CAPT. HONESTY MAYQUEEN ARQHU-ONE
When she appeared on the gangway, two miniature Ghanaian flags flew about her, each worked into an epaulette. Her crew sandwiched her as she came down the gangway with excitement. Halfway down, she stopped to acknowledge cheers from the crowd and for a first time raised her head and tipped the visor of her cap. And there was no mistake about the shock: Captain Honesty Mayqueen Arqhu-One. My heart bubbled with excitement. I happened to be one of the few journalists who knew her before now: she was my student years earlier. There were, however, those who knew close to nothing about her but had to fictionalize their knowledge about this fine lady in order to look important. Indeed, little knowledge does intoxicate. I kept my calm.
The press briefing was indeed brief. The Aviation Minister and her Chief Director, both women, came to meet Captain Arqhu-One and led her to the VVIP lounge. Security was tight. I couldn’t be sure but the Minister looked like one Etornam I knew, and her Chief Director was Sefakor. After preliminary talks and politicization of national efforts to project the ruling government, Captain Arqhu-One gave a picturesque account of the whole event.
Though aviation had its own set of idioms meant not for the uninitiated, Captain took her time to explain in a layman’s language what the problem was. She ran the briefing like the way a mathematics teacher could explain the concepts of differentiation and integration in calculus to a 9 year old pre-IG student. She spoke so fluently of the Rolls Royce engines and the technologies used, the aerolon, lift force, angle of attack, torque, spoiler, centrifugal force and what have you. She was able to make sense with all these so that when she was done, there was basically no technical question for her.
She informed us that the troubled jetliner was travelling from Murtala in Ikeja, Lagos State to JFK on a 10 hour 26 minute journey and had barely done an hour when the emergency reared its beautiful head. They thus contacted KIA, which was not the nearest but the only facility with functionalities to land a super jumbo jet (A830). She said they had over 807 souls aboard and at takeoff, the aircraft weighed nearly 1,265,000 pounds, with fuel weight in excess of 200,000 pounds.
She enumerated the problem by saying they detected an unfamiliar vibration in the cockpit just after takeoff and were trying to manage it. The immediate suspect, she intimated, was the throttle which straightaway was retired but its retirement undid nothing.
As to why they came in slowly but had to pitch away with a yaw, only to return at a fast sinking rate, she explained that their weight then was an unsafe landing one for Kotoka, and that’s why they went over the Atlantic, ostensibly to dump fuel, yet when all efforts to reduce weight by dumping failed, they were allowed to land. She made a lot of sense with this explanation. She told journalists she had had over 24,000 flight hours and was prepared to land the aircraft, no matter how heavy it was, save that she was prepared for the little turbulence anticipated. Captain said she was surprised the fuel systems were not responding and many of the control knobs had long gone dead. At this point, you could hear a pin drop.
She confirmed to journalists she was terrified by the sink rate before touch down, and that happened as soon as she reduced speed. She also confessed rudder control went sluggish, therefore, leveling and navigation became a challenge. She admitted she was not stunned only half of the brakes worked, because the plane was not designed to land that heavy. She narrated how she engaged the trust reverse force to increase the drag. Captain shared her experience pilot-testing the Beluga 3 XL which weighed way heavier than A 380, just to buttress the point that she was more than experienced to handle the emergency.
She teased her copilot who got terrified by the grief and turbulence from the ovoid CCTV so they had to mute sound on fuselage images hence distraction became minimal. She said she was shocked all buttons and knobs responded positively again after hitting the runway and that they nearly succumbed to the temptation of taking to the skies again. We were finally taken through the parking procedures and that was all.
For a moment, she benefited a standing ovation. There was practically no question for her. It was difficult coming out with a question immediately, unless one wanted to be mischievous or advertise ignorance. And a CBS photo journalist did.
“Madam, how do you feel being an African on this day?” he ventured.
“What exactly do you mean?” Captain beseeched.
“An African in charge of a large aircraft and being able to save…” he blurted out like someone suffering a verbal diarrhoea.
The gathering booed and hooted. Everyone wanted Captain to go gaga over him. We’re expecting either a Mugabe or Kagame response, but this was a lady.
“Or I see. Now, when Richard de Crespigny managed the Singapore Qantas airliner to safety in 2010, saving all 469 passengers on board, who questioned him about his skin color or country of origin? The world’s oldest university is in Africa. I hope I have answered you.”
Silence. Then there was another and another and another. There was nothing like regression; she treated every journalist by the attitudes in their questions and voices. The press briefing was rounding up before I caught the moderator’s attention.
“Captain Akudeka, … sorry… Arqhu-One, what was your greatest fear when dropping faster than usual, and how did you manage it?”
“I dreaded my passengers might fear the worst and panic, and knowing their panic might affect our collective judgment as it did my colleague, we muted sound on the CCTV that displayed images from both decks, I mean from both top and bottom decks”.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, that was the last question. Thanks for coming”, that was the moderator.
We were disappointed. I had two follow up questions but….
I was bagging my equipment when two men in military uniform came for me.
……To be continued