Life…and death is a matter of inches

I once took a flight from KLIA to Frankfurt about 3 years ago. Having endured a smokeless 13-hour long haul, I and a colleague were looking forward to be on solid ground again and getting our nicotine rush. We were practically over the treetops of the Frankfurt airport, wheels down and actually over the edge of the runaway when the MAS plane suddenly increased power and flew back up. Later the captain announced that he have to abort the landing because of fog. My friend, who had the window seat, later told me that the plane was not actually aligned with the midline of the runaway. Scary, but not exactly a whisker away (How close?& this close.) from a plane crash tragedy like this Hamburg flight (above).

Remember Al Pacino’s speech about life being a game of inches in Any Given Sunday? Death and suffering can be a flutter of a mote away too.

Driving on the roads for close to 35 years now, I have had my fair share of witnessing live action accidents, so to speak. The first one was in the late 80’s. I was driving 3 of my sisters home from a pub at 2 am in the morning when a speeding car overtook us. Being a bit tipsy, I took up the challenge to catch up with him. As we neared the New Inanam township, we saw ahead a van about to u-turn from the other carriageway and into the path of the speeding car. I had time to tell my sisters, “Look! Look!”

Wrooop! The van crossed the speedster’s T perfectly and it ploughed into it broadside. We could see black dust rising as they impacted and the van toppled on its side. When we reached the spot, people were crawling out of the van and there was one guy underneath. The speeding car driver came out of his car, blood streaming out of his hair and face. We were so angry with him that we ignored him and instead went to help the people in the van. We managed to push back the van up and there underneath was the squashed guy.

“Is he dead?” queried one of my sisters.
“No, he is just drunk,” replied on of the van occupants.

Many months later, I found out that the guy was indeed sleeping on the road, drunk and oblivious to all the happenings. Lucky him—when the car smashed into the van, the door flew away and the guy was just covered by the van with no door.

One day in the early 90’s, when my office was at Khidmat Supermarket (near the Urusetia traffic lights in KK), I was driving home along the small road where the Petronas building is now. There was a car ahead of me and as it was just a small road, we were maybe doing a slow 30 km/h only. Up ahead, I saw a pedestrian. Without looking, suddenly he decided to cross the road…and into the path of the car in front of me. At only 10 feet in front of the car, the poor driver did not have enough reaction time to slam on his brakes.

Bam! It was like a slow-mo scene from a Hollywood movie. The front of the car caught the pedesterian at hip height, his neck snapped back, and he rag-dolled over the bonnet and windscreen and fell down the side. If the guy was inches shorter or the front of the car inches higher, he would have gone under the wheel. Before both of us could get out, the guy stood up and tottered to sit under an Aru tree. We both went to him. He had lacerations on his left arm and face, and blood was rivulenting down his left side. The driver offered to take him to hospital.

“Saya ok, saya duduk sini sekejap dulu,” replied the accident victim in a Filipino accent. Stupid negligent Filipino.

The driver offered to take him to hospital two more times but he declined. There was nothing else to do but for me to give the driver my telephone contact just in case, and we drove away.

The last accident I witnessed live was about a year ago. As I was making the turn into Jalan Penampang at the traffic lights in front of the Ministry of Finance Urusetia Complex (in front of MUIS Building), I saw a speeding motorcycle heading towards Kota Kinablu weaving among the long line of stationary vehicles that were waiting for the lights to turn green. At the same, there were two ladies at the traffic divider between the dual carriageways, presumably going back to their office at the Urusetia. Suddenly, the youngster lost control of his bike and slammed into one of the ladies. The motorcycle wheel caught one of the ladies’ legs. Poor woman, she did not know what hit her: one moment, they were having an animated conversation and next, she was sitting on the pavement in pain. The motorcycle careened on and finally fell among the cars. The cyclist quickly got up and escaped the scene on his bike. By the time I witnessed the incident I was passed the spot and there was a long line of vehicles behind me so there was nothing much I can do.

Talk about inches. The 2 ladies were actually holding hands while waiting to cross the road when the motorbike hit a leg of one of them.

I have had two personal close calls myself. One was when I ran out of air at 60 feet depth while scuba diving near Pulau Tiga because the reserve air valve on the tank malfunctioned. The other was when I was about 27 years old when the tyres of my car went aqua-skimming during heavy rains, fish-tailed, slammed and broke a wooden telephone pole, then crashed against a big raintree and finally dove into a 30 feet ravine near the Printing Department along Jalan Tuaran.

Palis, palis.

[Update]
Some of you who are fearful of flying (like me) would be happy to know that that those commercial jets can glide even if all engines are dead. See this 2009 Vanity Fair article about the miracle of the crash landing in Hudson river.

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One thought on “Life…and death is a matter of inches

  1. Most interesting recount, Rayner. We risk life and limb each time we get behind the wheel. When I’m on the road I feel I’ve to watch out for myself as well as other drivers. Sometimes I’d be glad to be caught in a traffic jam. At least no moron could zigzag crazily in and out the lanes. I’ve driven past countless crash scenes and at least one dead body. Yes, sometimes we could be just inches from some disaster. Palis-palis, indeed!

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