April 20, 2018

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

A harrowing plane ride to Buenos Aires back in 1974

John F. FinkMay I tell you about another trip I made? This one was in 1974. I was president of the Catholic Press Association (CPA), and I attended the World Congress of the Catholic Press that year in that capacity. I flew down to Buenos Aires, Argentina, with Jim Doyle, the CPA’s executive director. We almost didn’t make it.

We flew on what was supposed to be a non-stop flight from John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. As we rolled down the runway for our takeoff, I heard a “bang, bang” just before the plane was airborne. I turned to Jim and said, “I think we just blew a couple tires.”

“I think so, too,” he replied.

We were given dinner, and the flight seemed to be going smoothly. Then the captain came on the speaker to tell us that we had, indeed, blown some tires on takeoff, and the crew had been in touch with airline officials trying to determine what to do—return to New York or continue to Buenos Aires. The decision was made to land in Miami, where there were emergency procedures. The crew was now in the process of dumping fuel so that there wouldn’t be much left when we landed.

The airport spread foam on the runway, and the plane landed. The pilot made a perfect landing on the foam and came to a stop as quickly as he could. We didn’t have to go out the emergency exits. We filed out and, as we did, I noticed the steam coming from the landing gear since, of course, the rubber tires disintegrated upon landing.

After a wait of about two hours, we were put on another plane. This one, though, didn’t have the capacity to fly all the way from Miami to Buenos Aires, so it stopped in Lima, Peru, to refuel. After we landed, there was a long wait before the doors were opened. Then the captain came on the speaker to tell us that, when the plane landed, the windshield in the cockpit popped out. He estimated that it would take about eight hours to fix it.

Rather than wait around the airport that long, Jim and I got a cab and asked the driver to show us the sights of Lima. I was glad to see the graves of St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres, as well as other landmarks—but also some of the worst poverty I’ve seen anywhere.

The windshield was fixed, and we made it to Buenos Aires. The trip, which was supposed to take 12 hours, ended up taking 26 hours. We landed late at night, but the airport was packed with people. We arrived the same night that the body of Eva Peron was being brought back to Argentina from Spain.

It was 2 a.m. by the time we got to our hotel, and the congress started at 10 a.m. So much for our plans to arrive early enough before the start of the congress to get a rest and to see some of Buenos Aires. We did enjoy Buenos Aires, though. †

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