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Tell Us the Worst-Case Scenario
An Essay by Heather Lende

audio Listen to Lende's essay.

Nov. 1, 2001 -- When I get on a plane to fly from Haines to Juneau, there's always a safety talk. This includes the usual seat belt, life preserver and emergency exit instructions. Often, the pilot makes a little joke about no running up and down the aisles. This gets a chuckle because the plane is too small to even stand up in.

Then he, or sometimes she, says, “There's a fire extinguisher underneath my seat and an emergency bucket in the back,” pointing to a plastic five-gallon pail stuffed with blankets, first aid kit, flares, water, dried food and fire starters behind the cargo net. Not all pilots include the emergency stash location in their spiel, but I find it extremely reassuring.

The first thing I do every time I get in a small plane is pray that it makes it safely to the airport. This is not an idle prayer. Two different pilots have owned the house next door to me. Both are dead, killed in plane crashes.

"I know more people who have died in planes than in cars -- and that influences my response to flying more than all the statistics about risk."

Heather Lende

I know more people who have died in planes than in cars -- and that influences my response to flying more than all the statistics about risk. What I've been hearing lately about terrorist threats on the East Coast makes me think whoever's in charge of giving the national safety talk agrees with the “don't tell them about the worst-case scenario pilots.”

Forget it. I'm already afraid, and I live about as far off a Taliban hit list as you can get. Even the Alaska pipeline is 500 miles away. But the world really is small, and people I love live in places where they could be a deep breath away from a bioterrorist attack.

Soon, I'm getting on another plane. My family is traveling to New York for Thanksgiving because that's where people I love are. Now more than ever, I want to be near them.

When we get on the transcontinental flight in Seattle, I hope the stewardess tells us what to do if the plane gets hijacked. I hope she lets us know exactly what new security measures are in place, both on the plane and in the airport. That, along with the Dramamine and glass of wine, should help me stay calm. It's what I don't know that scares me.

Heather Lende is a columnist for The Anchorage Daily News.