The fact that all three of my passengers were throwing up simultaneously left me three options: Tough it out and press on to our destination; join them in their nauseous state; or declare an emergency and get the hell on the ground.
My right seat passenger was a Horizon Air first officer. She thought she was used to bumpy rides. I was flying her to her domicile. She was supposed to report for work there within four hours of our scheduled arrival time.
To top it off, it was only the 11th month of her 12-month probation period. Missing her show time could be reason enough to fire her. I wanted to press on…believe me. I wanted to impress her with my weather flying skills in hard IMC. I wanted to be her hero. But mostly I wanted her to walk my resumé in to her chief pilot the next time a hiring window opened.
Everything in me said, “continue.” Even my front seatmate pleaded for me to gut it out, so I hesitated.
But here’s the thing: It’s a strange reality to be at 8,000 feet and your soundtrack becomes the steady thrum of twin Comanche motors and propellers counterpointing the unsteady gasping and retching of your passengers. When my own stomach began to roil, I knew I had to throw all thoughts of heroism out. I reluctantly chose to declare an emergency and divert to the nearest airport.
“Center, twin Comanche three hundred romeo echo is declaring a medical emergency. I have multiple vomiters onboard and I need clearance down to 2,200 immediately and vectors to KCEC for the ILS 11 approach.”
Without waiting, I initiated an emergency descent and made the turn myself. I’d already pressed the “nearest” button on the Garmin 430, so I knew which direction to head in. ATC didn’t like that move. I could hear the audible distress signal of a near miss in the background when they exhorted me to stop my turn and descent.
After minutes that passed like seconds, we taxied up to the FBO. A crowd surged onto the rainy ramp. ATC, of course, had passed on the nature of our emergency. People had gathered, as intrigued by what might emerge from the plane as they were afraid. My passengers deplaned as best they could, each looking like a pile of clothes just out of the spin cycle.
The Horizon Air FO called in sick and missed her show time, but she wasn’t fired. She and the other passengers did get their first ambulance rides. It was determined that their lunch, not the ride, had sickened all aboard. As for me, I stumbled onto the tarmac and finally succumbed as well.