It's kind of a strange feeling to save someone's life. I may have done it a couple of times and it's not because I'm the kind of person you'd expect that from. There were no hails of gunfire or burning buildings involved, just, I guess, the ability to size up a situation and not be afraid to act.
Thanks to that ability by Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch filmmaker on Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, almost 300 people get to reflect on those qualities and thank whomever they deem appropriate (Jasper included, I hope) that their number wasn't up.
Because of the puzzling failure of a multi-billion dollar security apparatus that a 23-year-old kid from Nigeria was able to defeat, Schuringa's decisiveness and justifiably described heroics were necessary. He dove on top of an alleged terrorist who was on fire at the time and kept him from trying again to blow up the A330 they all shared.
If Umar farouk Abdulmutallab's bomb had been more effective, a planeload of Schuringas wouldn't have made a difference. He had enough PETN, the incredibly rapid explosive used in primer cord, to take the aircraft down.
But having a fire onboard an airliner is never a good thing and, regardless of what's burning, putting boot prints on your fellow passengers as you dive on in to stop the inevitable disaster warrants full merit points. That man should never have to pay for a Delta flight again and there should be some bravery awards on the way for him.
Schuringa has told his story many times and it's similar to many "hero" stories. He saw what was going down, knew what to do and, perhaps most important, wasn't afraid to do it. He also said, as heros often do, that he didn't consider his actions to be out of the ordinary.
As much as I hate to say it, it's perhaps something all air travelers should consider. The security apparatus, while effective at filling bins full of toothpaste and shampoo at checkpoints, somehow let a very potent and quite detectable explosive aboard a big airliner. While we should be respectful and compliant with the folks who really are doing their best to keep us safe, we shouldn't rely on them utterly. There may be times when we need to act in our own best interests, despite the regimentation of airline travel. Sometimes you just have to do something.
As for my own experiences, they pale in comparison to Schuringa's or the time my brother pulled a family from a burning van on the freeway near his home, but they undoubtedly saved two people from horrible harm and probably death.
About 20 years ago, as I was jogging along a pleasant suburban street, a young mother was mowing the lawn with a gas mower and her two-year-old daughter was outside with her. Mom left the mower to move something that was in the way and the little girl went straight for the discharge chute of the running mower. Boy was Mom surprised to see me lying on my back on her freshly mown lawn with her screaming daughter held above me, neither of us the worse for wear. But was it close.
About 10 years later, I was driving along a rural road in a blizzard when a horribly drunk man staggered in front of the car. He profanely declined a ride to wherever he was staggering and I called the cops. On my way back from town, the responding police car passed me just as I noticed some dogs looking over the embankment at the side of the road. I stopped, and sure enough, there was our reveler, rolling around in the snow, with no coat, hat or gloves, unable to pull himself back up. I stopped the police officer on her way back and we got the guy out of danger and into the relative comfort of the drunk tank. He would have been dead within an hour if we hadn't pulled him up the bank.
Hardly the stuff of movies and I kind of joke about the drunk guy as "the time I saved a man's life." As for the little girl, I'm probably lucky I didn't get thrown in jail myself, but I'm pretty sure the outcome would have been different if I hadn't acted. I'm sure drunk guy has no recollection of the events and Mom probably still has her doubts about the need for me to tackle her toddler.
But there are almost 300 people who understand why they are looking forward to the New Year and are thankful to Schuringa.
Now, about that security apparatus...