I was sitting on the tarmac in a Saab 340 Turboprop, waiting to fly home to Tucson from Hermosillo via Aero Mexico, just as I did every week. Despite the aircraft’s small size and inadequate air-conditioning, and also the fact that it was built by a bunch of Swedes, I’d grown used to it and felt reasonably safe after several hundred flights.
The props were spinning, the cell phones were off, the crew was completing their pre-flight procedures, when I noticed the guy in 9A. He would lean over, stare intently out the window for a moment, turn to look towards the flight deck, then back out the window again. Something was wrong. Finally, he waved the stewardess over (oops, sorry, I mean “flight attendant”).
9A said a few words to her and she leaned over. Together they stared out the window. She stood, looked down at 9A and shook her head. Holding her hands out before her, palms up, she shrugged her shoulders in a gesture that said “what do you want me to do about it? 9A looked angry and said something to her. She nodded and rushed up to the flight deck. A few moments later, she returned with the co-pilot, a young Mexican man barely old enough to drive a car, let alone a passenger plane.
9A pointed out the window. The co-pilot and the flight attendant both leaned over to look, stared out the window for a moment, then straightened up and offered that “what do you want me to do about it” gesture shoulder shrug. 9A was having none of it. Gesturing angrily, he pointed out the window, then to the flight deck. The co-pilot said a few words in Spanish to the flight attendant and off she went to get the captain.
So now, here were the pilot, the co-pilot, the stewardess (oops, flight attendant), and 9A, all staring out the window and speaking excitedly to one another. After a minute or so of this, all three Aero Mexico employees stood, held out their hands to say “what do you want me to do about it” shrugged, and went back to their pre-flight positions. As 9A sat shaking his head, the engines roared and we began to taxi.
9A turned as though searching for the nearest exit, and as we made eye contact, I asked him what was going on. He grimaced, and said “the engine is throwing oil.” And with a bump and a shudder, the aircraft raced down the runway, lifted to the air, and started for home.