By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Regrettably, I often have taken everyday greatness for granted, and that’s my fault.
But maybe that will change based on two things that happened this past week, one in which I was very much involved, and another in which I’m getting second-hand accounts of greatness in action.
My flight from Orlando to Atlanta the day after Iowa’s 20-17 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl, unfortunately, included the most frightening 15 to 20 minutes of my life as the worst turbulence I’ve ever experiences rocked our jet up and down and sideways. There was one brief moment when the jet seemed to lose its thrust causing a floating sensation that needless to say was scarier than anything I have ever experienced.
It was a full flight and people were cramped together and some were screaming, some praying and some blessing themselves, and some doing all three.
The flight attendants were strapped in their seats and that’s when I knew serious trouble was looming when the pilot told the flight attendants over the loudspeaker to stop what they were doing and get strapped in for some rough air, and do it quickly.
The worst of the worst, when people were crying and praying, probably lasted for about 10 to 15 minutes.
When the jet finally touched the ground in Atlanta the young man sitting to my left blessed himself, and then looked up and said thank you.
He had been counting down the minutes left on the flight on his flight tracker, and I started doing the same thing, with each passing minute another step closer to this nightmare being over.
As I was departing the plane and counting my blessings, I walked past one of the pilots who was standing near the exit.
I said, “Thank you and great work.”
He calmly said, “no problem.”
During my three-hour layover in Atlanta, I struck up a conversation with a young Delta pilot, who had dreamed of flying planes almost since the day he could walk.
He earned his pilot’s license at the age of 18 and now he’s flying commercial jets that are packed with passengers who have entrusted the pilots to get them to their destination safely.
I told him what happened on my flight and he wasn’t surprised.
He then explained that the entire southeastern part of the United States was being rocked by severe turbulence due to a huge weather front in which hot and cold air were colliding.
After telling him my reason for traveling and knowing that I was a sports writer, he compared flying in turbulence to a sports writer being on deadline.
Obviously, that’s a reach, and I think he was just being kind to a sports writer wearing sweatpants.
He tried to put it at my level and it worked.
Flying through turbulence just goes with the territory for a pilot, and it’s business as usual with a few more challenges involved.
But for those of us that don’t know a thing about flying, to maneuver and navigate a giant jet through severe turbulence is absolutely incredible.
The pilot I spoke with during my layover explained in great deal how safe it is to fly, and the improvements that have been made from a safety standpoint just in the past 20 years.
He also talked about how many people actually helped in getting my jet through the turbulence, and stressed that it’s always a group effort.
And he stressed that I never was in any real danger because pilots train for thousands of hours to handle moments like that.
I felt much better after speaking with the pilot, and thankfully, my flight from Atlanta to Cedar Rapids was uneventful, other than being greeted by sub-freezing temperatures and being told twice to keep my mask over my nose.
The second thing to which I referred happened during the Iowa men’s basketball team’s 80-75 victory over Maryland this past Monday at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Members of the media, including Dallas Jones from Hawk Fanatic, posted on Twitter that somebody was receiving medical assistance near the Maryland bench late in the first half.
It turns out that an elderly man sitting near the Maryland bench needed medical assistance and this is how the situation was described to me by someone sitting right near where it happened.
A trainer for Maryland bolted from his seat and sprinted down the bench and immediately started giving medical assistance to the man, who apparently had collapsed.
Moments later medical staff from the University of Iowa Emergency Medical Services were on hand and doing what they’re trained to do, which is save lives.
My witness said it was amazing how smoothly and skillfully, but also how quickly, they handled such a scary and chaotic situation.
But that’s what first responders do.
They train for years to know how to respond in those tense few moments when a life might hang in the balance.
This story has a happy ending as the man, a long-time Maryland fan and supporter, was reported to be alert and responsive after receiving medical assistance.
Maryland interim head coach Danny Manning started his press conference on Wednesday by praising the medical personnel who saved the man’s life.
Quickly and efficiently, and with courage, that’s what it took to save the man’s life, and that’s what these trained professionals do on a regular basis.
They help to answer our prayers, and there were lots of prayers being said in the arena as medical personnel worked on the man.
Just like there were lots of prayers being said during my flight.
And while praying certainly helps to cope with a potential tragedy, it’s our fellow humans that do the work under tremendous pressure and help to prevent tragedies.
I was in awe as I walked past the pilot while exiting the plane because he looked so calm and collected despite having just flown through some horrible turbulence with a packed cabin.
My friend who saw the man rescued at the basketball game was also in awe from having watched how quickly and efficiently they responded with a life on the line.
Sometimes, miracles do happen because great and talented people make them happen.
And though flying through turbulence is hardly a miracle, try telling that to the people on my flight who prayed for a safe landing.