Lessons All Around Us

From NAFI's Chair

Lessons All Around Us

I recently experienced a first in my life: I was stuck in an elevator. This occurred after the Thanksgiving dinner my brother and his wife hosted for the family. We enjoyed a marvelous dinner at a restaurant on Chicago's Near North Side. After a relaxed evening with the families, we went back to my brother's apartment building to finish the evening. Several of us got on the elevator to go up to their floor. When we got there, the elevator stopped. The correct floor was showing on the display and the button with the floor number went out, but nothing else happened. Most importantly, the door didn't open.

At first, we were mildly amused at the situation. Then, after about three or four minutes, the reality of the situation started to sink in. Of course, there was the usual random button pushing on the panel to see what would happen and so on. Where things started getting a bit tense was when one of the group said, "You know, it's Thanksgiving. Who's going to come get us?" That's when one of my relatives (I won't say who, but it wasn't my brother), said "Get me out of this thing! Now!" - revealing that they had acute claustrophobia. It was at that point I suggested that we try the emergency call button to talk to the operator. I also pointed out, in my calm CFI voice, that we were in no immediate danger and that, at a minimum, the Chicago Fire Department would be able to assist.

None of this helped our claustrophobe, who, while we were giving information to the emergency operator on the elevator's squawk box, was demanding immediate assistance. It was at that point my wife asked me to step a little aside so she could try pushing on the door. With a little effort, she was able to slide the door open, revealing that the elevator had stopped about six inches short of the selected floor, which is why the fail-safe on the door prevented it from opening automatically. We stepped out, and helped everyone out, watching and listening for any movement of the elevator so no one would be injured. Needless to say, our anxious relative was greatly relieved to be out of the situation.

What does this have to with flight instruction, you might ask. Well, this was an unexpected situation, an actual low-level emergency. And, as a very wise designated pilot examiner once said to me, "If it doesn't kill you in the next two seconds, you have time to figure it out." We certainly had that time in this case, as this was a stuck, hydraulic elevator that wasn't going anywhere soon. After a few minutes of calm thought, we did work the problem: keep calm, try to calm others, ask for help, and use our emergency authority (pushing the door open). Another area where this relates to aviation is the fact that we did not have a contingency plan, as evidenced by the initial button-pushing. After all, who gets stuck in an elevator these days?

All of this is just a small reminder that we should train our students to be ready for the unexpected, stay calm, have a plan for contingencies, and to be ready for a potentially panicked passenger(s). And if you're working with a CFI candidate, I'll humbly add that this piece is a great example of correlation.


Bob Meder,
NAFI Board Chair
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