Rider on the Storm by
(94 Stories)

Prompted By Planes and Trains

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In January of 1978, not long after arriving at the marine lab on St. Croix for my last undergrad semester, I developed the need for some minor surgery. Rather than deal with it alone, I flew back to New Jersey to have it done.

I was not at all nervous; my fear of flying, like so many of them, developed later.

The flight was, as most are, uneventful. Unfortunately, upon arrival in the New York area, all three NY Metro airports were closed due to thunderstorms. We would have to enter a holding pattern to wait for a gap in the storms so we could land. I had a window seat over the 727’s right wing, so I could watch the lightning dance from cloud to cloud as we made big circles over Riverhead, Long Island. The ride was bumpy, but bearable. Occasionally I’d catch a glimpse of lights on the ground. I could also see other airplanes, all circling, awaiting an opportunity to land. One of the pilots came on the intercom to assure us that all the planes we could see were being guided by Air Traffic Control and were kept at slightly different altitudes to assure safe separation. I was not at all nervous; my fear of flying, like so many of them, only developed in later years.

It wasn’t very long after the pilot delivered his reassuring message that my side of the plane abruptly rose as the plane rolled, quickly, to over forty-five degrees left bank. My mind was just taking that in when I saw a small plane zip by, under our right wing. It was close enough that I could make out the cockpit lights. Apparently our pilot had raised the wing just enough to avoid a mid-air collision.

Some planes are more controlled than others.

Not long after that, there came an announcement that we were low on fuel and would need to land very soon. At Kennedy. No cell phones back then, so I couldn’t call my parents waiting for me at LaGuardia.

Unfortunately, all the airline did was post “See Agent” next to my flight on the terminal displays. For a few minutes, until they made their way to an info desk and were told about the diversion, Mom and Dad thought I was floating around in pieces somewhere in Flushing Bay.

Profile photo of Dave Ventre Dave Ventre
A hyper-annuated wannabee scientist with a lovely wife and a mountain biking problem.

Tags: jet, plane, airliner, 727, storm
Characterizations: right on!


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Oh my goodness, Dave, what a story! I can’t fathom actually seeing that plane fly under your wing. YIKES! Glad you lived to tell this tale. And your poor parents. I’m sure they were beside themselves too. Not very helpful for the airline to not keep them updated about your whereabouts. I’m sure it took them quite some time to find you and come get you. What a wild ride!

    • Dave Ventre says:

      It was an exciting moment. I had to get on a plane back to St. Croix a week later, which didn’t bother me at all. The fear of flying came on gradually, in later years, with no triggering incident. I blame the 80s, a decade where so much went so wrong. Last year’s trip to Europe at least means that, even if I remain afraid, I’ll suck it up and go. You take your victories where you can get them!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    That was certainly an unforgettable experience—yikes! So glad the pilot saved the day. Seems that there are fewer stack-ups circling around these days—maybe better navigation systems? I know someone whose plane took off into a storm cell and got tossed around violently. So glad most of the time these problems are survived. Air travel safer than surface, but anxiety understandable.

  3. A narrow escape Dave, and a flight to remember, and your poor folks fearing the worst!

    But all’s well that ends well – and glad your Retro tech issue seems to have been solved!

  4. Marian says:

    What a trauma, Dave, and then to have to land in an airport different from where your parents were waiting. Like you, my strong dislike (not really fear) of flying occurred gradually, and I think is mostly due to the hassles of airports and the cattle car environment of the planes.

  5. Suzy says:

    Very dramatic story, Dave, thanks for sharing it with us. This week flying on Retro is more dangerous than any airplane, it seems.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a frightening experience. I can just imagine how your parents felt as something similar happened to one of our kids.

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