategy.

“In preparation for our landing, we ask that you all bend forward in your seat as far as you can. Cover your heads with your hands and remain in that position until further notice,” a calm female voice instructed.

I crouched as directed. The rhythmic clicking behind me ceased, but the words continued.

The final five minutes of the approach seemed to last an eternity. With no religious convictions, I had no deity to appeal to for forgiveness. Nor did all the events of my life flash through my brain. I was suspended in time. On hold, awaiting whatever card was dealt.

A blur of airport buildings and billowing treetops lining the perimeter highway signaled our arrival. A shrill roar rose from the engine as our pilot pulled up the nose to prevent the damaged single front wheel from contacting the ground until the last possible moment.

With a gentle bump, we touched down onto a runway covered with foam as white and dense as the whipped cream I slathered on my pie the evening before. Fire engines, signal beacons pulsing orange in the early morning light, raced alongside us. As the wheel touched down, we pivoted to the right. The aircraft skidded off the runway and tore wildly across the grass. I pulled my head down hard and held my breath. A child cried in the rear.

For a moment after we slid to a bumpy stop, the cabin was silent. No one moved. No one shrieked. The child hushed. Emergency vehicles converged from all sides. A familiar voice broke the silence.

“I’m terribly sorry about that landing. That’s not normally the way we do it. Welcome to London.”

I’m not sure, but just maybe I detected the slightest tremor in his clipped professional demeanor.

“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

The prayer behind me may have continued but was instantly lost in a spontaneous burst of applause filling the cabin.

End Note

This adventure took place on a British European Airways Viscount turboprop aircraft in late 1967. BEA merged with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) to form British Airways (BA) in 1974.

The Vickers Viscount aircraft first flew in England on 16 July 1948. Powered by the Rolls-Royce Dart engine, it became the first turboprop powered airliner in regular service when operation commenced with BEA in 1953. Turboprop power resulted in very little vibration from the engines. This, coupled with the large panoramic windows, meant the Viscount had great passenger appeal. Produced between 1948 and 1963, the aircraft was a commercial success with 445 built during its production run. Capital Airways operated a fleet of Viscount aircraft in the USA. [1]

[1] From “Does anyone remember the Vickers Viscount?” Posted by The Flight Detective | Nov 25, 2018.

BATW Travel Stories

Travel Stories of Wonder and Change

David A. Laws

Written by

I photograph and write about Gardens, Nature, Travel, and the history of Silicon Valley from my home on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

BATW Travel Stories

Bay Area Travel Writers tell stories through media, old and new — newspapers, magazines, broadcasts, blogs, videos, books, and online publications.

David A. Laws

Written by

I photograph and write about Gardens, Nature, Travel, and the history of Silicon Valley from my home on the Monterey Peninsula in California.

BATW Travel Stories

Bay Area Travel Writers tell stories through media, old and new — newspapers, magazines, broadcasts, blogs, videos, books, and online publications.

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