Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

“Brace, brace, brace!”—“Are we all going to die?”

Hugh Tunstall-Pedoe
Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom

Flying to and from Scotland as an airline passenger years ago sometimes involved small aircraft. The smallest from Edinburgh to Belfast at one time was so small that a hostess got on at departure, wriggled between the passengers handing out packages, and then squirmed back and disembarked. Perfectly proper, yet being wriggled past like that left me with warm feelings for Belfast. The plane from London to Dundee was larger, with one hostess who stayed onboard. A crisis gave me novel experiences.

As we approached Dundee’s small airport, the pilot was unable to get the right-hand main wheel to register as locked down, so we risked it buckling under us if we landed. He told us we would have to use up all the fuel and divert to Edinburgh, where emergency staff would be alerted. Our young and seemingly fairly new hostess went through the emergency procedure drill of “Brace, brace, brace!” with us, and then sat facing us, clearly overawed by her responsibilities, poor girl nervously applying lip salve as a diversion. A Dundee University colleague, badly scared, asked me if we were all going to die. I told him that this situation would have been well rehearsed in the pilots’ procedures manual and training. The medical school dean had recently appealed for volunteers to take early retirement. A fellow medical professor agreed with me that this situation was neither the time nor the place for us to accede to the dean’s wishes! After circling for a long time, we descended along the line of the Edinburgh runway with the left wing pointing at the ground and a fire-engine racing along beneath us. “Brace, brace, brace!” The left wheel touched down, we decelerated, gradually rotating to a horizontal posture, when the right wheel touched down and remained locked. After all that—a false alarm!

It was late at night, and the airport was closed. We were told a coach had been ordered to take us back the sixty miles to Dundee, and meanwhile the bar would be opened to dispense free drinks. However, the latter promise turned out to be a trolley offering glasses of water! Someone must have made off with the keys, or it was against the rules, or they just changed their minds.

When I returned home, my wife was pleased to see me. But she knew all about it from the media, questioning my version of events, when she was now getting my account—late, but straight from the horse’s mouth—and not the reporters’ version. This episode happened on a Friday evening. Next day, Tayside Members of Parliament, who had been returning to their constituents after the week in Parliament in London, had been busily ensuring that the morning’s newspapers recorded their participation in an item of local history.

HUGH TUNSTALL-PEDOE is emeritus professor of cardiovascular epidemiology in the University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland, UK.

Summer 2023



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