Earlier this week we were south, heading north, when we heard this:
"We have 71 souls on board, and 13,000 on the fuel. Smoke in the cockpit, we need vectors to the nearest airport"
The guy sounded scared, but he was keeping it together.
On our flightdeck, cruising at 38,000 feet, we looked at each other and shivered. Short of a thunderstorm removing the wings, any sort of cabin fire in flight is the worst thing I can think of. At 35,000 feet, even with an emergency descent and a runway nearby, it's going to take us at least 10 minutes to get on the ground. There are a lot of flammable, toxic materials used in the construction of airplanes, and a lot can happen in 10 minutes. I'm not even talking about the thousands of pounds of jet fuel, which by weight is more explosive than dynamite.
We listened in, gut-sick and silent. They were handed off to a local tower frequency, and we lost radio contact right after they repeated their landing clearance. I have no idea what the cause was and I have no idea how they fared after they landed. I didn't see any newspaper headlines so I assume they were okay.
I just thought it was interesting how a few overheard words from a stranger can propel us into their world so quickly, how I could see myself in that same situation, and how freaked-out I would be.
I said a silent prayer to the avionics and wiring gods, and continued our flight back home, to an uneventful landing.