A man accidentally ejected himself during a surprise flight in a fighter jet.
The man, a French defense-company executive, was given the flight in the Dassault Rafale B as a retirement gift by coworkers who thought he'd get a kick out of it. In fact, the man had never flown in a fighter plane and never wanted to.
News stories about this gift gone wrong – and there are plenty of them – report that before the flight, the man was so nervous his watch showed his heart was beating between 136 and 142 beats per minute. But he didn't want to disappoint his friends, so he didn't admit he was terrified.
Haven't we all done that – allowed friends and dear family members to give us, say, a special night alone in the big cat area of the zoo or a behind-the-scenes tour of a chicken-processing plant?
"Look, Mom, we registered you for the Alaska marathon! And afterward, you get to hike into Denali all by yourself, accompanied only by a friendly grizzly bear named Chomp!"
So I understand this man's reluctance to say, "The last thing I want is to go up in a military jet that can fly 870 mph." He probably said, "Gosh, thanks, guys," while remembering how playground swings always made him throw up.
That's how he found himself climbing into a fighter jet, fastening his helmet – improperly, as it turned out; it flew off when he was ejected – and feeling his heart gallop like a rodeo bull.
When the jet reached 2,500 feet – but I'll let the New York Post tell it:
"When the jet hit 2,500 feet in the air, then abruptly started climbing further, the man was so scared that he went to grab for something and accidentally pressed the eject button, according to the report."
OK, stop right there.
I'd never thought about how ejection seats work. Offhand, I would have thought they dropped a person down, but of course, they can't do that; they need to throw a person clear of whatever disaster is befalling the plane.
What happens is the person shoots straight up, above the plane, into the blue yonder, and then the parachute opens and he begins his descent, which in this case took the passenger right back to the runway he had just left.
Returning to the Post story: "But he wasn't seriously injured, and the pilot – who suffered minor injuries to his face during the commotion – was able to land the plane safely."
That "during the commotion" just set me off again.
A pilot agrees to take up a retiring defense-company executive – someone in the same line of work, so to speak – expecting to give his passenger the thrill of a lifetime and receive in return fervent thanks and possibly a beer in the airport pub.
Instead, within seconds of takeoff, his passenger shoots into the sky like a Roman candle and he's left trying to land a plane that – as the pilot was all too aware – might at any second decide he should be ejected, too.
No doubt the current pandemic has affected my emotions. They're all hovering close to the surface these days, like kittens trying to climb out of a box.
No doubt they're longing, like the rest of us, to be free to browse the library shelves or drift through a department store looking for bedsheets with a decent thread count.
I assume that's why this story reminds me of the expression on actor Michael Palin's face in "A Fish Called Wanda" when his character, the formerly stammering Ken, unexpectedly speaks clearly and fluently. (Palin stuttered himself as a child and supports the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering in London, just in case anyone needs to hear it.)
Recalling Palin's wide-eyed stupefaction and the mental image of a hapless executive exploding out of a jet fighter apparently is keeping me going these days.
Anybody know some dumb jokes? I'm pretty sure you'll find an uproariously appreciative audience in me.
Write to columnist Margo Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.