Several years ago, one of my clients asked if I would take him and his two little grandchildren for a ride in his plane, around the pattern at the airport. Of course, I was happy to do it. I took my wife (girlfriend at the time) along for the ride. She rode up front with me while the other three were in the back of my client’s very nice Baron 58. We all had headsets on and could hear the radios and each other through the intercom.
After 9/11, I started following the suggestion that you use your backup radio to monitor the emergency frequency, 121.5MHz, while flying. You hear some interesting things on the emergency frequency. We would regularly hear something along the lines of, (in a deep, official sounding voice) “Aircraft squawking one-two-zero-zero, tree fife miles southwest of Waco VOR at tree thousand feet heading zero tree zero degrees, this is the United States Air Force on guard. You are entering restricted airspace. Make an immediate turn to heading two seven zero and contact Waco approach on one tree fife point two.”
Oh this is good. Wait for it… Wait for it… Then, “This is the United States Air Force on guard. You have entered restricted airspace. Make an immediate turn to heading two seven zero or YOU MAY BE FIRED UPON!”
Someone had wandered unwittingly into the restricted airspace that was created around President Bush’s home in Crawford. He would soon have an F-16 off his wing marshalling him back to the Waco airport, be greeted by Secret Service, and spend a lot of time explaining his actions (or worse).
But this day, we heard something I’ve never heard before, or since.
“MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MY PASSENGER JUST JUMPED OUT!” I sat there in disbelief for an instant then tried to make radio contact with the person making the distress call. So did about 10 other pilots monitoring the frequency. It was impossible to communicate because everyone was “stepping on” or blocking each other’s transmission. Eventually a military pilot in the area was able to get control of the radio and start talking to this pilot. He reported he was a flight instructor out of the Houston area, over Prairie View at 9000′ altitude when his passenger/student jumped out of the airplane. The military pilot did a nice job of keeping the pilot calm and getting him to focus his attention on flying the airplane so he would not end up in an accident as well.
After a few minutes, they were off the radio and we didn’t hear any more. My wife later told me it made her sick to her stomach hearing it all happen in real life. A few days later I found a newspaper article on the event. The student/passenger who had jumped had evidently committed suicide. He had life and health issues that made it pretty clear it was intentional. His actions certainly affected a lot of people that day. I cannot imagine what that instructor pilot must have gone through after that.
As for me, I don’t think I suffered any ill effects. One thing pilots who have flown with me will tell you… I ALWAYS monitor the emergency frequency!