My last entry was about my experience on UA 232 25 years ago last Saturday. This is a postscript.
United Airlines offered a special flight home for those of us who were cleared by medical. We had choices. They would put us up in a motel and arrange bus transportation the following day or we could get back on a plane.
For me it was an easy choice. We spent several hours in a break room at the hospital. I just wanted to get home and see the family. The departure time kept getting pushed back. Finally they loaded the bus with those of us who choose to fly home.
It was a small crowd.
We were ambushed at the Sioux City Airport by the media. I was wearing a hospital scrub on top since I had to rip the sleeve off my shirt to get out of the seat. I gave a brief interview. It made all the major network morning shows the next morning, Good Morning America, etc. It ran immediately on the local Chicago news specials that were only running coverage of the crash.
My colleague I was traveling with had his wife pick us up at O’hare. United double-crossed the media and snuck us into a non-United gate so the media horde was all waiting at the United concourse. It almost worked.
When I deplaned a burly Chicago cop tapped me on the shoulder and said I’m your personal escort to the car. Stay right beside me.
One reporter, Rich Samuels from the NBC affiliate somehow got the word that the plane bringing us in was not at the United terminal and he had the gate where we were arriving and was waiting for us.
He shoved his way through the crowd and stuck his microphone in my face and asked me a question. My cop friend said “you want to talk to this jerk”. I said, “absolutely not” The cop advised Mr. Samuels to move away immediately. Mr. Samuels ignored him and stuck the mic in my face again and repeated his question.
The next thing I knew the cop gave Mr. Samuels a gentle little shove that sent him sliding 30 feet across the floor on his ass. Mr. Samuels screamed ” I want your badge number, I’ll have your job”. My new friend says, “stay here for just a sec, I’ll deal with him. He strolled over to Samuels bent down and stuck his badge in Samuels” face and said, Now you just stay right where you are Mr. Samuels and we won’t have to do that again.”
I’ve never looked at a Chicago cop the same since. When you have one on your team, they are a great teammate. If they play a little rough, that’s OK. It’s a rough business they are in and they need to be tough.
The media is another matter. They camped outside my house for two days and were rude. Oprah’s people had the audacity to call my house at 3AM to see if I want to get in a limo and appear on her highness’s show the next day. I hung up on them.
When I think back on the circus that was my life for the next week and has never really stopped, I find it troublesome. I still get calls when there is an anniversary or a plane crash or when someone is writing a book about UA 232. But, my mind drifts to my mental image of Samuels sliding across the floor of O’hare on his ass and I chuckle. I hope my cop friend is enjoying a long, healthy, and happy retirement. He deserves the best. .